Mitt Romney (Getty Images)
Washington, DC (written by Jackie Kucinich & Aamer Madhani/USA Today) --
The Obama campaign leveled new charges Thursday that Mitt Romney was misrepresenting his time at Bain Capital, and the Romney camp called into question the integrity of the campaign the president is running.
The sharpened rhetoric between the two sides came as the Obama campaign spotlighted reports in Mother Jones and The Boston Globe, based on Securities and Exchange Commission filings and campaign-finance disclosures, that show Romney, the likely GOP nominee, was listed as Bain's CEO and sole owner from 1999 to 2002. Romney has said he stepped away from his duties at the private equity firm during those years and had no involvement in its investment strategy.
That period is crucial because several Bain Capital investments made during that time were in companies that moved jobs overseas. The Obama camp has used Romney's tenure at Bain to make its case he would "outsource" U.S. jobs.
Bain Capital issued a statement Thursday saying Romney had "absolutely no involvement with the management or investment activities of the firm or with any of its portfolio companies since the day of his departure" in 1999.
"Due to the sudden nature of Mr. Romney's departure" he remained listed as the sole stockholder on SEC forms "while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999."
Romney is not listed as a part of the private equity firm's management team from December 2000 on, according to archives on Bain's website.
Earlier records were not available.
Fortune magazine obtained "offering documents for its seventh private equity fund" circulated by Bain Capital in June 2000. Romney was not among the investment managers listed as being in charge of Bain or its subsidiaries on those documents, according to the Fortune report.
Obama aides used the new revelations to reiterate their call for Romney to release tax returns dating back to his final years at Bain, something that the candidate has thus far refused to do.
Bob Bauer, the Obama campaign's general counsel, suggested that Romney should go even further to clarify his role with Bain during those years and ask his former firm to release minutes of meetings and other corporate records.
Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said in a conference call with reporters that either Romney "was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony," or he was trying "to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments."
"If that's the case - that he was lying to the American people - that's a real character and trust issue that the American people need to take very seriously," she said.
The Romney campaign blasted the Obama campaign for leveling "baseless" accusations and called on the president to apologize.
"President Obama's campaign hit a new low today when one of its senior advisers made a reckless and unsubstantiated charge to reporters about Mitt Romney that was so over the top that it calls into question the integrity of their entire campaign," said Matt Rhoades, Romney's campaign manager in a statement.
Victor Fleischer, a law professor and private equity expert at the University of Colorado, said that Romney's involvement at Bain during the years in question will remain unclear without further disclosure of tax documents.
"It's not enough to say, 'Yes, I was the owner but I wasn't involved,' " Fleischer said. "There was a legal agreement between Bain and Mitt Romney that governed their relationship. Until full understanding of that is disclosed, all we have right now is evidence that he was the owner."