“Corporations are people, my friend,” Mitt Romney enthusiastically exclaimed last fall at the Iowa State Fair. Romney was referencing legal principles that give business corporations many of the rights possessed by actual human beings. But Romney is more than the exponent of this idea, he is its embodiment. If Romney wins in November, it will be the first time our country has elected a corporation to be President of the United States. Here are five reasons why that’s the case:
1. Romney’s pitch is a corporation. Romney’s central argument for his candidacy is that his successful record as a corporate executive makes him the right person to grow the U.S. economy. But there’s a “question of whether Mr. Romney understands the difference between running a business and managing an economy.” The aim of Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney ran for 15 years, was to make money for its investors, and in that regard Bain surely succeeded, earning $2.5 billion on $1.1 billion invested in 77 deals. But while Bain itself made money from most or all deals, more than one in five of those arrangements ended with the target company in bankruptcy. If the goal is job creation, Bain Capital is probably the wrong President.
2. Romney’s campaign is a corporation. As the Romney 2012 campaign has moved into high gear, so has the private equity fund Solamere Capital, which is run by Mitt’s son Tagg Romney and Spencer Zwick, who also serves as the top fundraiser on the Romney campaign staff. Solamere was launched with a $10 million investment from Mitt and Ann Romney, and Mitt also has provided strategic advice. “While Solamere has not operated exactly as a subsidiary of the Romney campaign, it has seemed that way at times. The firm shared its first address with the Romney campaign headquarters in Boston. Later, the company was located in the same building as Mr. Romney’s leadership PAC, Free and Strong America….” Some Solamere employees have been Romney fundraisers, and some Solamere investors are also Romney donors. The intertwined nature of the two ventures — let’s make money while running for President! — shows the prescience of Tim Robbins’ 1992 chilling film comedy Bob Roberts, where campaign staff day-trade stocks right from the candidate’s bus.
3. Romney’s friends are corporations. Romney stepped on his NASCAR message when he told an interviewer that he wasn’t that familiar with the circuit but he had some “great friends” who were NASCAR owners. It appears that most of Romney’s friends, great or otherwise, own corporations, and some do business with his ventures and contribute to his campaign. One example: On the trail, Romney has pointed to a for-profit college, Florida’s Full Sail University, as an innovative, cost-effective leader in higher education. Nevermind that Full Sail has sky-high prices and, at best, a mixed record when it comes to helping students. Romney did not inform voters that his campaign and Super PAC have received nearly $100,000 from Full Sail CEO Bill Heavener and from C. Kevin Landry, chairman of TA Associates, the private equity firm that owns Full Sail. Nor did he announce that Tagg Romney’s company, Solamere, offered its clients a stake in TA Associates, which owns not just Full Sail but a number of for-profit schools, including troubled Vatterott Colleges, marked by exploitative recruiting practices and high student loan defaults. When a candidate endorses his donors’ businesses, without even telling you they are donors (and business associates), there is legitimate concern that those donors might receive favorable treatment after the candidate is elected.
4. Romney’s advisors are corporations. Candidate Romney gets a great deal of policy advice from corporate executives and lobbyists. On February 9, Romney held a fundraising event in Washington, DC. For $10,000 one could participate in a policy roundtable. The energy discussion was led by L.E. Simmons, founder of a Texas private equity firm that invests in energy companies. The infrastructure panel was run by Senator-turned-corporate-lobbyist Jim Talent. The financial institutions component was handled by investment company CEO Richard Breeden. The health care panel was run by former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, now chair of Leavitt Partners, which advises corporate clients on health care issues. Education was addressed by Bill Hansen, president of testing technology maker Scantron, which sits on the education policy task force of the controversial corporate advocacy group ALEC. And so on. The potential for honest government and meaningful reform is threatened when foxes are guarding all the henhouses.
5. Romney’s donors are corporations. Romney has praised the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision for opening the door to unlimited election spending for “all corporations.” And Romney has without reservation encouraged the growth of the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future, which can accept endless donations from individuals and corporations. The Super PAC, founded by former Romney aides, has spent more than $53 million on ads in the Republican primaries and, gearing up for the general election, just announced it’s about to spend $4 million for advertising in nine battleground states. Restore Our Future has received $3 million from Texas home builder Bob Perry; $1 million each from F8 LLC and Eli Publishing, two Utah corporations fronting for former skin-care company exec Steven J. Lund; $1 million from outspoken former Bain Capital exec Edward Conard; and much, much more, allowing a small number of wealthy human people and corporate people to have an enormous influence on the election.
President Obama’s campaign network is also full of corporate and lobbyist influence. But with Mitt Romney, the takeover is complete. People who are alarmed about the growing influence of money in politics need to understand this: Mitt Romney is money in politics.