Of geese and ganders

The Wal-Mart CEO who ran the cover-up of the Mexican bribery scandal is a business partner of Mitt Romney, his son, and his campaign finance director.

I’d like to hear the folks who hold Barack Obama accountable for the long-ago crimes of Bill Ayers explain why Mitt Romney isn’t accountable for the much more recent crimes of his business partner.

Turns out, the former Wal-Mart CEO who helped shut down an investigation of bribery by store officials in Mexico is an operating partner at a private equity fund started by Mitt Romney, his eldest son and his campaign finance director.

Don’t forget just how ugly this is. When a Wal-Mart official in Mexico reported that the company had been engaging in a massive campaign of bribery to get store permits, Romney’s partner Scott, as Wal-Mart CEO, ordered the investigation shut down, criticized the investigators for excessive zeal, and returned the files to Mexico, where the “investigation” was under the control of one of the bribe-payers.

Scott is legally vulnerable.  As he said in 2007,

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is the only act that requires the incarceration of the CEO. And we are not going to do that.

Perhaps he meant, “We’ve done that once, and we’re not going to do it again.”

Wouldn’t this be a good time for Senate Democrats to push a bill repealing the “facilitating payments” exemption from FCPA? Either the Republicans vote Yes, or they vote No. A win either way.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

27 thoughts on “Of geese and ganders”

  1. Well, if you really want an answer, it would be because Ayers committed those crimes before Obama started associating with him, and thus it was possible for Obama to take those crimes into account when making a decision as to whether to associate with him.

    Romney chose to associate with somebody who later committed crimes. Obama chose to associate with somebody who had committed crimes. As memory only works in one direction, only one of these choices was knowing.

    1. A number of investigative reports have shown that Ayers and Obama had only a casual, passing relationship (e.g. http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/10/05/fact-check-is-obama-palling-around-with-terrorists/; http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/04/us/politics/04ayers.html.) They lived in the same city, taught at the same university, and served on a few boards together (this is the functional equivalent of Barney Frank and Louis Gohmert serving in the House together–the views of one person do not tar or compromise the beliefs of another, because only an idiot would say that mere association with someone is the equivalent of subscribing to their beliefs or supporting their actions.)

      This is fundamentally a different relationship than that of Romney and Scott. Scott is still the operating partner of Romney’s equity firm–the association is direct, intentional, and still exists. Thus (unlike Ayers and Obama) anything that Scott does today rubs off directly on Romney and taints him. As it should.

      Sorry Brett.

      1. A number of other reports have shown that they had a rather more involved relationship.

        CNN: Obama’s relationship with Ayer “much deeper than Obama said”

        Your “a few boards together” is more like “one board after another”.

        But the real question is, why wouldn’t anybody with a sense of decency turn right around and leave the moment they found themselves in the presence of an unapologetic terrorist, who escaped being a mass murderer through incompetence, and who nobody denies is guilty as hell, including himself?

        If Romney had been on a half dozen boards with Timothy McVeigh, would you be dismissing it as a “casual, passing relationship”?

        1. A couple of points:
          1. Timothy McVeigh never served on any boards. He was executed by the US for acts of terrorism in 2011. For these and many other reasons, your point is reaching and is irrelevant.
          2. Serving on boards is frequently a “casual, passing relationship.” I’ve served on boards, and I often don’t know much about the people I serve with. Further, I certainly wouldn’t vouch for all of them or agree with their past choices. Serving on the board in no way links their past crimes to me–otherwise, who would one serve on boards? You serve on a board to further a mission you believe in (in Obama’s case, improving education in Chicago), not to vouch for your fellow board members. Again, your point is reaching and irrelevant.
          3. You seem to imply that any person in the vicinity or casual acquaintance of another person who might once have done something either illegal or immoral should immediately leave. That assumes a) that you know about the full extent of all of their acts, b) that those people are forever guilty and incapable of being rehabilitated, c) that people are immediately tarred with whatever crime their proximate neighbors have committed (see point 2)
          4. You seem to be trying to rehash an issue that’s largely irrelevant in the public’s mind. After all, Obama was elected despite his acquaintanceship with Ayers. Whatever acquaintance they may have had, they don’t have it now. Whereas Romney still has a relationship with Scott.
          5. The clip you linked to preceded the two articles I linked to, and many of the investigative points in the former are refuted or discredited by the latter. Not that it matters, because really no one cares about the Ayers relationship at this point, aside from a few foaming-at-the-mouth Right Wingers who must believe that Obama is a criminal or their entire world-view will implode.

          1. That’s the point: The right doesn’t romanticize terrorists. What would the right-wing equivalent of a Che shirt be?

            But I’ll agree with you, it’s something of a non-issue, because the people who care whether you like associating with terrorists weren’t going to vote for Obama anyway.

          2. How is romanticizing terrorists in any way “the point”? I don’t either state or imply that above. And what does Che have to do with anything?

        2. The real question is why would anyone with a sense of decency flee whenever they enter a room with a terrorist. Are you a defeatocrat?

    2. No, Brett. Scott committed crimes as Wal-Mart CEO, and left that job to go into partnership with Romney, Romney’s son, and Romney’s campaign finance director.

      1. Scott hasn’t even been credibly accused of crimes. Meanwhile, you apparently don’t know anything about finance. Romney was an investor in the fund, not a partner in the fund’s investment adviser. Scott is a partner in the investment adviser to the fund. Saying that they are “partners” would be like my saying I’m partnered with John Bogle on some investments. Learn about this stuff before you post, or you come across as a complete hack. If I didn’t know that you were a complete idiot about these things, I’d think you were just being mendacious.

  2. If Romney associated with people who engaged in illegal or even just unseemly business practices that will no doubt be scrutinized and should be in order to understand his ethical beliefs and how they work in practice.

    However the analogy it seems to me doesn’t work because the issue with Ayers wasn’t his criminal behavior so much as the fact that his crimes were violent and political (in fact on reading the wikipedia entry on him just now I’d call them terrorism).

    1. Romney’s entire business practice is (and has been) at least unseemly, but I’m sure just on the safe side of criminal bright-lines. It involves finding vulnerable companies with a cash-flow that can be inflated (artificially), taking a controlling interest and then inflating the cash-flow. While the cash-flow is inflated, Bain pays itself untoward “management” fees. After two or three years (but before the inflated cash-flow collapses), Bain sells the business.

  3. I don’t usually bother with Ayres-type chickensh*t allegations that someone is sleazy because they are friends with non-perfect people (although Ayres did give me the impression of being kind of iffy, morally speaking, during the hoohah) because if the legal system is leaving someone alone, I figure they are still stuck with their conscience. And I never had the impression the president was that close to the guy anyhow. It sounded more like acquaintanceship. Maybe partly because of being Catholic, I don’t necessarily believe you just throw people in the garbage because they did something wrong once.

    I think it is important to ask questions about such a close relationship as a business partnership though. I also think going into business with someone unethical will eventually be its own punishment.

    I suppose the Romneys might not have known about this though. That would be my guess. It will be interesting to see what he does about it now.

  4. Well, it does not appear that Romney’s pal attempted to commit mass murder, (Unlike some people’s friends.) but he doesn’t seem to have been particularly enthusiastic about exposing wrongdoing by underlings, either. His bad.

  5. I like that, as if on cue, Brett Bellmore appears to provide a partisan Republican talking point. I think my observation that he is a troll is now conclusive.

  6. I disagree with Mr. Bellmore about most things. And I think his last point is rather crudely put.

    But Mark’s analogy is deeply flawed. This guy Scott may well have engaged in grossly unethical or even illegal business practices. Ayers engaged in terrorist acts aimed at the United States and its government. I don’t know what kind of mea culpa or apology he’s made but I find it hard myself to understand why he’s an accepted and even respected member of the intellectual / political action elite here in Chicago.

    At the same time I don’t see the point of continually being infuriated about the hypocrisy of conservatives, and I certainly don’t see the point of constructing a false analogy in order to scratch that itch. It would have been a better post if it had simply pointed out the facts in this case and their implications for Romney’s ethics.

    1. Shorter Birnbaum: Ayers committed the kinds of misdeeds against the body politic that poor people are limited to, while Scott committed the kinds that are available to the rich.

      (Oh, and I guess all those Oliver North for President tee shirts must be a mass hallucination.)

      1. You know, you can’t have read any of the things I’ve previously written in response to Mr. Bellmore on this blog site and taken away an interpretation like this. But in any case it doesn’t matter. The point of bringing up Ayers wasn’t to argue that Obama consorted with criminals. It was much more akin to question raised by Wright — that he consorted with radicals. That’s not the issue in this case. And again, the situation has plenty of bad implications for Romney as it is. No need to stretch it inaptly as Mark has.

        I’m not sure what the point of bringing up Oliver North is. Needless to say people who think he should be President are crazy. Actually I doubt most of the people who wear shirts like that actually think he should be President — they’re making a statement. Kind of like a Che T-shirt.

        1. Well, yes, on the second (which was just an unrelated slap at the people who claimed earlier that only lefties romanticized killing people to promote a political cause).

          But on the first I think that it is important to note that rich people who attack the body politic, causing destruction and death, in the ways that are only available to rich people (large-scale fraud, control and otherwise, destruction of companies and/or impoverishment of workers for personal gain) remain respected members of their communities, just as do those who openly condone or advocate armed insurrection. Some of them become governors or candidates for president. Our discourse is biased (for better or worse) in such a way that only the people who actually get their hands dirty are supposed to be morally suspect.

  7. “but I find it hard myself to understand why he’s an accepted and even respected member of the intellectual / political action elite here in Chicago.”

    I’d presume it is for reasons similar to the high ratio of Che shirts to McVeigh shirts. The left has a long standing romantic view of murderous violence, so long as it’s committed in ‘liberal’ causes. So Ayers isn’t viewed as a mad dog murderer who was fortunately incompetent, and got off due to police misconduct. He’s viewed as some kind of hero.

    1. “The left has a long standing romantic view of murderous violence.”

      OK, just who are you including in this definition of “the left”? If you want to find currently existing romantic views of murderous violence you’ll find much richer targets on the right, from Reagan and his Iran-Contra criminals to the cheerleading for the Iraq war.

      “He’s viewed as some kind of hero.”

      Really? Says who?

        1. Brett is a master of finding non-equivalent examples and using logical fallacies to lure people in. I don’t think he’s a troll, because I think he genuinely believes he’s clever and arguing in good faith, even when the examples he uses are dubious, use false causes or strawmen, or cherrypick single points of data. Che versus McVeigh versus Ayers is a good example.

        2. I don’t comment much but I am familiar with Brett’s style. I’m just amused by this idea that anyone on the left today is somehow connected to this vast history of violence. Plus it’s fun to watch a libertarian advocating for guilt-by-association.

      1. Well, why WAS a terrorist put on those boards? You have a better explanation? By what sane reasoning do you want a terrorist put in a position of responsibility? That’s actually the question prior to why somebody would be willing to be on a board with a terrorist.

        As long as you think there’s a good explanation for that, I think we’re not going to be in agreement on much.

        1. I have no idea why Ayers was put on those boards. What’s the point of asking, and who is your beef really with? Seems like you’re moving away from tarring-and-feathering Barack Obama (for whoever he might have come into contact with) to for some reason tarring-and-feathering the Annenberg Foundation and a few other entirely reputable organizations with bipartisan boards.

          A few facts: the Annenberg Foundation was founded by Nixon’s conservative ambassador to the UK, and the board was meant to improve the quality of public schooling. On its board of directors were bankers, attorneys, telecommunications executives, newspaper publishers, Republican legislators, and over 40 other prominent public figures in Chicago. Their common interest was in improving the education of young people in Chicago. It’s largely irrelevant that William Ayers served on that board for a period of time, unless you traffic in conspiracy theories whose only goal, no matter how illogical, is to falsely paint our current President as a criminal.

          You’re right that we’re not going to be in agreement on much because I’m completely puzzled about the argument you’re trying to make. I can’t agree when an argument’s basic logic is confused.

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