Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Mitt Romney Went Off to Save the Olympics

Guest Post by Ebbtide

 Mighty Mitt

Now that Romney has pretty much disavowed his experience as Governor of Massachusetts, and is finding it more and more painful each time he hears the name Bain mentioned, what is left for him to fall back on as a measure of his competence?

Apparently his only remaining hole card is the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, which, at first glance, appears to be a pretty strong card. But let’s take a closer look at that whole enterprise, shall we?

To recap the period BEFORE Mighty Mitt came on the scene, there was a huge scandal wherein the Salt Lake Olympic Committee (SLOC) was found to have been going way over the edge in bribing people in the IOC in order to secure Salt Lake as the Olympic venue. Salt Lake had tried to get the Olympics before, with the usual gifts and trinkets, but in the mid-1990s, they went overboard with bribes such as college educations and jobs for IOC families etc.

The scandal led to a huge shakeup with the SLOC, criminal indictments for some of its members, and problems galore, from budget shortfalls to terrible image problems that were threatening to make a complete bust of the upcoming Games. Thus the call went out to find someone to take over the organizational leadership, and thus began the "Romney Went Off to the Olympics" era.

Even as Romney was being named to head the games, there were some who questioned how the decision was made.

And, although Romney presented his decision to go to Utah as “a time to give something back to his country,” there were other more self-serving reasons as well.

According to a Boston Globe article, “Having been defeated in his Senate race against Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, Romney knew his political future hung on the fate of the Games…’If this doesn’t work, I can come back to private life, but I won’t be anything anymore in public life,’ he confided to [Mutual Life Insurance’s president, David] D’Alessandro.”

Even before Romney got to Utah, the Games and the organizers had raised some eyebrows due to their majority Mormon control. Bringing in another Mormon, Romney, only continued the talk.

This was compounded when one of the first things Romney did when he got to Utah was appoint a fellow Mormon as his second in command. This did not sit well with Jon Huntsman, Sr., a fellow Mormon and, at the time one of Utah’s most prominent citizens, who said,

“We’ve got a chairman [Garff] who is active LDS, now we’ve got a present
CEO who is active LDS. They claim they’re going out and really scouring
the world to find the best person, so Mitt brings in one of his cronies to be the
COO. Another broken promise. Because we’ve got three LDS folks who are all cronies. Cronyism at its peak. They told the world and told Salt Lake that we’re going to go out and find the most professional, the best, and to have some diversity--spiritual and ethnic. Diversity in the Olympic Games is what it’s all about. These are not the Mormon

The report also revealed:

"After criticizing the Mormon influence on SLOC following the appointment of Mitt Romney as CEO in early 1999, wealthy Mormon industrialist Jon Huntsman, an early critic of SLOC and Olympic finances, met with Romney and never again publicly criticized any aspect of the Games."

Kind of makes you wonder what kind of a truce was struck between the Huntsman and Romney clans. And wonder what the Huntsmans, Senior AND Junior now think about Romney deep down.


There’s no denying that Romney was instrumental in making the 2002 Games a successful enterprise. He had many admirers:

Through an extraordinary effort by Mitt Romney and the staff he put together, they not only avoided a very difficult time for the Olympics, but put on the greatest Winter Games I have ever seen,” said William Hybl, then the president of the US Olympic Committee.


“Fan boi” Dick Ebersol, who was chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, who said, “Mitt Romney was single-handedly responsible for those Games being the immense success they were.”

He also had detractors.

Ken Bullock, who was on the organizing committee and was executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns said, “He tried very hard to build an image of himself as a savior, the great white hope. He was very good at characterizing and castigating people and putting himself on a pedestal.

Sydney Fonnesbeck, who was a former Salt Lake City councilor said, “What turned me sour was his demand to get all the credit and ignore everybody who put in thousands and thousands of hours before he arrived.”

Even Garff, a Romney supporter, saw an underlying self-interest aspect to Romney and the Games, This was the thing he could do to propel himself into the national spotlight which I believe was all part of his overarching plan of his life.”

Although there were definitely problems when Romney arrived, his characterization conflicted with the views of others. Romney described it as “The tsunami of financial, banking, legal, government, morale, and sponsorship problems,” while others, like Garff said, “Yes, we were out of balance…but in my mind, there was no sense of panic.”

Being the face of the Olympics even extended to Romney having his image used on a series of promotional buttons with slogans including “Hey, Mitt, we love you!” and even one with Romney as a superhero wrapped in the American flag.


According to the Globe’s 2007 article:

Romney trimmed the budget to $1.32 billion, launched marketing campaigns, and established an austerity program…

While Romney’s moves energized the committee, some people familiar with the budget insist his dire forecasts were overstated. A Globe review of archived records showed the organizing committee already had secured commitments of nearly $1 billion in revenues…before Romney arrived.

State and federal money had also been secured prior to Romney’s arrival. Senator Bob Bennett, who served as point man for the federal funding confirmed that and said, “The Clinton administration was completely supportive in saying these are America’s games, we will do whatever we can to make sure they are successful.”

How much money are we talking about here? The ”official” amount—direct federal aid for the Games was $382 million.

But according to a Sports Illustrated article from December 2001 if you added up all the various entities that tapped into federal money for everything from road development by Olympic venues to tax dollars per athlete, it was more like $1.5 billion. YES, billion. More than the total amount spent by lawmakers to support all seven Olympic Games held in the U.S. since 1904—combined. In inflation-adjusted dollars.

These games set some dubious records as far as government spending. Per the article:

Most government entities tapped for cash. With all the skill, grace and precision of a hockey team on a power play, Utah's five-member congressional delegation has used the Olympics to drain money from an unprecedented number of federal departments, agencies and offices—some three dozen in all, from the Office of National Drug Control Policy to the Agriculture Department.

Most U.S. tax dollars per athlete. Federal spending for the Salt Lake City Games will average $625,000 for each of the 2,400 athletes who will compete. (Not a penny of it will go to the athletes.) That's a 996% increase from the $57,000 average for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. It's a staggering 5,582% jump from the $11,000 average for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Again, these are inflation-adjusted dollars.

What, exactly, are your tax dollars buying? Here's a sampling.

·       Parking lots are costing you $30 million. Some $12 million of that is paying for two 80-acre fields to be graded and paved for use as two temporary lots, then returned to meadows after the flame is extinguished.

·        Housing for the media and new sewers are each costing you $2 million.

·        Repaved highways, new roads and bridges, enlarged interchanges and an electronic highway-information system are costing you $500 million.

·        Buses, many brought in from other states, to carry spectators to venues are costing you $25 million.

·        Fencing and other security measures at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in northeast Salt Lake City—to protect patients and staff from the Olympic hordes—are costing you $3 million.

·        A light-rail transit system that will ferry Olympic visitors around Salt Lake City is costing you $326 million.

·        Improvements at Salt Lake City-area airports are costing you $16 million.

·        Infectious-disease monitoring, food inspection and mobile medical response teams—aside from those specifically related to bioterrorism threats—are costing you $11 million.

·        Testing programs to try to assure a drug-free Olympics are costing you $3 million.

·        Increased services provided by the U.S. Forest Service, the Postal Service, the Interior Department and the State Department are costing you $16 million.

·        Recycling and composting are costing you $1 million, and public education programs for air, water and waste management are costing you another $1 million.

·        A weather-forecasting system being set up for SLOC is costing you $1 million.

·        New lives planted in Salt Lake City and other communities "impacted," as the funding legislation put it, by the Olympics are costing you $500,000. Said Utah senator Robert Bennett, who arranged for the money, "We do the Olympics because it gets us together doing things like planting trees."

·        Security is costing you about $240 million. Given the events of Sept. 11, few people would quibble with so large an outlay even though it's a 150% increase over the federal tab for safeguarding the Atlanta Games, which had twice as many venues and four times as many athletes to protect. What's surprising is that $200 million of this was approved before Sept. 11. Less than 24 hours before the attacks, in fact, Romney was in Washington seeking $12.7 million to cover a portion of salaries and expenses for Utah police who will be involved in Games security.

So yeah, Romney might have saved the Olympics, but he pretty much did a lot of that with OUR money. (NOTE—I highly recommend this article, brought to my attention by Katie Annie Oakley. It covers all of the shady deals that were part and parcel of the Salt Lake Games, not just the Romney period. It’s a real eye-opener.)


To listen to the Romney’s, you’d think Mitt “went off to save the Olympics” out of the goodness of his heart, with no ulterior or monetary motives. He originally pledged that he would not exploit the position for political gain, and would not accept any severance pay. (Romney accepted $922,980 in total salary and also took a severance package.) 
He and Ann reportedly donated $1 million to the organizing committee, so his motives were not monetary, but again, Mitt’s stories don’t match his actions. He told the Salt Lake City Tribute that one of his “absolutes” was that he would not accept any severance pay.”

Romney not only accepted a $476,000 severance package from the SLOC…but he helped to lobby the committee for similarly large pacts for his 25 senior managers, 17 of whom contributed to his 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign or the state Republican Party soon after the Winter Games.

Romney supposedly donated his Olympic salary and severance to charity (does charity begin with the Mormon church? Anybody?)

Again, from the Globe article:

All told, Romney reaped more than $1.5 million in campaign funds during his governorship from individuals and families with ties to the Olympics. Many of his Olympic-related donors have since joined a massive fund-raising movement for Romney’s presidential campaign. (NOTE: This article is talking about his 2008 campaign—who knows what has happened during his current run)

And as far as his pledge to not exploit his Olympic position for political gain?

On March 17, 2002, Mitt and Ann arrived back in Massachusetts, wearing matching leather jackets with Olympic logos. On March 19, he announced his candidacy for Governor.


There are many other questionable aspects to Romney’s Olympic story. There is some talk about him naming companies as sponsors in which Bain he had a stake, even though there was an agreement to avoid any conflicts of interest. Others, I’m sure are exploring those issues.)

And then, there is the “elephant in the room” which was the Mormon Church’s involvement in the Salt Lake Games. Some even referred to the Games as the “Mormon Games” or “Molympics.”

At the opening of a SLOC-arranged media “familiarization”
tour in February 2001, reporters met with LDS public affairs officials, but not representatives from any other church. Candus Thomson of the Baltimore Sun remarked:
“If they’re trying desperately to say these are not the ‘Molympics,’ that was not the
thing to do on the first night. They made us uncomfortable.”

And, of particular interest, given Romney’s current meme about the Obama campaign’s rhetoric—when he staged a press conference to tamp down the talk about Mormon involvement in the Games, these were his words:

He said he was tired of fielding questions about the church’s
influence in the Olympics, and found such talk “divisive and demeaning” – divisive by creating conflict when the Olympics were supposed “to be a uniter, not a divider” and demeaning by failing to recognize the contributions of all peoples to the Games.

Pointing out that its affiliated corporations, not the church itself, had made contributions to support the Games, Romney peevishly snapped: “I was brought up to thank
people for gifts, not to criticize them.”

So, if Romney plans to rest upon the laurels of his Olympic feats, he’s going to have some “splainin” to do.”


Ebbtide has asked me to include the following youtube video. Hat-tip to honestyingov. 

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