When Mitt Romney's nephew pitched the idea of having his start-up Utah commodities firm help make the 2002 Winter Olympics more environmental friendly, officials with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee jumped at the prospect.
The Olympic organizers were looking for low-cost ways to go green and Ryan Davies offered his company's services for free, hoping a contract with the vaunted sporting event would be a marketing boon for his fledgling company, called 02 Blue, Inc.
How Davies secured the Salt Lake Olympic contract for his firm, however, appears to have been far less formal than the process used by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) to award work to its vendors, ABC News has found. Davies said in an interview the deal had nothing to do with the fact that he is the nephew of the man who was running the games at the time, and who is now the Republican nominee for president.
"This is not anything I went directly to him about," said Davies, whose father is the brother of Romney's wife Ann. "Mitt has a very, very strict personal rule about having an iron wall of separation between family and business."
Through a campaign spokesman, Romney declined to comment to ABC News about the work awarded to his nephew during the Olympics. The spokesman reiterated, however, that the work 02 Blue conducted was done for free, and that Romney did not personally approve the arrangement.
While 02 Blue did not get paid, Davies said, the experience enabled the start-up to tout itself as an Olympic vendor when it sought a second round of venture financing, and Davies later relied on the Salt Lake work when he sought a lucrative contract to reduce the environmental impact of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
"It was pure PR [public relations] for us," Davies said.
Both on the campaign trail and in his book, "Turnaround," Romney has touted his success in rescuing the 2002 Olympics from financial distress and helping overcome the taint of a bribery scandal. In the book, Romney describes his efforts to bring a businesslike atmosphere to the games -- an approach he had used during his consulting years at Bain & Company to help struggling enterprises bounce back.
ABC News has pieced together details of the arrangement between the SLOC and 02 Blue through interviews with those involved and through the very first handful of official records released by the University of Utah, which is hustling to complete work on the Salt Lake Olympics archive ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
While most companies doing work for the Salt Lake Games had to complete a rigorous application process and in many cases present competitive bids to win an Olympic contract, 02 Blue's arrangement began when Davies approached David Workman, who was a mid-level official in the committee's environmental office. Davies told Workman that 02 Blue would be willing to help the Olympics solicit donations from large companies for pollution credits -- credits traded like commodities that could be used to offset a company's harmful emissions into the environment.
Davis had found success turning to his uncle's enterprises in the past. A dot-com start-up where he worked before joining 02 Blue received financial backing from Bain Capital, according to one of the company's founders.
"We went in and said, why don't we try this," Davies told ABC News. "We wanted this, frankly for publicity for us."
Workman, who is now the spokesperson for the Idaho Lottery in Boise, said he could not recall if O2 Blue had any written agreement at all, and that they may have joined the program with nothing more than a verbal understanding.
One Olympic document released to ABC News by the University of Utah shows the contract to undertake the "Cleaner and Greener Program" was scheduled to be signed on May 1, 2000, but the document does not spell out the terms of any agreement with 02 Blue.
The program was to start with nonprofit group from Wisconsin called Leonardo Academy trying to quantify the amount of additional pollution that would be created by putting on the Olympics in Salt Lake. Then 02 Blue would be responsible for reaching out to large corporations to try and persuade them to donate "emissions credits." By reducing the amount of pollution the corporations created in the same amounts that the Olympics would create, the games could then be declared a "zero emissions event."
Colby Clark, who helped found 02 Blue, shared Davies's recollection that the company was not paid for its efforts. They participated, he said, because they thought doing the work for the Olympics would help put his company on the map, alongside other trading firms that specialized in the complicated markets for emissions credits.
"We thought it would be huge help," Clark said. "People were talking back then about mobile emissions credits. Renewable energy was a hot thing. We were a trading firm that wanted to get notoriety. With thought it would give us a lot of prestige with the big boys."
Diane Conrad Gleason, who oversaw the SLOC's environmental program could not recall the details of the arrangement with 02 Blue.
"I have no idea," she said. "The records, of course, don't exist anymore."
The company appears to have had some success during the Games. According to Davies, 02 Blue was able to persuade several large firms, including Waste Management Inc., and DuPont, to donate emissions credits.
The real success for O2 Blue, Colby said, was that the company's achievements were announced in a press release issued by the SLOC. Colby said he still has the placard crediting 02 Blue for its work that hung during an SLOC banquet.
After the Games, the business never managed to find its footing. But Davies has touted the experience on the business networking website LinkedIn, where he identifies himself as an entrepreneur.
"O2 Blue created the Olympic Cleaner & Greener program for the 2002 Olympics and was hired by the 2008 Beijing Olympics to create a similar program," his resume says.
According to Michael Arny of Leonardo Academy, Cleaner + Greener is actually a program started by the nonprofit. He said Leonardo received a Utah state grant to help the Olympics oversee the program, and they were joined by 02 Blue in that effort after it was already well underway.
Asked about the discrepancy in a follow up interview, Davies said he believes it was "a misrepresentation on my part that I need to change." Davies also clarified in an interview with ABC News that Chinese officials flew him to Beijing to present the idea to organizers of the Summer Olympics, but that did not lead to a contract for him or for 02 Blue.
The company 02 Blue did not survive. Colby said that when the Enron scandal hit, interest in 02 Blue from investors began to wane. "We were trying to raise a new round of venture financing, and it just never happened," Colby said.
After the Games had ended, Davies recalls he finally did have a conversation with Romney about his Olympic experience. The topic came up over dinner.
"It wasn't until much later that I had been able to talk to him about it," Davies said. "He had heard about it and knew about it, but didn't know I was involved in it."
These days, Davies, a father of eight, is helping raise money for Romney's presidential bid. He has posted an appeal for support on YouTube.
"I'm out beating the bushes and helping spread the word and find people to contribute," he said. "It's fun to watch someone you care about embark on something like this."
Lynn Packer is a freelance journalist based in North Salt Lake, Utah.