Portman, a Cincinnati native, grew up working for the family’s Portman Equipment Co., a forklift truck dealership. His congressional disclosure forms show income from the business has contributed to his net worth, estimated at between $6 million and $22 million.
In 1984, fresh out of the University of Michigan law school, Portman began working as a lawyer at what was then Patton, Boggs & Blow. Federal records show he registered in 1985 under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires U.S. firms to disclose contracts to represent the interests of foreign governments or entities.
Portman’s registration lists the governments of Haiti and Oman as possible clients, but a Patton Boggs partner said Portman never worked on those accounts. He did spend as much as 15 percent of his time working for Duty Free Shoppers, the partner said. Government records show he lunched twice with a congressional staffer on the company’s behalf.
Although Portman was part of a team that lobbied government officials extensively on behalf of the duty-free-retailing industry, a Patton Boggs official and a person close to Portman said he did not lobby but rather attended meetings as a lawyer with expertise in trade issues.
“He was not in any classic or normal sense a lobbyist,’’ said Stuart M. Pape, a Patton Boggs partner who supervised Portman.
A spokeswoman for Duty Free Shoppers, now called DFS, declined to comment. The company’s offshore affiliations could play into Democratic efforts to target Romney for his former private-equity firm’s investments in companies that specialized in helping other firms relocate work overseas. Republicans warned that such a tactic would backfire.
“This goes back 30 years. President Obama was doing cocaine 30 years ago,’’ said John Feehery, a Republican consultant, referring to Obama’s admitted drug use in high school and college. “If they want to play that game, they need to be careful.’’
Portman served in the House from 1993 until he left to join the Bush administration in 2005. Former colleagues say he was not close to DeLay and had received Hastert’s blessing before proposing the November 2004 compromise that meant DeLay might not have to step down if indicted.
After an outcry from good-government groups and some Republicans, the party restored the old rule requiring leaders to step down if indicted, and DeLay stepped aside when he was charged in 2005. He was convicted in 2010 of illegally plotting to funnel corporate contributions to Texas legislative candidates and sentenced to three years in prison.
Like many Republicans, Portman strongly defended DeLay, telling The Washington Post in 2004: “People are grateful for what he’s done,’’ including DeLay’s efforts to promote Republican interests in Texas.