In recent weeks the Obama campaign has centered its attacks on Mitt Romney's history with the private equity firm, Bain Capital. Romney has said that he left the company for good in 1999, two years before a Kansas steel mill under the firm's control filed for bankruptcy, leaving hundreds of workers unemployed. The story of GST Steel has been a major component of the President's criticism of Romney's economic credibility.
In 1999, Romney took his leave from Bain Capital to run the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. However, the Boston Globe reports a number of interactions between Romney and Bain that indicate that he remained involved with the firm in a significant way. He earned money from the firm as an "executive," separate from investment earnings, and a number of news sources described his departure as a part-time leave of absence instead of a permanent exit.
Edward Conard, former managing director at Bain Capital and author of "Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told about the Economy is Wrong," contends that the questions are nothing more than a distraction from the real issues. "I do think that this is a tactic to divert from what's important in the election, because I think the underlying story here is not nearly as interesting as everybody wants to make it out to be."
"In February of 1999, Mitt came to us and said he had an offer to run the Olympics," Conard says. "He felt that it was important for him to make the contribution and that he was going to leave the firm to go do it, and he left the firm to go do it. We were left to then figure out how to run the firm successfully without him."
Romney's departure, Conard says, came at a time of major restructuring at the private equity firm, and it took a while for the company's executives to "untangle that."
Even though Romney's name remained on the firm's books as one of the managers as late as 2002, Conard contends that that does not mean that Romney was involved with any decisions made at that time, including the decision to scuttle GST Steel. "I would tell you that the partners of Bain Capital were making investment decisions without Mitt's input, and I don't think that anybody felt that they needed to call Mitt up and ask his permission," Conard says.
"Whatever decisions have to be made in the normal course of business would've been made. I don't think somebody would've stopped and said, 'Oh geez, Mitt's head is still on the masthead, maybe we ought to call [him up.]"