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China Joins Iran as the Bain of Romney's Existence

March 17, 2012

Mitt Romney likes to talk tough about China. In an op-ed last month, Romney charged that "President Obama came into office as a near supplicant to Beijing," adding, "his administration demurred from raising issues of human rights." Unfortunately for the former Massachusetts Governor, that tough talk was immediately tempered by word that his financial advisers sold $1.5 million in investments in China last year. Now, it turns out that Bain Capital, the firm which still pays Mitt Romney millions annually, bought the video surveillance division of Chinese company that is a major supplier to the government in Beijing.
If this story sounds familiar, it should. After all, five years ago Mitt Romney led a one day crusade demanding pension funds disinvest from firms doing business with Iran, a campaign which ended when it was revealed that Bain was among them.
In February, Governor Romney warned that "the character of the Chinese government -- one that marries aspects of the free market with suppression of political and personal freedom -- would become a widespread and disquieting norm." Especially disquieting, it turns out, if Mitt's old colleagues at Bain Capital were complicit in it. Which, as the New York Times revealed Thursday, appears to be the case:

In December, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government's Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.
The Bain-owned company, Uniview Technologies, produces what it calls "infrared antiriot" cameras and software that enable police officials in different jurisdictions to share images in real time through the Internet. Previous projects have included an emergency command center in Tibet that "provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people's peaceful life," according to Uniview's Web site.

In response, Romney insisted that his not-so-blind trust (more here) really can't see. As the Los Angeles Times reported:

"I'm not familiar with that report and so I really can't respond to it," Romney said when asked about the reports of Bain's investments in Uniview Technologies. "Any investments that I make are managed by a blind trust. I don't make investments in Bain or anywhere else. That's done by a trustee who makes decisions that he thinks are correct."

If Mitt Romney's own investments belie his tough talk on China, so do his supporters. In January, Romney-backer David Greenspon, whose Iowa company profits in part by outsourcing manufacturing to China, said as much:

"I think the rhetoric of a campaign is different than the actual application."

As it turns out, this isn't the first time Mitt Romney's campaign rhetoric proved to be very different from his actual application.
You may recall Romney's 24-hour Iran disinvestment campaign in early 2007, an effort cut short by revelations his own former employer had recent business dealings with Tehran. Following the lead of one-time Boston Consulting Group colleague and then-former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Romney began his grandstanding on Iranian disinvestment by targeting the Democratic-controlled states of New York and Massachusetts. On February 22, Romney sent letters to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton as well as state comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli urging a policy of "strategic disinvestment from companies linked to the Iranian regime." Romney's theatrics continued:

"With your new responsibilities overseeing one of America's largest pension funds, you have a unique opportunity to lead an effort to isolate Iran as it pursues nuclear armament. I request that you immediately launch a policy of strategic disinvestment from companies linked to the Iranian regime. Screening pension investments and divesting from companies providing financial support to the Iranian regime or linked to Iran's weapons programs and terrorist activities could have a powerful impact. New investments should be scrutinized as long as Iran's regime continues its current, dangerous course."

As it turns out, scrutiny begins at home. As the AP and others detailed, Romney's former employer and the company he founded had links to very recent Iranian business deals:

Romney joined Boston-based Bain & Co., a management consulting firm, in 1978 and worked there until 1984. He was CEO of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm, from 1984 to 1999, despite a two-year return as Bain & Co.'s chief executive officer from 1991 to 1992.
Bain & Co. Italy, described in company literature as "the Italian branch of Bain & Co.," received a $2.3 million contract from the National Iranian Oil Co., in September 2004. Its task was to develop a master plan so NIOC -- the state oil company of Iran -- could become one of the world's top oil companies, according to Iranian and U.S. news accounts of the deal.
Bain Capital, the venture capital firm that Romney started and made him a multimillionaire, teamed up with the Haier Group, a Chinese appliance maker that has a factory in Iran, in an unsuccessful 2005 buyout effort.

Caught flat-footed by his hypocrisy that took the AP less than a day to uncover, Romney feebly responded:

"This is something for now-forward. I wouldn't begin to say that people who, in the past, have been doing business with Iran, are subject to the same scrutiny as that which is going on from a prospective basis."

That's easy for him to say about Bain's past business in Iran and current deals in China. But when Mitt Romney says things like, "Guess what? I made a lot of money," he should expect a lot of more scrutiny about how he made it.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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