Leave vs. Leave of Absence

Where Does the Bain Story Go This Week?

What Mitt may be hiding: exactly how much he made after 1999 for doing nothing.

It may die down, but it hasn't yet. It's tied, of course, to the question of the release of Romney's taxes, which even Bill Kristol called for yesterday.

The Obama campaign opened the week by sending out an emal blast with eight questions for Romney, and you can read them here.

My guess as to what's going on here is as follows. Romney took a leave of absence from Bain in 1999. But he spent years saying he left the company. Why? Why didn't he just say from the beginning that he took a leave, because he wasn't sure when he went to run the Olympics that he wasn't coming back? That would have been completely plausible and accepted.

But I think the answer is: because the phrase "leave of absence" leaves, as it were, certain questions hanging in the air. The main one being, well, was your leave paid? Because when most of us take leaves, parental leave or sick leave or even journalists taking book leave (especially these days!), it's not paid, or it's barely paid, for a very short period of time. But something tells us all, doesn't it, that that ain't the way it works for financial big shots. They have different rules.

I am guessing that Romney knew from the start, correctly, that the phrase leave of absence would raise such questions. Which is to say, the truth would raise questions. So he lied. He said he left. Period. Leaving means no questions. If you left, you left.

But it turns out he didn't leave. And he continued to draw "at least" $100,000 in salary, emphasis on at least. And that's just salary--it's not stock options or shares of profits.

Now--as Salt Lake Olympics CEO, Romney gave his salary of $250,000 per annum to charity, and he even donated an extra $1 million to the games. No one can say Romney has been stingy with his money. Although typically, a right-wing meme popped up over the spring that Romney gave 14 percent of his income to charity while Obama gave just 1 percent, which was, naturally a lie, or at least exaggeration: Obama had been chintzy in the early to mid 2000s, before he got semi-rich from book royalties, but once he was flush, his charitable giving came to a slightly higher percentage than Romney's (though in the same ballpark).

So that looked really good on Romney's part. But of course, what no one knew at the time was that it's a heck of a lot easier to give away one salary if you're drawing another!

And this is why I think Romney doesn't want to release his taxes. It seems possible that his returns for those "post"-Bain years show substantial income in various forms from Bain. I don't want to put a number on it, but remember, the forms merely say "at least" $100,000 a year, and that's just salary. We could be talking about a pretty hefty pile of cabbage.

For doing, according to his own cover story, nothing. No wonder he insisted on saying he left, yes? Put yourself in his shoes: "Geez, it might not look right to people that I was paid a lot of money for no work, so let's just shut that line of questioning down by saying I left instead of took a leave." That works when you're running for governor, because people don't really care enough to dig that deeply. The White House is another matter.

All this relates to questions three and four on the Obama email that went out this morning. As one who second-guesses the Obama people a lot--for a living, basically!--I'd say they've pushed this Bain story pretty well. They obviously have the other guy on the defensive.

But I do think maybe the outsourcing line of attack will end in shades of gray. Whereas, huge salary and compensation for doing no work, AND the guy clearly lied about it...that seems rather black and white. I suspect it may be the fundamental reason Romney is hiding his tax returns, and I think this angle may prove to be more damaging to Willard.