Romney and the Olympics: another scandal?

How many different ways did federal taxpayers get screwed to put on Romney’s Games?

Newt Gingrich’s handlers should be sued for political malpractice. The time to raise the Damon fraud story was earlier; now, insofar as it’s getting any press at all, it’s as one more Gingrich attack on Romney. So far, Romney hasn’t even bothered to respond to the charges, or if he has I can’t see a mention of it.

There’s another scandal lurking in the background. Many years ago, in a dentist’s office, I read one of the best-reported political corruption stories ever written. It was a Sports Illustrated expose of the funding of the Salt Lake City Olympics. Apparently there were swaps of private land for federally-owned land, on insanely favorable terms for the landowners. That’s on top of the nearly $1.5 billion in federal earmarks that directly paid for the Games.

This story might be worth reviving, since Romney has used his Olympics experience as evidence of his managerial skill and devotion to public service. It might also be interesting to look at how many of the rich people Romney managed to further enrich at taxpayer expense subsequently donated to his various political ventures.

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:

16 thoughts on “Romney and the Olympics: another scandal?”

  1. I’m all for crucifying Romney in all factually accurate ways, but given that he was brought in to rescue the Olympics and that determining the venues and setting aside the land must surely be one of the first things done in arranging the event, can he really be directly involved in this scandal?

  2. President Obama of course very publicly advocated for the summer Olympic games in 2016 to be granted to Chicago. Is it your contention that if Chicago had been awarded the games that taxpayers in the state of Illinois, the county of Cook and the city of Chicago wouldn’t have in any way ended up subsidizing development and asset sale deals that would have enriched local land owners, property developers, hotel and restaurant owners, construction companies, and service providers.

    But of course, surely no rich people in Chicago with a long history of bankrolling Mr. Obama’s political career would have benefited financially from the 2016 games being awarded to the city. I mean, it’s not like the Pritzker family owns any land in the metro area or has interests in any hotel companies…

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to grab a beer with Tony Rezko.

    1. This is a completely different argument. What Mark is saying is that Romney may have been tied to the actual award of land swaps at swindle prices. That’s fundamentally different from arguing for policies that are likely to benefit people you know in general. If that counts as corruption, then we get to argue that Mitt Romney advocating lower tax rates for people just like himself is the most corrupt thing we’ve ever seen.

      All that said, Warren is right. The timing of the shenanigans is crucial to determining Mitt’s culpability, and my guess is that they won’t align.

      1. Actually Mark isn’t really saying anything by way of an actual argument. He simply composing paragraphs with vague, disconnected factoids under a headline saying “Romney and the Olympics: another scandal?”

        Its little more than a “tell us Mr. Jones, when did you stop beating your wife” play.

        1. Actually what Mark is doing is linking to a story that begins with this:

          Is this a great country or what? A millionaire developer wants a road built, the federal government supplies the cash to construct it. A billionaire ski-resort owner covets a choice piece of public land. No problem. The federal government arranges for him to have it. Some millionaire businessmen stand to profit nicely if the local highway network is vastly improved. Of course. The federal government provides the money.

          And ends with this:

          This is not to say that the recipients are unappreciative. Mitt Romney, SLOC’s president, has acknowledged the U.S. government’s contribution by saying, “We couldn’t have done it without them. These are America’s Games.”

          Which is also to suggest that was then and this is now. Romney is no longer appreciative for what the Feds did. In fact he hates the Fed as much as any other Republican with an overclocking amygdala. It is all about Mittens the great private businessman now. Never mind the boatloads of Federal tax dollars that made it all float forward…

          The guy is a pure phony in GAP jeans who reeks of expensive toilet water…
          Only dolts or billionaires need subscribe.

          1. Check the article. It doesn’t end with the statement you reference – only the first page ends with that statement. All-in the article mentions Mitt Romney 2 times, neither in reference to involvement in any of the shady deals the article details.

  3. Suggestion to all commenters: Read the SI article. Then tell me what part of it you don’t believe.

    1. I did read the SI article, and have no reason to disbelieve any of it.

      But the rather lengthy article mentions Mitt Romney 2 times. Once in reference to a press-release statement of appreciation for federal funding of certain aspects of the Games’ operations and once to note that he lobbied for federal money to supplement security budgets. The horror!

      Now how in the world that justifies the post title “Romney and the Olympics: another scandal?” is beyond me. Romney was asked to take over management of the Games at a time when it was widely, almost universally acknowledged that the planning to date had been a cesspool of corruption and incompetence.

      Note your closing line “It might also be interesting to look at how many of the rich people Romney managed to further enrich at taxpayer expense subsequently donated to his various political ventures.” Again – please point to evidence from the article (or anywhere else) that Romney was in any way responsible for the “enriching” you reference. As Mr. Terra points out above, decisions on venues and the associated development projects aren’t typically a last minute step in the planning process for the Olympics.

      1. Let us suppose the best case for Romney, that he did not make the initial shady deals himself. He still, as you say, took over a deeply corrupt organization, and then perpetuated that corruption rather than denouncing and ending it.

        So supposed superstar CEO Romney either

        1) proved incapable of getting to the bottom of that corruption and putting a stop to it


        2) saw that corruption as an acceptable cost to the American taxpayer of doing business

        Remind me again why either option enhances the case for a Romney presidency?

        1. In what way did he “perpetuate the corruption?” Point to one act of his that did so.

          When he was brought in to run the Olympics the Games were on track to be a fiscal and operational disaster. Obviously they ended up being neither. It wasn’t his job to make empty gestures aimed at denouncing his predecessors.

          If the person hired to fix the corrupt and troubled SLC Games were named “John Smith” rather than “Mitt Romney” there is an approximately 0% chance that anyone would look at the record and conclude that he were guilty of a “scandal.”

          1. The burden of proof is on those who want to claim that he cleaned up corruption. Was a single corrupt transaction ever revoked by Romney? Please show your work.

          2. I didn’t think Romney was brought in to clean up corruption, and I’m unaware of any evidence he did so. The Games were being mismanaged and were tainted by scandal, and the organizers needed someone new to head them, to manage them competently and not be connected to the existing scandals. Mitt was a very wealthy Mormon with takeover and management-consulting experience; he was a suitable candidate. The games happened without major further embarrassment (though it’s revisionism to say they went well; they were very poorly received, although the link with George Dubya couldn’t have helped) – but as I said, I’m not aware that Romney “cleaned up” any corruption, or even that he was tasked to do so.

        2. Romney took over the Olympics in February of 1999. Look at the dates in the article: 1994, 1995, 1997… How is Romney supposed to be responsible for actions that took place years before he took over?

          I can’t stand Romney. He appears to have no principles whatsoever other than that he ought to be President. But I expect better arguments against him on this blog than this post.

        3. Oh Good Lord. If I post an article demonstrating that a lot of politics in Illinois was corrupt in the 1990s, and then slap on the headline “Obama and licences-for-bribes: another scandal?” does that then mean that “the burden of proof is on those who claim that Obama never had anything to do with the sale of licences to unqualified donors?”

          I mean – Obama was an elected official in Illinois. Was a single improperly-granted licence ever revoked by Obama? Please show your work.

  4. The only reason I remember the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988 is Eddie the Eagle, a brave but incompetent British ski jumper who became an instant anti-hero in the British press. The Republican presidential field, as it fades into history, will be remembered much like Eddie. I bet that will come to include Romney, who will become a convenient scapegoat for Democratic gains in Congress.

  5. To me, the salient issue is that Romney recognized back then the power of the federal government in improving America by investing in America. This is an approach which Obama champions now, and Romney dismisses. Romney was correct back then, and Obama is correct now. Thoughtful, well-considered funding from the federal government is one of the most important ways we can invest in our future.

    Case in point: I applaud Obama’s strategy for continuing funding for higher education. By promoting colleges which are cost-effective, and which produce results (lead to students getting solid degrees which help them get good jobs), he’ll dramatically cut back tuition inflation, and stop government bankrolling of useless diploma mills. The latter process has already begun, thanks to Obama and the Department of Education’s efforts to crackdown on ineffective for-profit colleges.

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