What’s It All About, Romney?
by Leo Gerard
“What’s it all about, Romney?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Romney?
Are we meant to take more than we give. . .” ~With apologies to Burt Bacharach and Hal David who wrote the original song, “Alfie”
As Mitt Romney laughs while “apologizing” for bullying a fellow high school student and mocks NASCAR fans’ plastic rain slickers, he seems unaware that he comes off as Richie Rich’s evil twin.
Part of Romney’s image problem is that he leads not as a selfless Lincolnesque statesman but as an Ayn Rand greed worshiper. Setting the standard for his campaign, Romney gave a high-profile plug to a company owned and run by major donors. His son has followed in those ethically challenged footsteps by using his campaign connections to launch a business. And a campaign adviser benefitted from illicitly leaked confidential government information.
In RomneyWorld, that’s all OK. His answer to the song’s question, “Are we meant to take more than we give,” is a resounding “YES.” “What’s it all about?” For Romney, it’s about exploiting the 99 percent for the profit of the 1 percent. That vulture capitalist philosophy is bad enough in the business world, but it’s dead wrong for public service. As the head of his company, Romney made so much money that he squirreled it away in the Cayman Islands and secret Swiss bank accounts. But shadiness and avarice aren’t attributes Americans prize in the head of their country.
Romney’s stealth product placement occurred in December. He endorsed the business of donors Bill Heavener, CEO of Full Sail University, and C. Kevin Landry, chairman of TA Associates, the private equity firm that owns the Florida college. On at least two campaign stops, Romney specifically named and promoted Full Sail University, urging students to consider such for-profit colleges to contain the cost of higher education.
Romney didn’t mention that the price of many Full Sail programs is $40,000 a year – thirteen times that of a typical not-for-profit community college. And Romney neglected to mention that Heavener is co-chairman of the Romney fund-raising team in Florida. And that Heavener gave $45,000 and Landry $40,000 to the Romney super PAC Restore Our Future.
How hard would it have been for Romney to say: “By the way, this campaign stop brought to you by Full Sail University, a school with a spotty graduation rate whose CEO happens to love me.” That’s what ethical television anchors do when they broadcast glowing stories about companies with financial ties to station owners.
Movie producers don’t provide such advisories when they prominently place products like Coke or Wheaties in scenes. But filmmakers are selling a product, just like Coke is hawking sugary carbonated water. Little but avarice is expected of them. The likes of news broadcasters and statesmen are held to a higher standard.
When Romney models sketchy behavior, it’s no wonder those connected to his campaign engage in it. Take, for example, the way his son Tagg and his friend Spencer Zwick formed Solamere, a private equity firm. Tagg served as a senior advisor to Romney’s failed 2008 bid for the Republican nomination and Zwick was the 2008 campaign’s top fund-raiser.
After the 2008 race, Tagg and Zwick held something incredibly valuable in their hands. It was the list of Romney’s rich campaign donors. These wealthy contributors were perfect prospects for the pair in pursuit of private profit.
Tagg and Zwick could hit up the rich donors for $10 million each to launch Solamere. While deliberating investment, the rich donors would bear in mind that Romney was considered the likely Republican nominee in four years.
Tagg contends only five of the investors were donors he knew solely from his father’s contributors list. And Tagg and Zwick deny their connection to Romney prompted investors to hand over $244 million to a start-up by two people with no private equity experience.
There was no relationship between the campaign and the firm, they contend, even though Solamere was located in the same buildings as the campaign and later a Romney PAC and Zwick solicited for Solamere at the same time he solicited for the PAC.
And then there’s the case of Romney’s campaign advisor who benefitted from leaked sensitive government information.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Inspector General has determined that board member Terence F. Flynn disclosed confidential information to former board members for their private gain. One of those who got the information is Peter Schaumber, who Mitt Romney selected last September to co-chair his campaign’s labor policy advisory committee. The campaign now says Schaumber resigned in December. That’s the very month Flynn learned he was under investigation for the disclosures.
Some of the information Flynn leaked was so sensitive that, the NLRB has said, the agency would have refused to give it to Congress. The Inspector General has asked the Office of Special Counsel to investigate whether Flynn’s releases to Schaumber violated the federal Hatch Act, which bans public officials from using government access to advance political campaigns.
“What’s it all about, Romney?” For him and those in his campaign, it’s about private gain.
The lyrics of the song “Alfie” admonish against selfishness.
That is a concept, however, that escapes Romney and his supporters. They don’t get it. They don’t understand that Americans don’t really like Richie Rich’s evil twin, his arrogant attitude of entitlement, or his belief in taking more than he gives.
Leo W. Gerard is President of the United Steelworkers and a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger