Monday, April 9, 2012

Financial Disclosure Requirements Mean Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney Must Disclose the Details of His Investments – Except He Doesn’t Have To

The Very Wealthy Play by Different Rules

One of the better things about campaigns these days is that candidates for President are required not just to disclose their net worth and total assets, but also disclose the details of those holdings.  The logic is that in a democracy voters are entitled to know if a candidate is pursuing policies which would benefit them personally or their holdings specifically.  We now know, for example, that the tax proposals of Mr. Romney could, if enacted, result in tax savings for he and his family in the hundred million dollar plus range.

But there is a loophole in the disclosure law, and people like Mr. Romney take full advantage of that loophole.

In 48 accounts from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded in Boston, Romney declined on his financial disclosure forms to identify the underlying assets, including his holdings in a company that moved U.S. jobs to China and a California firm once owned by Bain that filed for bankruptcy years ago and laid off more than 1,000 workers.

So how does Mr. Romney avoid the disclosure required of ordinary mortals.  Well he has a confidentiality agreement and the people who regulate this sort of thing have allowed those agreements to trump disclosure laws.

But since the 2004 campaign — when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry declined to disclose some of his wife’s holdings — the Office of Government Ethics has permitted nominees and presidential candidates to postpone revealing underlying assets in investment accounts that have a legally binding confidentiality agreement.

(yes Democrats do this sort of thing too, wealth being a more powerful factor than politics).

Even Republicans are somewhat aghast at the lack of transparency by the Romney campaign and the candidate.

“His approach turns the whole purpose of the ethics statute on its ear,” said Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer who has represented dozens of candidates and officials in the disclosure process, including Romney’s leading challenger for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum.

Of course Mr. Romney wants to release the information, he even asked Bain for permission to do so,

But his advisers say Bain holdings, the source of most of his wealth, are kept confidential at the request of Bain management for proprietary business reasons. Romney’s attorneys asked Bain officials to release information about the funds, but the request was denied, according to Saul.

(wink, wink, nod, nod). 

The legal point here is that law trumps private agreements.  One cannot enter into a private agreement that is in opposition to legal requirements, people cannot ‘contract’ away illegality.  But of course government regulation in this area is weak and ineffective, and besides, these are rich people we are talking about.  They don’t play by the same rules everyone else has to. 

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