Commentary Magazine


Romney’s Real Bain Problem

Today’s New York Times story on Bain Capital and China is a perfect example of how Mitt Romney’s ties to the firm will continue to be a headache for him, even when everyone agrees he has done nothing wrong and is not responsible for any questionable behavior.

That is the case with this story, in which long after Romney left Bain, a company fund purchased a Chinese company that supplies the Chinese government with cameras that are almost certainly being used, in part, to monitor and suppress dissidents. This particular story, however, is not about protecting dissidents but rather tying Romney to Bain’s activity. Romney’s family has a blind trust that has holdings in the fund that bought the Chinese company, though by definition the family had no say in the investment. Though the headline targets Romney, here are a few quotes from throughout the story that Romney’s detractors should keep in mind:

  • “Mr. Romney has had no role in Bain’s operations since 1999 and had no say over the investment in China.”
  • “In a statement, R. Bradford Malt, who manages the Romneys’ trusts, noted that he had put trust assets into the fund before it bought Uniview. He said that the Romneys had no role in guiding their investments. He also said he had no control over the Asian fund’s choice of investments. ”
  • “Bain employees have also made substantial contributions to Democratic candidates, including President Obama. ”
  • “Most video surveillance equipment is not covered by the sanctions, even though a Canadian human rights group found in 2001 that Chinese security forces used Western-made video cameras to help identify and apprehend Tiananmen Square protesters. ”
  • “ ‘A lot of the stuff we’re talking about is truly dual use,’ said Mr. Reinsch, a former Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration. ‘You can sell it to a local police force that will use it to track down speeders, but you can also sell it to a ministry of state security that will use it to monitor dissidents.’ ”

“Dual use” seems to me a pretty weak defense, for the Chinese government’s brutal repression of its citizens is widely known. (No thanks to the New York Times, of course.) But if the Romneys did nothing wrong, why put his name in the headline? The reason to do so is to saddle Romney with Bain’s baggage. It may be misleading and dishonest (politics ain’t bean bag, I think Romney has himself said on separate occasions), but it does draw attention to how this has hindered Romney’s election bid.

When Newt Gingrich bought the rights to an excruciatingly silly movie about Bain, there were reasons to dismiss it. The trailer, for example, featured a woman suggesting that Romney had roving death squads to silence former employees. (The death squads thankfully never materialized.) In addition, two of the four companies featured in the film as being victims of the firm’s profit motive were not under Romney’s management at the time.

A clip in the movie was portrayed as Romney getting his shoes shined on the runway before boarding a plane, but was actually Romney getting wanded by security. In the end, the movie turned out to have portrayed its subject about as accurately as “Game Change” portrayed Sarah Palin and her handlers–that is, as a caricature based on liberal conventional wisdom.

But perception is a tricky thing, especially in politics. If the left can successfully portray Bain Capital as operating with nefarious intent and questionable practices, it won’t matter much whether Romney was involved in particular cases. People will wonder what in the world he was doing running a company like that. The Romney campaign has seemed ill-prepared throughout this campaign to deal with Bain-related roadblocks. This article is just a taste of why they don’t have that luxury.