Hiding his money
A quartet today:
We already know that Mitt Romney benefits hugely from the rules that favor the rich. But this report, woefully overlooked these past 24 hours, provides us with a classic example. The likely Republican presidential candidate has exploited a loophole in federal ethics laws to conceal the size and nature of his financial holdings in Bain Capital - which means that we don't know how or where his money is invested. More importantly, we don t know how or whether his policies as president would affect his investments.
The ethics laws require that candidates disclose their assets, but the feds exempt the assets that are bound by confidentiality agreements. And it just so happens that Romney's Bain assets (the brunt of his wealth) are bound by a confidentiality agreement.
This should be more catnip for the Obama re-election campaign, which seeks to paint Romney as who he really is, a one percenter who can't connect with average Americans. Team Obama need only cite these remarks from Republican lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who advises GOP candidates on financial disclosure issues - and who thinks that the federal ethics officials are giving Romney a free ride:
"(This exemption) turns the whole purpose of the ethics statute on its ear...I don’t know what legal authority exists for the federal ethics office to allow Mitt Romney not to disclose these assets. The statute intends for presidential candidates to publicly disclose underlying assets." She said that rich candidates are more likely than less-endowed candidates to have their assets covered by confidentiality agreements; therefore, it's a "double standard" to let them avoid disclosure.
Interestingly, the ethics cops gave the same exemption to Democrat John Kerry in 2004; he had assets in a Bain account held by his wife, Teresa. That was grist for the Bush re-election campaign, which spent much of the year painting Kerry as a rich wind-surfer who was out of touch with average Americans. We all know how that race turned out.
It's nice when Democrats and Republicans agree on something. It happened earlier this week, amid buzz that Romney might pick congressional whiz kid Paul Ryan as his running-mate. A lot of Republicans were thrilled at the prospect, because they view Ryan's conservative budget plan (which would disproportionately slash domestic programs that help lower-bracket Americans) as the holy grail. And a lot of Democrats were thrilled at the prospect, because they view Ryan's conservative budget plan (which would disproportionately slash domestic programs that help lower-bracket Americans) as stark evidence of GOP extremism.
But veep buzz is often fickle and ephemeral - we'll hear it incessantly for the next four months - and, by mid-week, it had moved to Ohio Senator Rob Portman. (I heard it first-hand. GOP strategist Rich Galen, whom I hosted at UPenn on Wednesday, mentioned Portman as well.) This buzz makes sense. Portman is a data-driven numbers guy, just like Romney. Plus, he hails from the GOP's most crucial swing state; no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.
On the other hand, Portman as a communicator is even more boring than Romney, and there's the inconvenient fact that the federal budget deficit more than doubled during his stint as George W. Bush's budget director. So the buzz will move on, before landing on Portman a few more times. And Chris Christie. And Marco Rubio. Right now, all we can really know for sure is that Romney will fully vet his choice, so as not to repeat the farce of '08, when John McCain wound up with a lightweight who didn't know anything.
Try as they might, Republicans can't quite extricate themselves from their past support for the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance. Such was the case again this week, when Team Romney announced that GOP strategist Ed Gillespie was coming aboard. Because it was a mere five years ago when Gillespie signed on as a lobbyist with the Coalition to Advance Health Care Reform - a business group that was gung ho for such a mandate.
The group's CEO couldn't have made it more clear: "Every American should be required to carry health insurance." Gillespie clearly had no problem with that, and why would he? That kind of mandate had long been a Republican idea, a proposed alternative to "HillaryCare" in 1993, a principle articulated in plain language by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in 1989.
Here's what the Heritage Foundation wrote that year, in its lengthy pitch for health care reform. This was reform provision number two:
"Mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance. Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seat belts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement....Health care protection is a responsibility of individuals."
There it is. If conservatives pitch the mandate, it's "individual responsibility." If Obama pitches the same mandate, it's socialism - or, in Rick Santorum's words, "the death knell of freedom."
Roughly a year ago, the GOP revived its quadrennial prediction that Jewish voters were poised to desert the Democrats in droves. This mass exodus has never come to pass, but the GOP really, really believed that the 2012 race would really, really be different - that Jewish voters would perceive President Obama to be a foe of Israel, particularly in the wake of his suggestion, last May, that Israel's prewar 1967 borders should be the basis for peace talks with the Palestinians.
I laughed at that prediction in a newspaper column last July, contending that such an exodus was less likely than a reunion of all four Beatles. Jewish Republicans, a small but vocal cadre, naturally took exception. And they got way more vocal in September, when Jewish voters in a Brooklyn-Queens congressional district defected in droves to the Republican congressional candidate in a special election. Deliverance! The first rumble of the anti-Obama Jewish earthquake! As Alan Steinberg, a New Jersey political science instructor and ex-Bush official, declared in an online article, that New York congressional election "presages massive defections of Jewish voters from Obama (who is) now on life support, due to the defection of a key Democratic constituency."
By now you know where I'm going with this.
Earlier this week, the Public Religion Research Institute, an independent group, released a national survey of Jewish voters, and guess what: 62 percent favor Obama, and 30 percent prefer a Republican. That's interesting, because six weeks after Obama uttered his supposedly damaging remark about Israel's prewar 1967 borders, Gallup surveyed Jewish voters and found that 62 percent favored Obama and 30 percent did not. And those numbers are virtually identical to Gallup's numbers back in June 2008, when the polling firm gauged Jewish sentiment toward candidate Obama.
Nothing has changed - because, as the new independent poll points out, Israel is not a top-tier priority for most American Jews. The poll found that economic injustice, the growing gap between rich and poor, is a far more pressing concern. Jewish voters, a pivotal presence in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, would never flock en masse to a guy who hides his abundant wealth with the help of a federal ethics loophole. Nor can Romney endear himself by opposing Obamacare, because nearly 60 percent of Jewish voters support it.
Time to park that quadrennial GOP prediction, and try try again in 2016.
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