An ethics complaint sent just before Election Day alleging Gov. Mitt Romney profited from auto bailout money while denouncing it, can cause a campaign crisis in the final hours. The issue doesn’t have any legs … yet, though it could still get greater scrutiny from the national media.
In a letter dated November 1, 2012, Public Citizen, Public Campaign, Social Equity Group, People for the American Way, Service Employees International Union, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers (UAW), has asked the United States Office of Government Ethics to conduct an investigation into whether Romney has been forthcoming in financial disclosures. They’re a requirement for a presidential run.
Allegedly, in the vast web of investments held by Mitt and Ann Romney, they have holdings in Delphi, acquired on their behalf by Elliott Associates. Delphi is a supplier to General Motors and also a direct beneficiary of bailout funds. The letter also contends Romney has foreign policy conflicts since he is heavily invested in distressed sovereign debt in Europe.
According to a recent article by Greg Palast in The Nation, “… Romney has done a good job of concealing, until now, the fact that he and his wife, Ann, personally gained at least $15.3 million from the bailout—and a few of Romney’s most important Wall Street donors made more than $4 billion. Their gains, and the Romneys’, were astronomical—more than 3,000 percent on their investment.”
Legendary Tammany Hall boss and New York State Sen. George Washington Plunkitt said a distinction needed to be made between honest and dishonest graft. “I saw my opportunities,” said Plunkitt, “and I took’um.”
Plunkitt didn’t see anything wrong with taking personal advantage of a situation, especially as it pertained to state or local government. He considered it “honest graft” when no one was hurt. In short, a person has a right to take advantage of a situation if he is in the right place at the right time. Plunkitt said dishonest graft involved benefiting from government that hurt taxpayers. Not so with honest graft.
Conflicts of interest don’t automatically rise to illegality. Ethics and legality overlap, but aren’t one and the same. In addition, what role Gov. Romney played in actual investing and whether financial disclosure omissions were intentional is yet to be determined. If Romney benefited from “honest graft,” he may have a last-minute perception campaign crisis to manage, but not likely an illegal problem.
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