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Romney: A Horse of a Different Color

Ever since Joseph Smith ran for president in 1844, a rumor has circulated among Mormons that is known as the

A month ago, I wrote an essay about the multiple manifestations of Mitt Romney’s dysfunctional moral compass. It provoked the most reader responses of the 100 or so opinion pieces I have written over the last eight years. I received numerous emails from members of the congregation that Mitt and I both attended in Boston echoing my perception of Mitt’s character deficits. I received a few vitriolic emails from Mormons who were apoplectic that I would question the integrity of their political and spiritual superstar. Just like American exceptionalism, Romney exceptionalism is a critical pillar of their faith.

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, ran for president of the United States in 1844. Ever since then, a rumor has circulated among Mormons that is known as the “White Horse Prophecy”: that the day would come when the US Constitution would “hang by a thread” and a member of the Mormon priesthood would save the constitution and the country. Enter Mitt Romney on the proverbial white horse, maybe the same one for which he claims a $77,000 tax break.

For many Mormons – Glenn Beck, for example – the White Horse Prophecy not only presages the theo-political coronation of Romney, but it adds divine approval to condemnation of Obama and the evil of liberal politics. In the last month, however, Romney has splashed a lot more mud on that white horse.

First, let’s add to Romney’s dishonesty merit badges his complete and utter silence on the Republican Party’s voter suppression of the young, the poor and minorities. Remember, Mitt, how you told us how much it meant to you that you saw your father “march with Martin Luther King in Detroit.” Another lie. Evidently, you didn’t envision them marching to the voting booth. If Romney cared one whit about civil rights, he would stand up to his party’s bald-faced machinations to steal the election, sabotage our democracy and deny the cornerstone of those civil rights he claims to care so much about.

Next, this past week’s Romney ads on Obama’s Medicare and welfare policies are so breathtakingly deceptive, nothing short of declaring them outright lies does them justice. It’s a new low even for his campaign. But more about Romney’s past has recently resurfaced that completes the portrait of a man who was willing to wade into virtually any ethical abyss if there was money to be made or political ambitions to be fed.

As reported by The Boston Globe and The New York Times, in 2002, Romney knowingly and deliberately lied on his tax returns and to the public about filing state income tax in Massachusetts. Learning that Mitt had claimed his mansion in Deer Valley, Utah, as his primary residence, the Massachusetts Democratic Party filed suit challenging his eligibility to run for governor of Massachusetts. He then claimed that he had filed state income tax in both Utah and Massachusetts. Not true: he had only filed in Utah (and saved himself $54,000 by doing so). He filed in Massachusetts after the fact, by secretly, retroactively amending his returns, and excused it by declaring, “I was not thinking of running for office.”

Romney is closely tied to hotel chain Marriott International. His full name is Willard Mitt Romney, named after the chain’s founder, J. Willard Marriott, a friend of Mitt’s father, George Romney and another high-profile, wealthy Mormon. Mitt served on Marriott’s board and was chairman of their audit committee. In this key role, Romney was the board member most acquainted with tax transactions and the one to whom the other board members turned for advice. It was his job on the board to handle Marriott’s tax strategy – or more accurately, tax-dodging strategy – and in that role, Romney steered Marriott into the largest tax scam in US history, known as Son of Boss, robbing the US Treasury of $70 million.

Like other prepackaged corporate tax shelters of that era, Marriott’s Son of Boss transaction was a fraud, bearing no relationship to the cost of doing business, and Romney would have known that. Its sole purpose was to magically create a gigantic tax loss out of thin air without any economic investment other than the fee Marriott paid the scheme’s promoters, as detailed by Peter C. Canellos and Edward D. Kleinbard for CNN. They wrote, “What emerges from this window into corporate tax compliance behavior is the picture of an executive who was willing to go to the edge, if not beyond, to bend the rules to seek an unfair advantage, and then hide behind the advice of so-called experts to deflect criticism when a scheme backfires.”

The Romney/Marriott/Son of Boss saga speaks volumes about Romney’s ethical standards and attitude toward government tax obligations. While he claims he never paid taxes at less than 13 percent of his income, he offers no shame, no apology, and no recognition of how deeply wretched and unfair even that would be to the 99% if it were true. Taxes are for the little people – you and me – not for the rich, talented and pedigreed.

A critical part of the original seed money for Bain Capital came from foreign investors through corporations registered in Panama, then known for tax advantages and extraordinary banking secrecy. As reported by The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salon, a significant portion of these start-up funds were provided by ruthless, wealthy oligarchs from El Salvador whose families also financed death squads during the country’s bloody civil war in the 1980s, killing tens of thousands of people.

By 1984, the media had thoroughly exposed connections between the death squads and the Salvadoran oligarchy, including the families that invested with Romney. Romney is not Sarah Palin: he does read newspapers. It is simply not believable that Romney would not have known about the connection. Furthermore, he maintained a personal and business relationship with those families well into the 1990s.

These are even more examples of the undeniable pattern of Romney’s business career and his self-proclaimed presidential bona fides of triumph in the “private sector”: enriching himself, his friends and his associates either with money generated by the lowest of ethical standards or hoarded by the loosest definition of the word “legal.”

American culture usually sees wealth, no matter how it’s created, as a virtue in and of itself. Indeed, the ideological roots of the Tea Party assume not only that greed is good, but that it is not to be tempered with empathy or compassion. All too many religious conservatives, including Mormons, go one step further and wrap greed and wealth creation in a sacred shroud. For them, Romney is the anointed one, the bright, shiny, righteous hood ornament of American capitalism and Mormon spiritual hegemony. And no one has more thoroughly embraced this mirage than his wife Ann, who labeled Romney’s integrity as “golden.” Golden calf is more like it.

In mid-August, Ann Romney was interviewed by NBC, where she characterized Mitt’s presidential bid as an equal partnership between the two of them. “We have a reason why we’re running,” she said. “I believe in my heart that Mitt is going to save America.” This messiah complex would be hard to swallow no matter who it came from, but coming from the Romneys, it feels more like waterboarding.

Mormons do themselves a disservice if they allow Mitt Romney to be considered the standard-bearer of Mormon values. It’s time for more Mormons in good standing to join Harry Reid and splash cold water on this fantasy of Romney gloriously astride his white horse riding into the White House.

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