7 Scandals That Reveal the Real Mitt Romney

Some great reporting reveals a self-serving man who is often tone-deaf to his impact on others and whose internal compass seems to spin wildly.

Mitt Romney’s current media handlers would like you to think he’s a mild-mannered guy who has become increasingly conservative over the years—especially since he was pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-tax increases, pro-gay and fairly liberal as Massachusetts governor before he ran for president in 2008 and started pandering to right-wingers.

But a more complete picture of Romney is emerging this summer. Some great reporting by journalists reveals that the man behind the smile isn’t just a political flip-flopper who can't be trusted, but a self-serving man who is often tone-deaf to his impact on others and whose internal compass seems to spin wildly. 

These seven recent reports reveal the real Romney—starting with a young man who didn’t care how he made money, as long as he made it.

1. Bain Capital Launched with Funds Tied to Salvadoran Death Squads

People who start new businesses are always hungry for investors. But as Huffington Post reporters Ryan Grim and Cole Stangler found in their report, “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads,” there was no possible way that anybody in 1984 could "check out" these families and be convinced this money was clean, as Grim told Democracy Now.  

“After initially struggling to find investors, Romney traveled to Miami in 1983 to win pledges of $9 million, 40 percent of Bain’s start-up money,” Democracy Now’s report began. “Some investors had extensive ties to the death squads responsible for the vast majority of the tens of thousands of deaths in El Salvador during the 1980s.”

As Amy Goodman noted, “The investors include the Salaverria family, whose former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, has previously accused of directly funding the Salvadorian paramilitaries. In his memoir, former Bain executive Harry Strachan writes, 'Romney pushed aside his own misgivings about the investors to accept their backing.' Strachan writes, ‘These Latin American friends have loyally rolled over investments in succeeding funds, actively participated in Bain Capital’s May investor meetings and are still today one of the largest investor groups in Bain Capital.’”

2. Romney Wants Tax Cuts For the Rich Paid By Higher Middle-Class Taxes

Romney’s tenure as Massachusetts governor showed he had no aversion to raising taxes or fees, according to a report by John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign—including raising the state fee assessed to families before cremating the dead, which the state’s media called creepy. So it is not surprising that independent analyses find Romney’s 2012 tax proposals would hit other vulnerable people.

The proposals, in an analysis cited by the Washington Post and others, would cut taxes for the wealthiest 5 percent but raise taxes on everyone else. Extreme Liberal's blog posted a graphic that shows exactly how it would work, saying, “You may notice that everyone pays more in taxes right up until you get to the top 5 percent of the population. According to the analysis, those who make $3 million dollars a year would get a TAX CUT of $250,000.”

Romney obviously wants to protect the interests of the ecomonic class of Americans in which he resides—the rich. But what’s emerging is a more nuanced picture: he has no qualms beating up on the poor, including playing the race card, like many previous Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

3. Romney’s Racist Attack on Welfare

We have all seen this ugly script before. Bill Clinton went after Sister Souljah in 1992. Four years later he signed a bill “ending welfare as we know it” to win conservatives. Fast forward to spring 2012 and Newt Gingrich attacked Obama as the “food stamp” president, a swipe at poor and non-whites receiving benefits. Now Romney has accused Obama of wanting to eliminate work requirements for public assistance recipients.

As Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Progressive has written, there are so many layers of hypocrisy here. “Romney says Obama wants to take the work requirements out of welfare reform. As evidence, he cites the administration’s recent decision to let states apply for waivers on these requirements,” he writes. “Never mind that some Republican governors have been applying for them. Never mind that Romney himself applied for one when he was governor of Massachusetts. And never mind that to get this waiver, states must be able to show that they’ve recently moved at least 20 percent more of their welfare recipients into jobs than in previous years. No, facts don’t matter.”

4. Romney, the Bad Neighbor

The personal is political. Romney thumbing his nose at his neighbors at a vacation home in La Jolla, Calif. shows that Romney does what he wants and doesn’t really care about the impact on others near him. There’s no other way to interpret it, according to this New York Times report, that recounts how after Romney bought his beach house he offended his neighbors by seeking to quadruple its size.

“The only thing he wants small is government and taxes,” said Mark Quint, a Democrat who lives three doors away and who hates the prospect of more McMansions such as Romney's plan. “He likes big houses, big families and big religion.” Quint also was peeved, the Times reported, because Romney had complained to the local police about beachgoers who drank or smoked pot nearby. The cops told Quint to report people smoking or drinking, saying, “Your neighbors have complained.”

Romney may end up buying another nearby large property, the paper speculated, even though he’s hired a local team to shepherd the project through the permit process.

5. Intolerant Then, Intolerant Now

There is always the question of how much people change—or don’t—over a lifetime. Before Romney entered business and politics, he was an active member of the church who took his pastoral role seriously, even as a graduate student at Harvard University.

This Washington Post profile of Romney from that time—as the young but highest-ranking Mormon in Boston—notes how he told an older, recently divorced women who had converted to Mormonism not to have premarital sex. At the time, the Post said many Mormon couples were at Harvard and the women were curious about feminism. The report goes on to say that Romney tempered his views by the time he became Massachusetts governor—which the 2008 McCain campaign opposition research reports shows. Another report from that period in Vanity Fair notes how Romney told a Mormon single mother who became pregnant to put her child up for adoption—which she refused. When she faced serious medical issues, he refused to come to her hospital bedside.

6. The Tip o the Iceberg?

As Romney seeks to convince Republicans that his views are more traditional, the question is not just "where is the real Romney?" but if he ever moderated those views in the first place. There are other stories of straight-laced insensitivity. Everyone has heard about how he put the family dog in a cage strapped to the roof of his car for a drive to Florida. But a $200 million man and national candidate who doesn’t tip a barista?

There are many profiles of Romney—such as in Vanity Fair—that say his aloofness and clinical focus have been key to his success in business: he does not let empathy get in the way of making a profit or closing a deal. But a president has to make ordinary people think that he understands and cares about them. And this is where Romney still seems challenged.

In 2010, Romney and his wife apparently went to a Borders bookstore in Utah and ordered two hot chocolates and didn’t tip the baristas, according to the blog Jesus’ General. That was cheap. But what happened next has been called strange. They didn’t finish the drinks, so Mitt approached the baristas and urged them to drink it.

The Portland Mercury blog wrote about this incident and believes it’s true, saying, “Jesus’ General is best known as a satirical Web site, but I know the guy who plays the General, I've met him personally, and he swears that this story is true. It’s told by Bryan Young, an assistant director on the documentary This Divided State; one of the baristas in question is Bryan's brother.”

7. Romney Campaign Takes Money From Olympic Bribery Scandal Figures

Romney’s relationship with dark financial patrons cannot be explained away as youthful indescretion—the start-up funds from men tied to Salvadoran warlords. Apparently, the candidate who likes to say that he helped the 2002 Winter Games move from the fiscal red into the black, and who helped to turn a page after an Olympic bribery scandal, has allowed his 2012 campaign to take donations from figures from that bribery scandal, according to longtime investigative reporter Wayne Barrett.

Barrett, a Newsweek/Daily Beast contributor and Nation Institute fellow, told Democracy Now about the tainted campaign cash. “He was a managerial success, Barrett said. “The problem is that he was brought in because of the worst Olympic scandal in history, and he befriended and awarded contracts to people deeply involved in the scandal that caused him to be recruited to this rescue operation. And he’s still collecting money from them.”

Romney, as we all know from his tenure at Bain, has a very can-do attitude about money. He will take it whereever he can find it, and use it for whatever is most expedient.

Americans will be introduced to a very stage-managed Romney in the weeks ahead, starting with the Republican National Convention. But glimpses of the real Romney will keep coming through. And the more Americans get to know him, the greater the chances that they will not feel comfortable with him as their next president. 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).