Following the release of Mitt Romney’s personal financial disclosure last week with the FEC, the Obama campaign is raising new questions about the candidate’s transparency and potential financial conflicts of interest in his bid for the presidency.
The Romney campaign told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the former governor would move his financial holdings to a federal blind trust if elected president, but until then they will remain managed by a personal attorney on a “blind basis.” The federal trust has stricter standards and oversight.
As ABC News’ Matt Mosk reported late last year, government ethics experts and election lawyers say Romney’s current arrangement might not be as “blind” as he’s led others to believe. Trustee R. Bradford Malt, for example, has said publicly that he buys and sells investments that he believes would be consistent with Romney’s public policy positions.
“Gov. Romney is not operating with a federally qualified blind trust; that’s certainly been obvious,” said Obama for America general counsel Bob Bauer. “Yesterday he took the position that was in fact the case, he acknowledged that, but he also said he wasn’t prepared to make any changes until and if he became president of the U.S. And that raises a set of questions right there.
“The whole reason for rigorous blind trust requirements is so that you have fully independent administration of the trust in such a fashion that the office holder can be…completely reliably screened from anything that could influence his conduct, policy positions he takes,” he said. “That’s the risk.”
*As a freshly-minted U.S. Senator in 2005, Barack Obama established a blind trust to independently manage his investments, a campaign official said. But later that year he liquidated his stocks and closed the trust because “he realized that this arrangement did not adequately protect him against even the perception of a conflict of interest.”
The president currently owns no stock, and his investments — treasuries and diversified funds — are fully disclosed, thereby precluding need for him to have a blind trust, an Obama campaign official said.*
“The question is why would [Mitt Romney] want something looser in place and only upgrade if he becomes president of the United States?” Bauer questioned of Romney’s trust status. “It’s troubling when you learn that there are continuing activities in the Bain sphere,” he added, referring to Romney’s continue financial ties to Bain Capital, as seen in the candidate’s financial disclosure report.
The Romney campaign says the governor has never claimed to have investments in a federal blind trust and that the existing arrangement is free from conflicts of interest. They do not, however, directly explain why Romney would not transition to a federal blind trust now, or before taking office.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul called the attack on Romney’s finances “another tired distraction” by the Obama campaign.
They are “frantic to avoid discussing the continued rejection of President Obama’s agenda by the electorate and by members of his own party,” she said. “As has been reported for years, governor and Mrs. Romney’s assets are managed on a blind basis. They do not control the investment of these assets, which are under the control and overall management of a trustee.”
This post has been updated.*