Romney Didn't Build That: His Olympics Were Bailed Out By Taxpayers

Mitt Romney holds the Olympic torch during a news conference in Salt Lake City in 2001. (Douglas C. Pizac/AP)

Mitt Romney holds the Olympic torch during a news conference in Salt Lake City in 2001. (Douglas C. Pizac/AP)

Mitt Romney brags often that his success rescuing the Olympics in Salt Lake City is proof that he will turn the economy around for the country. A review of his role reveals that the man opposed to an auto industry bailout got a fat federal bailout for the Games he ran.

Failure Not Likely

While running Bain Capital, Romney was summoned to Salt Lake City, home of the Mormon church, to manage the 2002 Olympic Games mired in scandal involving bribes, stealing and greed. Huffington Post did an extensive review of what Romney did when he took over the games in 2002.

Here’s what the they found:

Of the half-dozen Olympic officials interviewed for this article, none said that the games would have been a failure if not for Romney’s intervention. David Wallechinsky, a commentator for NBC’s Olympic coverage and the author of several Olympic reference books, said that Romney played an important role in budget and PR matters. But beyond that, “his involvement is greatly exaggerated.”

“A lot of people could have stepped in and made it work,” he told The Huffington Post. “Not to say he did anything wrong. He did what he had to do. What he did was fine. The way he portrays it, however, is absurd … The Olympic movement had survived two world wars, a terrorist attack, and boycotts. It could have survived a bribery scandal.”

Tithing In Reverse

Almost as soon as he arrived in Utah, Romney said he wanted an additional $8 million in loaned property and cash from the Mormon Church. The church’s involvement was already controversial.

The Mormon Games

Among those who were unhappy was Utah’s wealthiest businessman, Jon Huntsman Sr., father of the unsuccessful GOP candidate for president.

Huntsman Sr., a well-known church leader, criticized Romney for exploiting his ties to the church. He declared: “These are not the Mormon Games.” After claiming to have scoured the world for the best person, Huntsman said, “Mitt brings in one of his cronies” from Bain to be the number two person in charge of the games, adding him to a leadership team of Mormons that included Romney and the chairman of the games.

Romney Gets A Taxpayer Bail Out

Romney realized the church’s largesse and the games sponsors couldn’t cover costs. So where did the private sector champion go for help? To the federal government, of course. He even became a registered lobbyist.

Romney, who opposed the auto bailout, went to Washington seeking a big taxpayers’ check to bail out the games. When he got wind of it, Sen. John McCain denounced the “staggering sums” that Romney wanted the federal government to spend on the games. This was years before McCain and Romney would tangle in the 2008 presidential primaries. “The American taxpayer is being shaken down to the tune of nearly a billion and a half dollars,” McCain told the Los Angeles Times. McCain vowed to stall or kill “this pork-barrel spending.”

This battle between Romney and McCain raged for two years. McCain said of Romney: “Never get into a wrestling match with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”

You Didn’t Build This

Inevitably taxpayers picked up a big tab for the Salt Lake games. While taking credit for “turning around” the Olympics, Romney got President George W. Bush to turn around and tuck $2.7 billion into his budget to cover the games’ deficit.

No Budget Oversight

A former Salt Lake City council member, Sydney Fonnesbeck, had served on several Olympic organizing committees, including one with budget oversight. She told Huffington Post that the [Olympics Committee] became less transparent under Romney. “He closed ranks,” she said. “I certainly didn’t see a budget after Mitt came in.”

Can’t Afford A Flop

Worried that failed games might sidetrack his plans to run for governor, Romney confided to David D’Alessandro, president of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, that he feared that he wouldn’t “be anything anymore in public life” if the games flopped. According to the Boston Globe, John Hancock, which had threatened to leave the games as a sponsor over the bribery scandal, was eventually persuaded to stay involved.

An Olympic-Sized Blowup

In The New Republic, Alex Magillis reported that at the Olympics one day:

Romney found himself stuck in a huge traffic backup [and] … jumped out to take charge. He started directing traffic, over the objections of a sheriff’s deputy, Kodi Taggart; she later filed a report on Romney’s interference. And he lit into an 18-year-old volunteering as a security officer, Shaun Knopp. Knopp told reporters that Romney had asked “who the f—” he was and “what the f—” he was doing and had then told him, “We got the Olympics going on, and we don’t need this s— going on.” Romney denied this at the time, saying he had not used such language since high school. “I would not, have not, and never would use the f-word,” he said.

Yeah, and he can’t remember pinning down a prep school classmate and leading a group of bullies in cutting the hair of a boy who later came out as gay.

Dan Payne is WBUR’s Democratic analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.

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  • Wareinparis

    This is important stuff that should be out there on the font page of every paper. Mitt is not who or what he wants us to think.

  • lis

    Seriously, just a petty attempt to discredit an honorable man as Romney is. Dems are so desperate to paint Romney as evil but the American people see through it. It’s over Dems. 

    • Logan

       This is no petty attempt to discredit. All the figures are accurate. This is old news. More federal money was spent on the 2002 Olympics than ALL OTHER U.S. Olympics COMBINED. I don’t know anything about the “F-word” incident, nor do I care.

    • D.C. Insider

      Dream on. You’ll see.

    • jefe68

      Honorable? You need to read more about his company Bain Capital which I now call Pain Capital.

      But don’t take my word on it David Stockman, yes the David Stockmen has written a scathing expose on Romney and it’s not pretty.

      Bain Capital is a product of the Great Deformation. It has garnered
      fabulous winnings through leveraged speculation in financial markets
      that have been perverted and deformed by decades of money printing and Wall Street coddling by the Fed. So Bain’s billions of profits were not
      rewards for capitalist creation; they were mainly windfalls collected
      from gambling in markets that were rigged to rise.


    • Shlebs

      I sincerely doubt you’re in any position to speak on behalf of the American people – just those people who share you’re view points. You should also recognize that while you discredit the motivation you perceive to be behind the article – you don’t seem prepared to be able defend any of the facts or assertions made in the article itself.

  • MrLongleg

    I love McCains comment about not to fight with a pig. On the other hand McCain seems to have memory problems, because he is now endorsing the guy he called a “pig” before.

  • Sinclair2

    Great revealing article Dan.  It’s more about Romney will do anything to get what he wants.  He doesn’t have any political philosophy.  It’s all about him winning at any price for whatever he pursues.  His bottom line is himself.  He’s Joe Kennedy, Sr. resurrected.

    I shudder to think how he’ll behave when confronted with foreign policy.  If he becomes president, he’ll be a security risk for this country.  He’ll be getting us into more wars on a credit card just like Dubya.  This country will be like Latin America with a two class society.  The very rich (2%) and the poor (98%)

  • Circusmcgurkus

    This is not really “news” as this story has been around for quite some time.  There was a great piece in August about the Romney myth in Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/greed-and-debt-the-true-story-of-mitt-romney-and-bain-capital-20120829 

    Folks criticize Joe Biden, but Mr. Romney has a hard time with pronouns: he uses “I’ when he really means “we”.

    We, the people, saved the Olympics just like the American people – even those, sometimes especially those within the 47% of folks who do not pay income taxes – have always stepped up to the plate.  For many, many years – despite our flaws and struggles – Americans have willingly made sacrifices for the greater good of our neighbors and the world.  We need leaders to tap into that goodness, not the baseness of “I got mine”.  That is not who we are or who we should aspire to be.

    The taxpayers bailed out Mr. Romney on more than one occasion.  The taxpayers have suffered for his way of doing business and the concentration of wealth his plans will promote.  When he was governor, the good people of this great Commonwealth saw their neighbors leave the area; the only reason our unemployment rate did not go higher was because many of our friends moved to other places to find work.  It says an awful lot when the state someone governed and sometimes calls home (when it is convenient) is voting for his opponent in overwhelming numbers even with a very tight Senate race proving that Massachusetts is unafraid to vote Republican when it wants to – it does not want to for Mr. Romney because we learned from that mistake.

    America can and shall overcome all of our problems,  not by becoming more insular and selfish, but only by doing what Americans have always done in the worst of times: reassess, sacrifice some of our prosperity so that we can protect the most vulnerable, and seek our better angels as we strive for a better nation, a better world, and a more perfect union.  

  • Pete2

    “Romney got President George W. Bush to turn around and tuck $2.7 billion into his budget to cover the games’ deficit.

    It’s not even him who did this but the Governor of Utah. Romney only had to sit there and count the beans.

  • Me

    Romney has ideas and if you really look at his tax plan, it’s the first step towards a flat tax. I also like his energy independent North America by 2020 is a wonderful idea. You realize our boots all over the ground in the MS won’t be required when we don’t need 20% of our oil from the region.

    We do better when we have to do business with countries tht don’t hate us.

  • HH

    Very little has been mentioned about the bullying lead by Romney in high school.  I thought that incident spoke volumes about the character of the boy(0ver 15 years old), which develops into the character of the man.  Strange , of the students involved, he is the only one unable to remember the incident(according to the NY Times article).  Who is he?

  • knowthetruth

    Thank you! I do not know why the media and dnc have not jumped all over this fact.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IBXJ66ZBFGVOSX675PQPF6SCQY AJT

    How come noone has ever mentioned Romney’s role in the Olympics of 2002? Not a word from anyone on the Democrat’s side, so is this a factual truth that everyone should know about Romney? The way he brags about the Olympics, someone should truly expose him for what he brags about doing, he’s telling more lies and g etting away with it!!! Shame,shame on all who has never told the public about this. NOW is the time to let it be known, since he is comiing out with  posters on some latinos that are decades old/ some dumb ignorant people believe everything he says against Obama, so let it be know what a hypocrite he is !!!

  • http://twitter.com/James_Haskell Jamba

    isn’t it true that he inherited a 4 million dollar decifit and was losing sponsors? isn’t it true that in his time as the leader of games he cut the budget by 13%? isn’t it true that he signed 52 sponsors(double of atlanta)?

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