Guess Who Helped Out?

Whaddya Know: He Didn't Build It

Guess what entity gave $1.5 billion to the Salt Lake Olympics? It rhymes with schmederal schmoverment.

Two worthwhile pieces at Mother Jones today on Romney and the Salt Lake Olympics. That's the one uncontested piece of his resume, and while the games were a success, it's worth looking a little more deeply into why and how, as it wasn't simply Mitt Romney's pluck and initiative and free-market faith.

What was it then? Here's a hint: It rhymes with schmederal schmovernment. Tim Murphy writes:

As Romney chastises the president for pointing out that successful business ventures benefit from a larger social compact and accuses critics of pining for "free stuff," Romney is simultaneously touting an Olympic effort that, more than any other in American history, succeeded thanks to public investment—some of it sunk into questionable projects of marginal value to the Salt Lake games. "The $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars that Congress is pouring into Utah is 1.5 times the amount spent by lawmakers to support all seven Olympic Games held in the U.S. since 1904—combined," Donald Barlett and James Steele reported for Sports Illustrated in 2001. Those numbers were adjusted for inflation.

Romney even wrote in his book on the subject: "No matter how well we did cutting costs and raising revenue, we couldn't have Games without the support of the federal government." See, the federal government is okay when it's a Republican administration and the "free stuff" is going to "deserving" people.

Robert Barney, an academic who studies the economics of Olympics games, has said that Salt Lake (and most other games) ended up in surplus (which organizers claim) only if you don't count the federal subsidy. So that's how they all do it--take government money and then just pretend you didn't. Ergo, you built it all yourself, see?

Meanwhile, Wayne Barrett and Irina Ivanova have a piece about Romney's relationship with a Salt Lake developer named Kem Garnder, who got the contract to build the main Olympic plaza--a key civic assignment. Gardner got the contract. Romney never disclosed their friendship to the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, even though Romney himself had promulgated stricter ethics rules six months before the contract was awarded calling on employees to disclose exactly such relationships, according to Barrett and Ivanova. Very interesting.

Maybe this sort of thing is why those Olympic archival records are still off limits. It's hard to imagine, by the way, how something like that can possibly be justified. A public event carried out with a hefty supply of public money, and they can just say that certain records can't be released...