February marks the 10th anniversary of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, an event that has become central to Mitt Romney's campaign for the White House -- a legacy marked by millions of dollars in lobbying and taxpayer spending that has been whitewashed from the story.
In recent weeks, as criticism has mounted over Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, media scrutiny has focused in part on how the company profited on private equity deals that were tied to massive federal bailouts, a record that contrasts with Romney's rhetoric on federal bailouts.
A January 6 Reuters article noted the conflict between Romney's campaign, which "has championed free markets and vowed to shrink the role of government" with Romney's own history at Bain and its "brush with a U.S. bailout" after the U.S. Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. was forced to "pony up $44 million to bail out" an underfunded pension plan at a company connected to Romney's tenure at Bain. Joe Conason explained:
The pension plan, which cut benefits drastically, would have gone under altogether without an infusion of $44 million from the federal government, despite many earlier warnings to the Bain managers that they were not providing sufficient funding for it.
This is far from Romney's only brush with federal bailouts that conflict with the conventional media narrative.
In 1999, Romney left Bain Capital to accept the job as CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC). The Romney campaign has regularly cited his work with the Olympics as central to his success in the private sector -- success Romney has sought to contrast with what he has derided as influence peddling in Washington, D.C.
In fact, The Salt Lake Organizing Committee spent millions on federal lobbyists under Romney's tenure, and secured millions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the 2002 games. The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman explained that Romney "began ramping up the Salt Lake lobbying effort shortly after taking over the Salt Lake Organizing Committee in 1999."
And those efforts paid dividends in the form of taxpayer dollars. As The New York Times reported:
[T]he federal government's contributions, thanks to Mr. Romney, were also immense. By the time the Games were over, about $342 million in federal money to plan and stage the Winter Games had flowed into Utah, a record outlay for the Olympics and nearly $50 million more in constant dollars than was spent for the Atlanta Olympics, according to a report in 2001 by the Government Accountability Office.
And much of that money was from earmarks, which Mr. Romney now often calls politically motivated and wasteful. "These earmarks are embarrassing, and they're embarrassing for my party as well as the other party," he said in Marshalltown, Iowa, during a recent campaign swing.
A 2001 Sports Illustrated article noted the significant role taxpayer dollars played in the Games and actually quoted Romney thanking the federal government for their contribution, saying "We couldn't have done it without them. These are America's Games."
This is not to diminish Romney's effort to secure corporate sponsorship in an effort to revive the Olympics. Nor is this a criticism of using public dollars to stage the Olympics Games.
But Mitt Romney is both criticizing federal spending and "influence peddlers," and touting his experience in the private sector -- both at Bain Capital and as head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee -- on the campaign trail. His use of lobbyists to secure federal funding for the Olympics should be part of the discussion.
But the role federal lobbyists and taxpayer dollars played while Romney "ran the Olympics" has been forced out of the story on major cable news channels. According to a Media Matters analysis of Fox, MSNBC, and CNN, there have been at least 21 reports focusing on Romney's claim that he helped "save" the Olympic Games. Not one of those segments noted that, as Romney himself has noted, that the Olympics committee "couldn't have done it" without the help of federal spending.
Note about methodology:
Media Matters reviewed Lexis-Nexis transcripts since September 5, 2011, for media reports that focused on Romney's record with the 2002 Olympics [transcripts (Romney w/25 Olympics)]. Since the Nexis database does not include comprehensive transcripts for daytime programming on news channels, the search focused on broadcasts at 5 p.m. or later that are available in the database. Shep Smith's nightly 7 p.m. Fox News program is not available in the Nexis database, so it was not included in this study.