If the early bird gets the worm, then President Obama‘s reelection team had themselves a midnight feast early Tuesday morning, devouring Vanity Fair‘s damaging exposé of Mitt Romney‘s International Money of Mystery, and distributing the barely-digested spoils to reporters within minutes. Just after midnight, Team Obama sent a bullet-pointed memo to reporters, a full 9 hours before Vanity Fair‘s PR team got their pitch out to the press.
As Mediaite‘s Noah Rothman noted, the subject of former Massachusetts Gov. Romney’s secretive financial dealings is a potent weakness in Romney’s quest for the presidency, one which his opponents have been exploiting for quite some time.
Much of the damage, though, is self-inflicted. While Vanity Fair reporter Nicholas Shaxson‘s piece raises many questions about Romney’s use of offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, the true “blindness” of his blind trust, and the ice-blooded business practices of Romney’s Bain Capital, it is the Romney campaign’s sparse responses to Shaxson that are truly deadly:
- One might perhaps accept an explanation by Romney’s campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, that the candidate’s failure to include his Swiss account in earlier financial disclosures was merely a “trivial inadvertent issue.”
- Andrea Saul said of these investments, “Everything … was reported correctly.”
- Andrea Saul retorts, “Why should successful investments be criticized?”
- Romney’s I.R.A. appears to have employed this lawful escape route, and his campaign has used language suggesting that it has. But that would mean the Romney camp’s claim that Mitt’s tax consequences of investing via the Cayman Islands is “the very same” as it would have been had he invested directly at home is simply not true. (Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul says Romney “gets the same benefit anyone would get from an I.R.A.,” but she did not respond to questions on whether his I.R.A. had used blockers or avoided taxes by investing via tax havens.)
And this, from Bain Capital:
When politics overwhelm fact, some will distort or cherry-pick our record and launch unfounded allegations and insinuations. The truth and the full record show that Bain Capital operates with high standards of integrity and excellence in compliance with all laws. Any suggestion to the contrary is baseless.
The best they can say, then, is that Romney didn’t break the law, a boast which, notwithstanding their refusal to verify it, is faint reassurance to voters whom Romney expects to hand him the blank pages of that rulebook. At worst, it sounds like the protests of every movie mobster that he’s a “legitimate businessman.” It’s not a good look for a presidential candidate. The Romney campaign may have been wiser not to comment at all. Saul’s characterization of the Swiss bank account as a “trivial inadvertent issue” was particularly unhelpful, evocative of Romney’s insistence that $374,000 a year in speaking fees is “not very much.”
The Vanity Fair report has become a buzzworthy topic on cable news, aided by the Obama campaign’s rapid pitch to reporters, and the 4th of July holiday means a few extra days for the Washington media to talk about it. Noah wonders if Vanity Fair perhaps shot the Obama campaign’s load early, but the dense, extensive exposé was never likely to drive public opinion on its own, especially among independents. It’s a big bucket of political media chum, driving the political press into a feeding frenzy that will have at least one concrete benefit to the Obama campaign: It turns up the already-high pressure on Mitt Romney to release more of his tax returns (so far, the candidate has released his 2010 return, and an estimate for 2011).
Whether Romney ultimately releases them or not is almost irrelevant, because his refusal to do so (especially given that his father, George Romney, is the man who set the standard for such disclosures) will definitely hurt him with voters. Reports like this, though, might ultimately force Romney to do the right thing and release a dozen or so years of tax returns, on the theory that whatever is in them can’t be as bad as what everyone is now imagining.
There has also been the suggestion that the Vanity Fair report is possibly the result of an Obama campaign oppo research dump, one that is superficially supported by the campaign’s quick release of their memo, and by this casual, deeply buried attribution in the piece:
The Obama campaign provided a helpful world map pointing to the tax havens Bermuda, Luxembourg, and the Cayman Islands, where Romney and his family have assets, each with the tagline “Value: not disclosed in tax returns.”
However, that very disclosure is, in fact, a certain indication that this wasn’t a campaign oppo dump, because neither source nor reporter would be well-served by its inclusion.
No, the Obama campaign’s quick response to the Vanity Fair article is more an indication of Team Obama 2.0’s strength, which is its omnipresence and omnipotence at data collection and exploitation. While the Romney effort is opening up a wide fundraising advantage, the Obama campaign’s unanswerable strength is that, like Savoir Faire, they are everywhere.
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