Romney, Obama campaigns raise the volume in battle over Bain Capital

Mitt Romney’s tenure at the private-equity firm Bain Capital took center stage Thursday amid a series of attacks and counterattacks by the two presidential campaigns.

Romney released a new ad calling Obama a liar for his campaign ads and speeches criticizing Bain for funding companies that sent U.S. jobs overseas.

The GOP campaign also denounced a story in the Boston Globe that suggested Romney remained at the private-equity firm through 2002, not 1999, when he said he left the company to work on the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The Globe story, which said Romney remained as the “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and president” of Bain through 2002 according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents, is significant because many of the Obama campaign’s outsourcing attacks on Romney center on work Bain did between 1999 and 2002.

Obama’s campaign pounced on the Globe story, using it to amplify its outsourcing attacks, which it believes will play particularly well in swing states such as Ohio that could determine the 2012 race’s outcome.

But Romney's campaign said the Globe article simply rehashed previously disproven insinuations.

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul denounced the Globe story as "not accurate" in a statement Thursday.

“As Bain Capital has said, as Gov. Romney has said, and as has been confirmed by independent fact-checkers multiple times, Gov. Romney left Bain Capital in February of 1999 to run the Olympics and had no input on investments or management of companies after that point,” Saul said.

Bain Capital issued in a statement Thursday that Romney left the company in 1999 and "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." 

"Due to the sudden nature of Mr. Romney's departure, he remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999," said Bain spokeswoman Charlyn Lusk in a statement. "Accordingly, Mr. Romney was reported in various capacities on SEC filings during this period."

While the report in the Globe revealed that Romney continued to serve as the company's CEO — and draw a salary for his work as an executive, in addition to his investment income — it contained no evidence to suggest that Romney was sitting in on meetings or devoting significant time to the deals and investments being made by his former firm.

Republicans highlighted reports by some fact-check sites, including The Washington Post’s, that were skeptical of the story.

“To accept some of the claims, one would have to believe that Romney, with the advice of his lawyers, lied on government documents and committed a criminal offense,” wrote The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who said he was considering looking into the issue again. “Moreover, you would have to assume he willingly gave up his share to a few years of retirement earnings — potentially worth millions of dollars — so he could say his retirement started in 1999.”

The Obama campaign argued, however, that it simply made sense that a company's president, CEO and sole owner would have some involvement in his multimillion-dollar firm.

“Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments,” said Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “And if that's the case, if he was lying to the American people, that's a real character and trust issue that the American people need to take seriously.

“The Romney campaign is running an ad today called 'No evidence' to basically call the Obama campaign ... a liar in the ads we're running against Mitt Romney," said Cutter.

“Well, it turns out that there actually is some evidence of the things that we're running in this add, that Mitt Romney was in full control of Bain Capital through 2002 and therefore directly responsible for whether it was outsourcing, bankrupting, laying off workers — whatever the consequences of Bain investments were, he was responsible.”

Bob Bauer, the top lawyer for Obama's campaign, added that there could be “very serious legal consequences” if Romney had misrepresented his role in the SEC filings, and said reporters should "stay very much tuned" to the possibility that evidence would emerge that the Republican nominee had a greater role in the running of Bain than he had maintained.

Later in the day, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades issued a sharply worded statement calling on Obama to apologize for Cutter's remarks.

"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. President Obama ought to apologize for the out-of-control behavior of his staff, which demeans the office he holds. Campaigns are supposed to be hard fought, but statements like those made by Stephanie Cutter belittle the process and the candidate on whose behalf she works," Rhoades said.

But campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said the president had no plans to apologize.

"Romney has said he had no authority or responsibility for managing Bain since February 1999, but that has been proven false. He remained CEO, President, Chairman, sole owner and sole shareholder through 2001. Governor Romney either misled the American people about when he left Bain or misled the SEC," LaBolt said in a statement on Thursday. "Which one is it? The Romney campaign still won’t say.”

The back-and-forth also provided the Obama campaign a new opportunity to press Romney to release more of his tax returns. The Republican candidate has thus far been reluctant to do so, revealing only a single year of filings, along with a projection of his 2011 return, after pressure mounted during the Republican primary. Romney's hesitancy is a tacit acknowledgment that his immense wealth and complicated finances could be alienating to the working-class voters he'll need to win in November. But Obama and his campaign team see a potential advantage and have ramped up pressure, using the Globe story Thursday to again call for a fuller disclosure.

“If the SEC filings aren't accurate, prove it,” Cutter said. “If he wasn't investing millions in shell corporations, tax havens, Swiss bank accounts overseas to gain a tax advantage, then prove it. Prove it by releasing your tax returns.”

On Wednesday, Romney defended his decision to withhold additional tax returns.

“The Democrats are always going to be critics. We have released all of the financial statements required by law, and two years of tax returns,” Romney told Fox News. “The most recent year we will be releasing as soon as that’s prepared. Tax information is there, other financial disclosure is there — the same level of information that John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Meghan McCain blasts NY Times: 'Everyone already knows how much you despise' conservative women GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE and John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Bring on the brokered convention 18 progressive groups sign unity pledge amid Sanders-Warren feud MORE, for that matter, released when they were running for president.”

But the Republican nominee also acknowledged the difficulty of being on the defensive — and growing discontent among Republicans about his campaign's handling of the Obama attacks.

“I respond to the attacks that come, but they say in politics if you are responding, you are losing,” Romney said. “I think the better course for our campaign is to respond to the attacks as being completely off base. People are tired of this petty attack that comes from politicians and they want to see someone who talks about the issues they care about.

"The president wants to make this a campaign about attacking wealth. I want to make this a campaign about helping the middle class.” 

— This story was originally posted at 1:42 p.m. and last updated at 5:15 p.m.