“You’ve got a budget deficit, and all of the sudden no sponsors want to be a part of it,” Fraser Bullock said. “We were stymied in what we wanted to do. . . . [But] Mitt got out there and made it happen, personally. I had nothing to do with that. He just did it, and without that, we would have failed. He was tireless.”
Romney flew around the country enticing financial commitments from companies that had not previously invested in Olympic sponsorships, including big names such as Allstate, Sears Roebuck and Monster.com. He oversaw the arrangement of 53 local-sponsor deals, more than double the number for the 1998 Games in Nagano.
Mark Lewis, director of marketing for the organizing committee, remembered watching Romney slash budget items with a Sharpie pen and then practice the frugality he preached. He cut the $1.45 billion operating budget for the Games by 13 percent. Romney also traveled coach class on overseas trips, chipped in his $1 for the pizza slices he insisted upon at board meetings rather than catered meals, and rode in taxis rather than private cars.
“You cannot overestimate what Mitt contributed,” said Lewis, now a volunteer fundraiser for Romney in Montana. “I’m not saying other people didn’t play a role. . . . When you say [New England Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady leads the Patriots to victory, that doesn’t mean you’re not complimenting the linemen, but there’s only one Tom Brady. Mitt was Tom Brady. Without him, this wouldn’t have gotten done.”
Yet Romney also took steps that could come back to haunt him in the Republican presidential campaign: He worked extensively to secure more federal funding for the Salt Lake Games than for any U.S. Olympics in history.
In his book, Romney complained that the organizing committee’s previous leadership had anticipated federal financing for security, transportation and other key Olympic elements — all of which fell outside the operating budget — but hadn’t actually secured the necessary appropriations from Congress.
Romney moved quickly, asking Gillespie, the Olympic committee’s lobbyist, “to bring in more federal funding than had ever been appropriated for any Olympics, summer or winter,” according to his book. He then personally made the case for that federal support with Utah’s governor at the time, Mike Leavitt (R); with the White House; and with senior members of Congress, including his onetime political nemesis, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Despite opposition from Sen. John McCain and other Republican leaders, the Winter Games’ federal budget grew from $200 million to about $600 million on Romney’s watch, according to his book. When various transportation and other works projects are included, the federal government spent an estimated $1.5 billion from the time the Games were awarded to Salt Lake City in 1995 until they took place in 2002.
In interviews after the Games, Romney said the plight of organizers was so daunting he might never have taken the job had he realized the depth of the crisis. Had the organizing committee been indicted, he said, the Games might not have gone off.
Others say too much was at stake for either the U.S. government or the International Olympic Committee — which had long before sold the U.S. television rights to the Games to NBC for $545 million — to allow the Salt Lake Olympics to fail. Indeed, former Salt Lake City mayor Deedee Corradini (D) said Romney simply did fine work preparing a Games that slipped and fell but was never gravely wounded.
“I don’t remember him as a savior of the Olympics,” she said. “He came in and did a good job. He did a very good job. . . . I would put Fraser in with him as having made the Olympics hugely successful. Would it have been as successful without them? It’s hard to say. . . . I think our Olympics would have been good no matter what.”