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For Romney, CEO Is a State of Mind

18 July 2012 in Trading Ideas

It appears as though the 2012 presidential election campaign has finally seen the drawing of first blood.

In recent weeks, President Obama and team have stepped up attacks on Republican candidate Mitt Romney – and, specifically, his tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital that Romney led until 1999, when he left to take over the planning and organization Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Or did Romney really leave Bain in 1999? The president’s campaign has asserted – with some success in recent polling data, it appears — that Romney continued to lead the firm until a separation agreement that was negotiated in 2002.

The key to the debate is how legitimately Romney can be tied to the time between the years in question, when Bain made a series of controversial investments including, according to the New York Times, those in “companies that specialized in outsourcing, laid off some of their workers, or declared bankruptcy.”

For the president, of course, it becomes a much easier task to defend his own record of shepherding less-than-stellar job growth over the past three-and-a-half years when his opponent may have led a company that had a direct hand in moving American jobs overseas.

On the surface, the evidence against Romney’s claims may appear  underwhelming. Several Bain filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission list him as CEO, president, sole director and only shareholder of the company; his campaign has declined to say if he attended any meetings or had contact with Bain during the 1999-2002 period and question, and financial disclosures show he drew at least $100,000 in 2001 from Bain, albeit as a “former executive,” according to a Massachusetts ethics commission filing cited by the Times.

On Sunday, however, a senior adviser to Romney told CNN that the former Massachusetts governor had “retired retroactively” in 1999, and that his listing on SEC documents was merely technical in nature, and was a far cry from having a management role in the company – or its assets.

With polls showing Obama’s lead in national head-to-head polls widening in the past 30 days, voters may  be of the mind that listing one’s self as CEO of a company while also taking money from said company is close enough to creating some responsibility for what that company does.