The GOP candidate pried $1.5 billion out of the federal government to bankroll his Olympic turnaround. Millions went to questionable projects that benefited well-connected Utahns.
By Tim Murphy, Mother Jones
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is in London for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 summer games—part of a three-country world tour designed to build his foreign policy resume and shake down overseas donors. The Romney campaign will run television ads during the games touting the candidate's experience as CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, where he was widely credited with turning around the scandal-plagued organizing effort.
What Romney doesn't talk about is how he succeeded in Utah with government help—lots of it—and how millions in assistance that he pried out of the feds ended up bankrolling subsidies, sweetheart deals, and giveaways for land developers and other well-connected Utahns.
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.
How the Salt Lake Games came to receive more money than any games in American history isn't much of a mystery. The organizers, including Romney, asked for it. In his 2004 book, Turnaround, Romney acknowledges the central role of the federal government in making the Olympics possible. "No matter how well we did cutting costs and raising revenue, we couldn't have Games without the support of the federal government," he wrote.