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New Bain revelations put Romney in tough spot

The Romney campaign has now responded to the big Boston Globe story pointing out that Romney is identified as a CEO of Bain Capital in SEC documents for several years after 1999, when he claimed he left the company. The story could be a big deal, because it could make it harder for Romney to avoid association with Bain’s more controversial deals — which are central to the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney.

Dylan Byers has statements from Romney campaign advisers. One reiterates that Romney left in 1999 and “had no input on investments or management of companies after that point.” A second says: “He was on the SEC filings becasue he was still technically the owner, but hadn’t transferred ownership to other partners.”

In fairness to the Romney camp, one of the story’s key revelations is a bit thin. The lede claims that in the time period in question, Romney created “five new investment partnerships.” But later in the story, that assertion gets more vague.

Post fact checker Glenn Kessler, who recently wrote that the Obama campaign was falsely blaming Romney for Bain deals that happened after he left, again dismisses the significance of the new allegations. “Just because you are listed as an owner of shares does not mean you have a managerial role,” Kessler wrote, though he said he might take another look at the issue.

But here’s my question. Even if you accept that there’s no evidence Romney had direct involvement in Bain’s investment decisions, is this really the type of argument that’s going to fly with voters? My guess is that the distinction the Romney campaign is making here will be lost on them. They are unlikely to buy the argument that Romney bears no responsibility for the activites of a company during a period in which he is listed as the “chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president” of the company.

The Romney camp’s preferred framing of this story is that we should focus only on whether he had direct managerial control over the investments in question. On a conference call with reporters just now, however, Obama campaign counsel Bob Bauer strongly hinted that evidence of more direct involvement would soon emerge. “I would stay very much tuned on that,” he said

Whether or not more evidence emerges, though, at the present moment the best possible argument here for Romney is that he should not be associated with the activities of a company at which he was listed as the CEO and chairman. Is this type of association really not fair game in politics? That’s an open question, and one that campaigns answer in varying ways, depending on whether they are the target or the accuser. But one thing is clear: It's a very tough argument to make convincingly. My guess is that even some of Romney supporters are going to start expressing discomfort over this.

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