There may be a lesson to be learned from a recent Northern California Congressional race that could be useful to the Democrats in fending off the Romney-Ryan dastardly duo. There are two issues that come up time and again for Romney, Bain Capital and his missing tax returns. Yes, there is a lot of back and forth over who is really “saving” Medicare, or whose fault the recession is (and then of course there’s Seamus the Irish Setter, who still has legs after all these years), but these two issues – Bain and taxes – must not be allowed to be lost amid the murk of more issue oriented discussion. Here’s what happened in the 2nd Congressional District this year, and why this commentator believes there’s a parallel in the Romney-Obama race.
Romney’s Role at Bain Post 1999
The Romney/Bain Capital scandal is a more than delicious soap opera. In it, we learn that not only was Bain an enthusiastic outsourcer of jobs, during that period Romney claimed not to be involved, but it also invested in a company that specialized in dumping aborted fetuses, something the right-wing anti-choice crowd has compared to actions of the Nazis. The contentious issue is whether he, as chairman of the board, CEO and owner, listed on the SEC filings as late as 2002, after claiming to have left control in 1999, to go to the Olympics (No, he wasn’t in the competitive hair-gel category), was actually responsible for these decisions, or at least had knowledge of them.
The consensus at least among the Democratic pundits has been, “Duh, well of course!” Romney’s own camp counters with, “Well, he was much too busy pulling the Olympics’ fat out of the fire to be concerned with the day to day trivialities of his own company.” The point is, however, that either the Mittster was up to his eyeballs in Bain management and had an active role in decision-making during that period, or he is a clueless wonder who can’t keep track of the boards he sits on and shouldn’t be trusted with a child’s piggy bank, let alone the finances of a major company or the United States Treasury.
Taxes, Taxes, Whose Got the Taxes?
Romney also has stonewalled on releasing any more than a single year of his tax returns. Finally, this week, he made the statement that he didn’t pay “less than 13% in the past ten years.” That in itself speaks volumes, for a man who earns more than 20 million a year. But more to the point, why not let the public see the tax returns? What is he hiding? While he not have done anything illegal, the fact of his continuing to withhold information routinely supplied by every other presidential candidate in the past ___ years, is cause for suspicion.
Now how do these two facts relate to what occurred in California’s 2nd Congressional District this year?
Stacey Lawson and the California Second Congressional District Race: Lawson and Chelsey Henry
In this race, neophyte wannabe Stacey Lawson touted her credentials as a “job creator,” claiming she was the only one in a crowded field who had created hundreds, thousands, or maybe 50 (depending on what day it was) jobs in various start-ups she worked with. She was maddeningly vague about her roles and it became clear to those in the know that she was exaggerating her importance to any jobs created, at the least.
She was on a campaign cash roll, and polling high for the number two spot on the fall ballot in California’s first top-two primary. Then information surfaced about one of her more recent start-ups, in which she was actually held the title of Chair of the Board. This company, Chelsey Henry, had failed to remit its payroll taxes, taxes collected from employees, to both the State and Federal governments for a number of quarters. Additionally, it was learned that the business outsourced its product production (high-end women’s handbags) to China.
This information emerged in a key debate and was quickly picked up by major news outlets in the District, as well as an anonymous website entitled “Who is Stacey Lawson?” (which itself sparked a mouth-watering buzz in the blogosphere.) Ms. Lawson compounded her culpability by making several contradictory and misleading statements about her relationship with the company. First she claimed it filed bankruptcy after the discrepancies were discovered. Later she had to correct herself when confronted with the fact that the company was actually taken over by one of its many creditors.
Then she claimed she and the other board members “rectified” the errors in reporting once they learned of it. (They did not and sums owed were still outstanding when the company was acquired by the creditor). She showed a remarkable lack of understanding of the role of Chair of a corporate board, and these failings, along with a dismal voting history, led to her being seen as a less than credible candidate. Instead of being the runner-up in the fall, she finished a weak fourth, despite an incredible war chest filled by investment bankers and venture capitalists.
Lawson’s Sketchy Vote Record
The second issue that emerged in this campaign was Lawson’s sketchy voting record. It turned out that she had not only missed several elections, but no record of her voting in the crucial 2008 election, while living in San Francisco. When questioned about it, she gave the classic “dog ate my homework” excuse: she was in India and had mailed her ballot in. It wasn’t her fault it never got recorded. This was after she tried, “I was one of the many disenfranchised people who thought I could do more good outside of the political process. When it turned out she had donated heavily to both Obama and Hillary that year and had completed the Emerge training for Democratic women candidates a year or so ago, obviously contemplating this run for Congress, she had to change her tune.
Voters didn’t like either of these inconvenient truths about Ms. Lawson and gave her a feeble 9% in the final tally, allowing a Republican to make the run-off despite his dismal fund-raising or campaigning efforts.
These concrete examples of the things that set a candidate apart from the average voter, show a cavalier attitude you or I can’t get away with, and wouldn’t even try. Although not major issues of policy, they made all the difference in this race.
A Lesson for Democrats in the Presidential Election
Even though her role with Chelsey Henry placed in an arguably less culpable role than that of Romney with Bain, the lessons are the same. As Chair of the Board, she should not have ducked her responsibility to know what was happening with the company. Romney, as Chair and sole shareholder of Bain, is even more culpable for these shortcomings. His claims to have kept out of the loop was will not play well with the electorate, so long as the story stays alive.
The Democrats should also keep hammering on the tax returns, especially now that Ryan is withholding his. Romney clams it is a distraction, but it goes to the heart of who he is, as a citizen, a candidate and how he will operate as a President.
Keeping Bain Capital and Romney’s refusal to let us see those tax returns in the public eye should be the Democrats number one job between now and the Granted, California’s 2nd District trends more progressive than the country as a whole, still, added to Romney’s regal attitude, his treatment of his dog Seamus, his wife’s tax deductible high stepping horse, these issues are not likely to endear the Republican nominee in the eyes of the American voters, so long as they hear enough about it and they vote.
Maybe in the heady world of venture capital and money management, these are no big deal to, but to the average American, who has to watch every penny, every transaction, and every loaf of bread, they signal a politician being out of touch with the people he hopes to govern. If a business man claims his way of doing business is good for the country, make darned sure you know what his way is. Pink Slime in a béarnaise sauce is still just as bad for you.