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“Nearly 200 Captured Castles”

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In my 2007 book on Mitt Romney, I wrote about his success in the private sector, but also about the problems his time as leader of Bain might pose. Here’s that excerpt, pp. 201-204:

Nearly 200 Captured Castles

I asked a former associate of Romney’s from the Bain Capital days how many companies Bain Capital had purchased in the years of Romney’s leadership there. Off the top of his head came the answer of between 160 and 200.

That’s a lot of companies, a lot of stories, a lot of potential disgruntled ax-grinders waiting to be asked for their view of the Bain way.

This happened to Romney in the course of the 1994 Senate run against Ted Kennedy. “US Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts hired detectives to scrutinize Romney’s past during the 1994 Senate race, in which Romney, a former venture capitalist, gave Kennedy his most vigorous challenge in his long career in Washington,” the Boston Globe reported on December 30, 2005. “The effort unearthed information that badly damaged Romney during the campaign: namely, that his venture capital firm had acquired an Indiana paper goods factory called Ampad Corp., fired more then 250 workers, and then rehired them at lower wages, leading to charges from the Kennedy camp that Romney was anti-labor.”

[# More #]

Why was the Globe writing about the 1994 Senate campaign more than a decade later, and even after Romney had declared he would not be running for re-election? Because earlier that month, the Globe reported, “virtually every agency in state government received public records requests” for “any and all records of communication involving William [Mitt] Romney dated to 1947, the year of his birth.” “The letters, each dated Dec. 7,” the Globe added, are signed by Shauna Daly, who only provided a post office box in Washington, D.C., as her address.” Daly was the deputy research director for the Democratic National Committee. The opposition research version of the “Big Dig” had begun.

It will eventually get to every company bought, sold, or invested in by Bain Capital during Romney’s tenure there, and perhaps afterwards as well. Americans have a vague idea about corporate turnarounds, and after the famed Barbarians at the Gate years as well as financial corporate scandals from BCCI to Enron to Conrad Black and far beyond, the voting public will be interested in tales told out of school by long-ago pushed aside CEOs and COOs, laid off workers and disappointed investors.

It is a target-rich environment, and one which does not seem to have received much attention from Team Romney. One confident of the governor seemed to dismiss the idea that anything new would be found if it hadn’t turned up, like AmPad, in either the 1994 or 2002 campaigns.

There was nothing-in 1994 or 2002-like the decentralized intelligence collection and distribution network that exists today. If Romney is the nominee, expect the bloggers of the Left, assisted by the DNC and of course Romney’s Democratic opponent and some 527s, to dig up the name of every company with which Romney has ever been associated and to throw the names into the political waters like so much chum. Whatever is there to be learned will be, and quite a lot of fiction will be thrown up as well as fact.

Justice Clarence Thomas had undergone at least two full field FBI background investigations and Senate confirmations before his nomination to the United States Supreme Court without a hint of controversy. When the stakes got that high, the Left “discovered” Anita Hill.

Once the big show gets under way, literally tens of thousands of amateur and not-so-amateur sleuths will begin the search and destroy mission aimed at Mitt Romney’s reputation.

Each one of the 160 to 200 companies that Bain Capital took over is the modern equivalent of a captured castle. Some in each of the castles might have welcomed the arrival of the new baron and his team. Some might have pretended to. And some no doubt got thrown over the walls.

Everyone is still out there, and there’s nothing more certain to draw attention to an old grievance than the new status of a participant in the brawl.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, I pointed out to Romney’s friend, had never stirred through all of John Kerry’s previous campaigns. But once he got close to the presidency, not only did they find new ambition to tell their story, the resources arrives to allow them to do so.

It seems likely that Romney’s Bain-imprinted emphasis on data and analysis will result in some pre-emptive work here. I fully expect that Team Romney will be the first to hunt for the dossiers of every company touched or even passed by during Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. I also expect that a feature of the Romney web site will chart this list, and provide a case history for each company before or since, as well as a Romney commentary on each transaction that that no members of the media will be able to escape a charge of bias if Romney’s view of the company’s fortunes is not at least recounted if not credited in the course of reporting generated by opposition research. “Hang a lantern on your problem,” is an old saying in politics, and it is practiced by Romney at the 2002 Games as with the seating sight lines in the Delta Center. Expect no less with each and every potential political vulnerability. “We tried to stay ahead of potentially damaging stories by disclosing problems up front,” Romney wrote in his Olympics memoir. If he follows his own past practice, the media will know a lot more about the companies Bain Capital invested in before the Democrats (or Romney’s primary opponents) do.

Still makes sense to me, but the challenge of explaining Bain’s record arrived much earlier in the cycle than anyone expected, and from very surprising sources.


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