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Home Sweet Homes for Mitt Romney?

June 14, 2011

Among the defining moments of the 2008 presidential campaign was John McCain's inability to remember how many homes he owned. But if that episode crystallized the image of McCain as an out of touch stooge for the gilded class, his would-be successor Mitt Romney may have his own home ownership crisis. As it turns out, "Multiple Choice Mitt" knows how many houses he owns, just not which one he currently happens to call home. And that confusion over his state of residence could mean that Mitt Romney may have committed vote fraud.
As Mother Jones explained, long-time Romney gadfly and theoretical Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger claims Mitt has some 'splainin' to do:

Did Mitt Romney commit voter fraud when he cast a ballot for Scott Brown in last year's special election in Massachusetts? On Monday, one of his lesser known opponents for the GOP presidential nomination, Fred Karger, filed a complaint with Massachusetts state election officials alleging that he voted for Brown, as well as in other Massachusetts elections, when he was not in fact a resident of the Bay State.
In his complaint, Karger lays out a chronology of Romney's real estate moves since his failed presidential bid in 2008. According to Karger's timetable, Romney and his wife, Ann, bought a $12.5 million home in La Jolla, California, in May 2008. ("I wanted to be where I could hear the waves," Romney told the AP of his move to the West Coast.) Thereafter, Romney became a regular at California political events, even campaigning for Meg Whitman during her gubernatorial bid. A year later, in April 2009, the Romneys sold their home in Belmont, Massachusetts, for $3.5 million, and registered to vote from an address in the basement of an 8,000 square-foot Belmont manse owned by their son Tagg. But where the Romneys really lived these past couple of years seems to be a bit of a mystery. While Romney was appearing at so many California political events people were speculating he was going to run for office there, the National Journal reported in May 2009 that the Romneys had made their primary residence a $10 million estate in New Hampshire.

Massachusetts law describes a voter's residence as the place "where a person dwells and which is the center of his domestic, social, and civil life." Violating that law carries a possible $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison. It's difficult to imagine Mitt and Ann Romney as literal cellar dwellers in their son Tagg's basement. And while they later bought an $895,000 town house nearby, that July 2010 purchase came months after the election of Scott Brown. As it turns out, members of Romney's Belmont Mormon church said they hadn't seen the couple in years. And as Mother Jones reported, Karger claims that in April 2010, "Ann told him they are living in California." (When Mitt sold two of their four multi-million dollar mansions in 2009, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said the Romneys were "downsizing and simplifying.")
While the Romney campaign has yet to respond to the questions about where Mitt calls home and pays taxes, this imbroglio is not the first time he has run into trouble over residency issues. As Perrspectives noted four years ago during Romney's first White House run:

Romney, after all, was credited with being the savior of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. Between 1999 and 2001, Mitt listed his $3.8 million Park City, Utah home as his primary residence. (That hiccup almost disqualified Mitt from seeking the Massachusetts Governor's mansion in 2002. Quickly paying back the $54,000 Utah tax break he had received helped salvage his political aspirations in 2002 - and 2008.

With his Utah back taxes taken care of, Romney won his case before the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission, enabling him to legally run for Governor of the Bay State. The rest, as they say, is history.
Well, not exactly. Eager to avoid associating himself with either Mormon Utah or liberal Massachusetts, Mitt Romney announced his 2008 candidacy in his boyhood home state of Michigan. As the tough New Hampshire primary contest against John McCain approached, Romney told Katie Couric of CBS that he was just "a guy from Detroit":

"Why would I be frustrated? This is fabulous!" Romney said. "Literally, at the beginning of my campaign I was number five or six off the list. People said 'how do you think you can run against John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson?' Now I'm in the lead in every early state - tied for the lead or in the lead. I'm in rarefied air. Hey, for a guy from Detroit, this is pretty cool."

Of course, the Romney clan didn't live in the Motor City, but in the very well-to-do nearby Bloomfield Hills. That difference might explain the indifference Romney showed in his infamous November 2008 op-ed, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
In all likelihood, Mitt Romney will perform whatever necessary post facto paperwork - and check writing - to avoid facing vote fraud charges in Massachusetts. Regardless, the controversy may leave the Mormon Romney facing a bigger challenge among Republican primary voters. As New York magazine asked:

Is America ready for its first gypsy president?

UPDATE: Brian McNiff of the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Elections Division announced that the Romney vote fraud allegations will not be investigated, noting that "the time to bring this up was when he voted." As it turns out, TPM and Political Wire did just that in January 2010.

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

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