In 1996, the Italian Treasury sought to sell several state-owned companies to reduce the Italian government’s debt. One of the many interested parties that caught wind of the impending sales was the Italian subsidiary of a company named Bain Capital. Bloomberg News reports:
Under Romney as chief executive officer, [Bain] made about $1 billion in a leveraged buyout 12 years ago that remains controversial in Italy to this day. Bain was part of a group that bought a telephone-directory company from the Italian government and then sold it about two years later, at the peak of the technology bubble, for about 25 times what it paid.
Bain funneled profits through subsidiaries in Luxembourg, a common corporate strategy for avoiding income taxes in other European countries, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg News. The buyer, Italy’s biggest telephone company, now has a total market value less than what it paid Bain and other investors for the directory business.
In Italy, the deals have spurred at least three books, separate legal and regulatory probes and newspaper columns alleging investors made a fortune at the expense of Italian taxpayers. Boston-based Bain wasn’t a subject of the inquiries, which didn’t result in any charges.
So overall, the deal was a success for Bain and a spectacular failure for Italy’s citizens. Now that Romney is running to lead a country, not a business, here’s how his campaign is portraying the deal:
“With this investment, Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, with its consortium partners, partnered with a new management team to transform this company, and grow it into a tremendous success,” said Michele Davis, a spokeswoman for Romney’s presidential campaign. “Mitt Romney is running for President to put that experience to work.”
What sort of experience is this? The experience that, as one observer put it, “ripped off” the Italian government? The experience that created much profit and little-to-no jobs? Is this the sort of experience that Romney wants voters to believe makes him best to deal with the economic crisis?
I’ve written before about Romney’s “profit-first” approach to leadership: It’s a more-than-acceptable path for business leaders, but voters should know they won’t be the ones benefiting from a Romney presidency. We’ve seen it before: Romney’s Bain profiting from shuttering factories and sending American jobs overseas, wringing revenue from failing companies, and so on. That Romney’s campaign can look at a story like Bloomberg’s and somehow treat it as a positive “experience” he will bring to the White House is pretty revealing about what Romney thinks about the skills the presidency requires.
* A harsh new ad attacks Romney and Bain: The Obama-allied Priorities USA Action is up with one of the toughest ads of the cycle: It features a Bain layoff victim talking to the camera for a minute about Romney’s failure to understand what Bain layoffs did to the lives of real people. The narrator says he lost his job at GST Steel in Kansas City after Bain made millions, and that he and his family lost their health care, only to see his wife become ill with cancer:
As always, this is about more than just driving up Romney’s negatives. It’s also about establishing a picture of Romney that will make voters more receptive to the coming attacks on his policies and the priorities they embody. It’s about creating a frame to make it easier for voters to accept that as difficult as it might be to believe, Romney really would implement policies that would benefit the rich at the expense of the middle class. — gs
* Romney’s new attack line — welfare reform: The latest “Obama as big-government liberal” attack is a new Romney campaign ad accusing the White House of “unilaterally dismantling” the Clinton-era welfare reform law. Last month, the White House announced it would allow waivers to states for some welfare work requirements. I’m surprised it took the Romney camp this long to pounce — conservative think tanks and blogs went hysterical a month ago — and the Obama campaign would do well to remember that welfare has been a winner for Republicans in the past.
* Romney’s telling ad strategy: Nate Cohn is puzzled by the Romney campaign’s advertising approach: few positive pro-Romney ads, but lots of negative anti-Obama ads. Cohn writes that even though Romney’s image with voters remains fairly malleable and therefore more vulnerable to attack ads, “the Romney campaign and their Super PAC allies have focused on attacking the President. That’s either a big mistake, or a sign that the Obama campaign is doing better than some think.”
* Crossroads launches Senate ad blitz: Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has launched a $7.2 million advertising buy in five key Senate states: Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Virginia. To echo Steve Kornacki, the non-presidential races are where Crossroads and other GOP super PACs are more likely to be decisive. Obama’s numbers remain relatively unchanged by the torrent of commercials against him; Senate, House and state candidates are less well-known to voters and thus more vulnerable to attack ads
* The White House won’t back Harry Reid: Wisely, the administration is refusing to get its hands dirty, with Jay Carney saying that Reid “speaks for himself.”
Meanwhile, Dana Milbank writes: “those close to the senator tell me that he’s delighted with the conflagration he sparked last week and that he is determined to keep it going.” And he should be delighted: Thanks to Reid, Romney’s tax returns likely will remain a talking point through to the GOP convention.
* Regulator — British bank laundered money for Iran: Another day, another low for the financial industry. This time, New York’s top banking regulator is accusing British bank Standard Chartered of scheming with Iran to launder $250 billion. Billion, with a “B.” According to regulators, the violations, which were devised by executives at the highest levels of the company, were so routine that Standard had a manual on how to automate hiding illegal transactions. (It’s worth noting that Standard isn’t the first bank facing similar sorts of allegation: HSBC, Wachovia and others looked the other way as Mexican drug cartels laundered billions.)
Maybe now that national security is involved, the White House and Congress will finally throw the book at some financial executives. Read Yves Smith’s take for more.
* Romney’s faith and Sheldon Adelson’s money: Tom Edsall digs into Romney megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and finds that among a host of other controversies associated him, “the source of Adelson’s huge campaign contributions would appear to create a conflict with Romney’s Mormon convictions.” While the other potential scandals surrounding Adelson remain at the investigation phase, the undisputed source of his fortunes — gambling — is in direct conflict with Mormon teaching.
* And Romney’s Ohio voting lie continues to crumble: The Columbus Dispatch has a good aticle on the continuing battle over early voting in Ohio, with experts politely saying that Romney was wrong to claim that the Obama campaign is trying to deny voting privileges to members of the military. This is ballooning into a very big story in the state — it will be interesting to see if it has any impact on the candidates’ numbers there. — gs