To win the White House, every viable candidate needs a compelling rationale that relies on biography at least as much as ideology. But the impressive resume that lies at the heart of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has created more controversy than confidence during this election cycle so far. His record as Governor of Massachusetts included not only a “socialistic” health-care reform with an individual mandate, but featured tax increases too — all anathema to the Republican base. His private equity career, which made him a millionaire many times over, left a strong residue of bitterness among the thousands whose livelihoods were destroyed in buyouts and bankruptcies.
If Mitt can’t tout Romneycare or Bain Capital, what’s left for him to talk about? There’s still his rescue of the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, whose organizing he took over when the winter games were threatened by a burgeoning corruption scandal. Romney wrote a book recounting the entire episode, titled Turnaround, which led directly into his first gubernatorial campaign only days after the games concluded.
But ten years later, a series of articles by investigative reporter Wayne Barrett in the Daily Beast shows how Romney is currently cashing in on his Olympic connections — by raising enormous sums of campaign money from businessmen tainted by the Salt Lake bribery scandal. Although the Barrett series has attracted far less attention than it deserves, to date, he risks drawing fresh scrutiny to his relationships with those tainted figures whenever he mentions the subject (which will inevitably arise as this year’s Summer Olympics begin).
Barrett’s first story focused on Sead Dizdarevic, a New Jersey ticketing and hospitality contractor who has banked many millions of dollars since Romney awarded him the 2002 deal that made him “the ticket king of the Olympics to this day.” Dizdarevic confessed to giving more than $130,000 in under the table payments to Romney’s Olympics predecessors. He only escaped indictment by making a deal with prosecutors probing the Salt Lake bribery scandal. Although Dizdarevic was clearly implicated, Romney signed off on his contract – and Barrett estimates that he, his relatives, and his business associates have donated as much as a million dollars to various Romney warchests over the past decade.
The latest installment in Barrett’s deeply-reported series involves David Simmons, who also testified at the federal Olympics bribery trial as a cooperating witness. Simmons avoided a “multi-count federal indictment” only by pleading guilty to a federal tax misdemeanor, which grew out of a phony job he had given to the son of a crucial International Olympic Committee member to secure his vote for Salt Lake City. The job allowed the IOC member’s son to fraudulently obtain a US visa, which was then concealed by false tax and immigration filings.
Since then, Simmon, his relatives, and businesss associates – who have long enjoyed close ties to the Romney clan — have contributed almost half a million dollars to Romney’s campaigns. And according to Barrett, these two donor networks represent only a portion of the questionable Olympics-connnected money he has accepted.
Romney’s management of the Salt Lake games succeeded in overcoming serious challenges in the wake of scandal and then the 9/11 attacks (mostly by raising hundreds of millions in additional revenue from both private and federal sources rather than cutting costs). But his indiscriminate acceptance of huge sums from dubious characters like Dizdarevic and Simmons will inevitably raise questions about his own integrity – and how he profited by ignoring their misconduct.