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Romney staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records

By Mark Hosenball,

Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret.

The move was legal but unusual for a departing governor, Massachusetts officials say.

The effort to purge the records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge President Obama.

When Romney left the governorship of Massachusetts, 11 of his aides bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers for themselves. Also before he left office, the governor’s staff had e-mails and other electronic communications wiped from state servers, state officials say.

Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney’s tenure as governor, which ended in January 2007. Precisely what information was erased is unclear.

Opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of e-mails — and a claim by Romney that paper records of his governorship are not subject to public disclosure — hinder efforts to assess his performance.

As governor, Romney worked with a Democratic-led legislature to close a budget shortfall and signed a health-care overhaul that required nearly all residents to buy insurance.

The state’s health-care law became a model for Obama’s health-care program. As a presidential candidate, however, Romney has criticized Obama’s plan.

Massachusetts officials say they have no basis to believe that Romney’s staff violated state laws. They acknowledge, however, that the law has not been updated to deal with issues related to digital records.

Romney’s spokesmen emphasize that he followed the law and precedent. But Theresa Dolan, former director of administration for the governor’s office, told Reuters that Romney’s efforts to control or wipe out the records were unprecedented.

Dolan said that in her 23 years as an aide to successive governors “no one had ever inquired about, or expressed the desire” to purchase their computer hard drives before Romney’s tenure.

The cleanup of records by Romney’s staff included spending $205,000 for a three-year lease on new computers for the governor’s office, according to official documents and state officials.

In signing the lease, Romney aides broke an earlier three-year lease that provided the same number of computers for about half the cost — $108,000, according to documents.

Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney’s campaign, referred questions on the issue to state officials.

The removal of digital records by Romney’s staff, first reported by the Boston Globe, has sparked a wave of requests for paper records from his governorship.

— Reuters

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