What would you change?
On Wednesday night, the New Yorker’s Jacob Sullum and Ryan Lizza revealed that Mitt Romney’s secret tax strategy was to buy bonds, put them up for sale, and then buy them back, and take a bigger loss by selling them.
When Sullum and Lizza revealed the plan, they pointed out that because Mitt Romney is well-known for the use of this hedge, people assumed he simply owned it. But when reporters followed up Tuesday to get his comment and his explanation, Romney’s legal counsel said that he didn’t own the bonds himself, but had “advised it to his family.”
The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, followed up on that later in the day, reporting that Bain had used these deals to gain a windfall in return for putting up large amounts of debt and investing that debt in companies Mitt Romney liked.
There are several different ways of thinking about that, all with their own drawbacks. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal thought.
“Mr. Romney’s strategy may have been more complex because Bain also did not own the bonds for much of the period — a problem that a more traditional buyer would not have discovered.”
Well it turned out that it wasn’t complicated at all. As the Wall Street Journal described, Mitt Romney knew about the deal and he approved it — for some unknown reason. Here’s what he wrote about the idea in 2005 to a group of investment bankers who were looking for a way to get Bain out from under the debt that they held from the previous decade:
The money didn’t come with a promise — I just wanted to find out if the money was really coming into the firm for an investment. The bond sale itself was probably an issue; there were concerns about whether the bonds had been adequately backed. If you buy a business and sell it later, you take some responsibility for it if it fails.
So why wasn’t he more explicit about the deal? There are two possible theories here, both of which are equally unsatisfying.
At the simplest, it’s easy to see that Mitt Romney might have been unsure if he was able to take the risk of doing the deal. After all, he’d had other investors ask about it. “The investment was supposed to be $100 million,” says a Bain senior executive who had taken part in the meeting. “What did we find out?” he continued. “We found that all the money we’d put up
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