Did Mitt Romney run Bain after 1999? Will voters care if he did?

The Obama team may believe that keeping the focus on Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain serves to remind voters of his venture capital past. But evidence is scant that voters are swayed by this line of attack. 

Evan Vucci/AP
In this July 11 photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Houston, Texas.

Did Mitt Romney run Bain Capital after 1999? Will voters care if he did, or didn’t?

These questions arise due to recent news reports on Bain Capital SEC filings indicating that Mr. Romney retained control over the firm for years after his announced 1999 departure to run the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The Boston Globe reported on these documents this week, following stories by David Corn of Mother Jones and other journalists earlier in the month.

This might seem like political hair-splitting – what’s three years, after all? But Bain Capital, during those years, was involved in investments in outsourcing firms and several job-killing bankruptcies. Romney doesn’t want to be tied to those events – something the Obama campaign is trying to do.

“Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission], which is a felony, or he is misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments,” said Stephanie Cutter, President Obama's deputy campaign manager, on Thursday in a conference call with reporters.

In the past, independent journalistic fact-finding organizations have found that the Obama team’s attempts to link Romney to Bain’s outsourcing investments are a stretch at best and deceptive at worst. They say nothing in the new revelations changes that judgment.

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler called the SEC documents “relatively unimportant,” and noted that Romney filed a federal financial disclosure form that states he had no active role in Bain during the years in question. A misstatement on the disclosure form would indeed be a felony, wrote Mr. Kessler.

“That filing would seem to trump these SEC documents,” he concluded.

At FactCheck.org, Brooks Jackson cites a University of Pennsylvania law professor’s opinion that there is no basis for the Obama camp’s claim that Romney committed a felony on the SEC papers.

“None of the SEC filings show that Romney was anything but a passive, absentee owner during that time, as both Romney and Bain have long said,” writes Jackson. “It should not surprise anyone that Romney retained certain titles while he was working out the final disposition of his ownership.”

Does this mean the White House will have to abandon this line of attack? Ha! Haven’t paid much attention to this election cycle, have you?

The Obama team may believe that forcing Romney to explain why he wasn’t running Bain after 1999 is almost as good as actually proving that he was running Bain after 1999. That’s because every day the word “Bain” shows up in headlines, it reminds voters of Romney’s venture capital past – and it’s a day when job loss numbers didn’t dominate the national political conversation.

“Sure, Romney’s name appeared on Bain’s SEC filings. But he didn’t make Bain’s decisions. He only benefited financially from them,” writes Slate political blogger David Weigel. “Now you see why the Obama campaign thinks it can drag this out over weeks and months.”

But here’s the not-little-secret about the 2012 campaign: So far, the daily stuff doesn’t seem to matter. Bain, bad job reports, the US Supreme Court decision on health care, Mr. Obama’s comment that the private-sector economy is “doing fine” – there’s little evidence any of that has moved the polls one iota, according to Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics senior election analyst.

Since the end of the Republican primary season, virtually all major polls of registered voters have shown Obama slightly ahead of the presumptive GOP nominee. Virtually all surveys of likely voters have the candidates in a dead heat.

“This is a long way of pointing out that the various events in the campaign that journalists have focused on ... have done almost nothing to move this race,” writes Mr. Trende.

Obama’s attacks on Romney haven’t been able disqualify the former Massachusetts governor for the presidency in the minds of voters – particularly white working-class voters, a group for whom Obama holds little appeal. Meanwhile, Romney’s focus on job losses has ignored the fact that the economy isn’t terrible. It isn’t good, but it isn’t horrendous at this point, either.

“Overall, we just haven’t seen the type of event that would cause this campaign to break open one way or the other. If I had to bet, given the overall dynamics of the campaigns, I’d say we won’t see much net movement until the end,” writes Trende.

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