Politics

Mitt Romney’s Swett Problem

Willard Mitt Romney donated $250 in 1992 to then-U.S. Rep. Dick Swett’s (D.-N. H.) successful re-election campaign. The one-term congressman served another term before losing to Republican Charles Bass in 1994. Two years later, Swett ran unsuccessfully against Republican Bob Smith for one of the Granite State’s U.S. Senate seats.

In 1992, the former Massachusetts governor and current Republican presidential contender also donated $250 to Rep. John J. La Falce (D.-N.Y.) and $1,000 to Douglas Delano Anderson, an unsuccessful Democratic primary candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Utah Republican Jake Garn, who retired that year.

The two Democratic House members who Romney funded were solidly liberal. For 1992, Rep. Swett had a 32 rating (out of 100) from the American Conservative Union and an 85 from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. That year, LaFalce scored a 12 ACU rating and a Swett-like 85 from the ADA.

To be fair, these donations are anomalous. According to Newsmeat.com’s analysis of Romney’s political giving, 1.5% of his contributions have gone to Democratic candidates. This website, which consolidates Federal Election Commission contribution reports, shows no Democratic donations by Romney before or since.

In contrast, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) gave 0% of his donations to Democrats, as did GOP frontrunner, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. For his part, Mayor Giuliani did endorse Democrat Mario Cuomo for re-election as New York governor in 1994 over GOP challenger, George Elmer Pataki. Referring to former Republican U.S. Senator and Pataki patron Al D’Amato, Giuliani warned: “If the D’Amato-Pataki crew ever gets control, ethics will be trashed.” Gov. Pataki’s lackluster, pork-soaked, pay-to-pay, pageant of patronage vindicated Giuliani’s unorthodox decision, as did Pataki’s rate of spending growth, which ultimately outpaced Cuomo’s.

Meanwhile, Romney supported the Massachusetts GOP with a $2,000 check on April 13, 1988, and another $1,000 on July 17, 1989. However, he did not write another check to Republicans until he donated another $1,000 to the Massachusetts GOP on October 27, 1993. So, between July 1989 and October 1993, Romney exclusively financed these three Democrats.

“Doug Anderson is a close personal friend of Governor Romney,” campaign spokesman Kevin Madden tells me by phone. “Sometimes friendship outshines politics, and that’s the case with Doug Anderson and Governor Romney in 1992.”

While that explains the Anderson donation, what about the checks to the other Democrats?

“I think a $250 contribution back in 1992 is greatly overshadowed by the number of donations to and his support for Republicans, as well as his conservative record as governor for four years,” Madden says.

The overshadowing is a fair point, but why did Romney support those Democrats in the first place?

“I don’t know,” Madden says. “I don’t have an understanding of that. I think he was friendly with Dick Swett.”

And how about the $250 to LaFalce?

Madden replies: “I don’t know the particulars of that particular donation.”

By itself, Romney’s brief tenure as a Democratic donor shouldn’t worry GOP primary voters too much. But against the backdrop of Romney’s inconsistency on numerous other issues, this news reinforces concerns among many Republicans that Romney is an ideological construction site, constantly growing into a structure still unseen and perhaps unimagined.

Romney raised eyebrows when it emerged that he voted as an independent in his state’s 1992 Democratic primary for Sen. Paul Tsongas (D.-Mass.). Romney could have explained that Tsongas, his home-state senator, was a respected fiscal conservative who spoke passionately about the urgent need for entitlement reform. Romney could have batted one into the right-field bleachers by saying, “Paul Tsongas ran against Bill Clinton in 1992, and I was proud to cast my ballot to stop Bill Clinton.”

Instead, Romney set heads a-scratching with this reply:

In Massachusetts if you register as an independent, you can you vote on either the Republican or Democrat primary. When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I’d vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for a Republican.

This is too cute by half. It also smacks of a cheap shot at Tsongas, a serious, honest legislator well respected across the political spectrum. He beat lymphatic cancer, but then later deteriorated and died in 1997 at age 55.

Less cute is the fact that this recent explanation contradicts Romney’s earlier story as to why he backed Tsongas.

“Romney confirmed he voted for former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas in the state’s 1992 Democratic presidential primary, saying he did so both because Tsongas was from Massachusetts and because he favored his ideas over those of Bill Clinton,” Scot Lehigh and Frank Phillips reported in the February 3, 1994 Boston Globe.

So, which is it — picking easy prey for Daddy Bush or preferring Tsongas to Clinton for superior principles and proposals?

Romney explained further that he was a loyal, lifelong Republican, except when he moved to Massachusetts, and then he wasn’t:

I’m a Republican and have been through my life. I was with Young Republicans when I was in college back at Stanford, but a registered Independent, so I could vote in either primary.

Romney’s serpentine statements are becoming almost too numerous to tabulate:

  • On campaign-finance reform, for example, Romney told the House Republican Study Committee that the McCain-Feingold law is “one of the worst things in my lifetime,” according to one conservative Republican who attended the RSC’s February 2 Baltimore retreat. “The place erupted. That was by far the biggest applause line,” the source said in The Hill newspaper’s February 8 edition. Campaigning in South Carolina, The State newspaper reports, Romney said of McCain-Feingold, “That’s a terrible piece of legislation.” He added: “It hasn’t taken the money out of politics … [But] it has hurt my party.”

However, the Boston Globe reported that then-gubernatorial candidate Romney proposed his own plan that was far Left of McCain-Feingold. Romney suggested that candidates who raised or spent money beyond the limits of Massachusetts’ Clean Elections law would be required to surrender 10% of the political donations they collected. That sum would be diverted to the Clean Elections fund to provide public financing for political contenders.

Romney’s 10% tax on free speech would have applied even to money that candidates paid out of their own pockets into their own campaigns.

Romney said in the September 9, 2002 Globe that he hoped his concept would preserve public funding of campaigns while shifting part of its cost “from the backs of the taxpayers to the politicians.”

“It’s an interesting new idea,” Pamela Wilmot, acting executive director for Common Cause Massachusetts, told the Globe’s Ralph Ranalli. “We are always in need of new ideas.”

[T]hose people who are here illegally should not get any benefit by being here. Those that have committed crimes should be taken out of the country. Those that are in our jails should be taken out of the country. Those who are on welfare, require government assistance, should leave the country. Those of the 12 million or so that are here, first, I want to find out who they are, how many are there. I want them to register.

However, just last year, Romney took a much softer stand on immigration.

“I don’t believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country,” Romney said in the March 30, 2006 Lowell Sun. “[T]hose that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.”

  • Speaking of gunpoint, Romney told the online “Glenn and Helen Show” last month, “I’m a member of the [National Rifle Association] and believe firmly in the right to bear arms.” Pressed to specify when he joined, Romney confessed February 18 to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he signed up with the NRA “within the last year” — about when he began preparing his White House bid.

Gov. Romney signed the first statewide assault-weapons ban in 2004. He also bragged that his support for such gun-ownership restrictions as the Brady Bill and the federal assault-weapons ban was “not going to make me the hero of the NRA.”

  • Romney calls himself a “vehement” foe of gay marriage. “From Day One, I have opposed the move for same-sex marriage, and its equivalent, civil unions,” Romney told South Carolina Republicans on February 21, 2005.

But just two days later, he told the Boston Globe’s Frank Phillips: “I am only supporting civil unions if gay marriage is the alternative.”

Just two years and eight months earlier, Romney and his 2002 gubernatorial running mate, Kerry Healey, produced a Gay Pride Weekend poster that said: “Mitt and Kerry Wish You a Great Pride Weekend! All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”

As the October 17, 1994 Boston Globe reported during Romney’s failed U.S. Senate bid, he told the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group: “As we seek to establish full equality” for gays, “I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent,” Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy (D.-Mass.).

  • But it’s on abortion that pinning down Romney is like nailing wine to the wall.

“I am pro-life,” Romney said in January.

But just four years and four months ago, Romney said, “I am in favor of preserving and protecting a woman’s right to choose.”

Pro-life activist and Romney campaign advisor James Bopp Jr. wrote February 28 on National Review Online:

Romney’s conversion was less abrupt than is often portrayed. In his 1994 Senate run, Romney was endorsed by Massachusetts Citizens for Life and kept their endorsement, even though he declared himself to be pro-choice…

While Team Romney now returns the Massachusetts Citizens for Life’s embrace, Romney couldn’t run from it swiftly enough when it was offered. Romney and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Shannon O’Brien energetically debated this matter in their October 29, 2002 face-off. YouTube features this footage online, and The American Spectator’s Philip Klein reported on this exchange last February 21:

ROMNEY: I don’t know about the endorsement of the Mass. Citizens for Life. I didn’t seek it. I didn’t ask for it…

O’BRIEN: But you accepted it

ROMNEY: When you say I accepted it, I didn’t write a letter and say, ‘Here, thank you very much for your endorsement.’

O’BRIEN: Your spokesperson stated that you accepted their endorsement.

ROMNEY: Shannon, I can tell you again. I did not in any way acknowledge their endorsement, nor do I…

O’BRIEN: But you accepted it.

ROMNEY: When you say I accepted it, in what way did I accept it, Shannon?

O’BRIEN: Ask your campaign spokesperson.

ROMNEY: I don’t have a campaign spokesperson here tonight. I’m here right now and I can tell you that I did not take a position of a pro-life candidate. I am in favor of preserving and protecting a woman’s right to choose.

This back-and-forth has left Bopp buffaloed.

“I don’t know yet about Romney,” Bopp admitted to Politico.com’s Jonathan Martin on February 21. “I’m not really sure where [abortion] will ultimately fit in his agenda. He’s still on a journey.”

A journey of political self-discovery is what one would expect from a college student navigating between his professors’ chalk-dust-encrusted socialism and the liberating ideas of Milton Friedman. A tax-abused businessman pondering his first bid for public office at age 35 deserves such latitude. However, a 59-year-old prospective commander in chief of the United States Armed Forces should be more firmly rooted in his beliefs than Romney appears to be.

On the other hand, Romney truly could be further Left on the political spectrum than he now admits and has lurched sharply Rightward merely to impress conservative GOP primary voters. If so, he is fueled more by ambition than principle.

No wonder an astute, free-market-activist friend of mine recently christened Mitt Romney “Slick Willard.”

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