WASHINGTON — After months of getting a pass on the subject from his rivals, Mitt Romney was challenged in the Republican presidential debate Saturday night on his frequent claims that he created great numbers of jobs in the private sector. Newt Gingrich, for one, said Romney's record as a venture capitalist was one of flipping companies, taking out all the money and "leaving behind the workers."
The bottom line remains unknown about how many jobs were gained or lost from Romney's work at the Bain Capital private equity company. But this much is clear: His accounting behind the assertion that he created more than 100,000 jobs at companies he helped start up or turn around has been flawed.
A look at some of the claims in the latest GOP debate and how they compare with the facts:
ROMNEY: "But in the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net ... net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs."
GINGRICH: "I'm not nearly as enamored of a Wall Street model where you can flip companies, you can go in and have leveraged buyouts, you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers."
THE FACTS: Romney has never substantiated his frequent claim that he was a creator of more than 100,000 jobs while leading the Bain Capital private equity company. His campaign merely cites success stories without laying out the other side of the ledger – jobs lost at Bain-acquired or Bain-supported firms that closed, trimmed their workforce or shifted employment overseas.
Moreover, his campaign bases its claims on recent employment figures at three companies – Staples, Domino's and Sports Authority – even though Romney's involvement with them ceased years ago.
By that sort of charitable math, President Barack Obama could be credited with creating over 1 million jobs even though employment overall is down about 2 million since he came to office. But Romney accuses Obama of destroying jobs while using a different standard to judge his own performance – cherry-picked examples that leave everything else out.
By its nature, venture capitalism often results in lost jobs because profitability and efficiency are key to investors, not how many people are on the payroll. Bain Capital profited in cases where employment went both up and down.
Staples, now with close to 90,000 employees, and Sports Authority, with about 15,000, were startups supported by Romney. The direct work force at Domino's has grown by nearly 8,000 since Romney's intervention. But Romney got out of the game in 1999, which has not stopped his campaign from crediting him with jobs created at those companies since then.
Romney toned down the braggadocio in the latest debate, saying that of the Bain-supported companies that grew, "we're only a small part of that, by the way." But he insisted his claim of more than 100,000 jobs was a "net net" figure that takes into account job losses elsewhere, even though his campaign has defended the assertion only by reporting on the performance of Sports Authority, Domino's and Staples.
No one has been able to produce a full accounting of job gains and losses from the scores of companies Romney dealt with at Bain. But a Los Angeles Times review of Bain's 10 largest investments under Romney found that four of the big companies declared bankruptcy within a few years, costing thousands of jobs and often pension and severance benefits.
RON PAUL about RICK SANTORUM: "So he's a big government person, along with him being very associated with the lobbyists and taking a lot of funds. And also where did he get – make his living afterwards? I mean, he became a high-powered lobbyist in Washington, D.C. And he has done quite well. We checked out Newt, on his income. I think we ought to find out how much money he (Santorum) has made from the lobbyists as well."
SANTORUM: "When I left the United States Senate, I got involved in causes that I believe in.... I was asked by a health care company to be on their board of directors. Now, I don't know whether you think boards of directors are lobbyists. They're not."
THE FACTS: Santorum was not, as Paul suggested, a registered lobbyist after he left the Senate. But Santorum did trade his Washington experience for lucrative work afterward, not unlike Gingrich, who has faced plenty of tough questions about money he earned from the corridors of power despite never being registered as a lobbyist.
Financial disclosure records show that from January 2010 to August 2011, Santorum earned at least $1.3 million working as a corporate consultant, political pundit and board member. Santorum reported that the American Continental Group, a Washington lobbying group, paid him $65,000 in consulting fees. The firm's lengthy client list includes Microsoft Corp., Comcast Corp. and the American Gaming Association.
"The senator did general consulting and provided his advice and opinion on which way the Senate may go, based on his record in the Senate and his history in leadership," said David Urban, president of American Continental Group.
ROMNEY: "I was in a state where the Supreme Court stepped in and said, marriage is a relationship required under the Constitution for – for people of the same sex to be able to marry. And John Adams, who wrote the Constitution, would be surprised."
THE FACTS: John Adams would be surprised to hear he wrote the Constitution. He was a minister to Britain at the time, after having been minister to France. He was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He was, though, an architect of the Declaration of Independence. And he constructed the Massachusetts Constitution.
SANTORUM, on Obama's approach to large street protests of the elections in Iran in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected over a perceived moderate: "We had a president of the United States who stood silently by as thousands were killed on the streets, and did nothing. Did nothing. In fact, he tacitly supported the results of the election."
THE FACTS: Santorum appears to have substantially exaggerated the death toll, for which there is no authoritative estimate. Opposition supporters in Iran claimed hundreds may have died; the Iranian government claimed several dozen.
Obama indeed reacted cautiously – tepidly in the opinion of critics. Wisely or not, he had reasons for doing so. Iran analysts had warned against overt U.S. support for Ahmadinejad's foes, saying such backing might taint them as well as give the Iranian government evidence that the unrest was caused by outsiders. Iranian opposition figures wanted distance from the United States over fears that U.S. support would impugn their credibility.
Once the severity of the crackdown became known, Obama condemned the violence and said the Iranian government should respect the rights of free speech and assembly. When it became clear that opposition protesters were relying heavily on social media to get their message out and organize, the State Department intervened with Twitter to delay a planned upgrade that would have shut down the service in Iran.
ROMNEY, on Obama: "He wants us to turn into a European-style welfare state."
GINGRICH: "His desperate efforts to create a .... European model."
THE FACTS: Republicans seldom make clear what they are talking about when they accuse Obama of trying to turn the U.S. into a "European-style welfare state."
They no doubt are referring at least in part to Obama's health-care overhaul, but that falls far short of many European plans of government-sponsored, universal health-care coverage. There's little evidence that any of Obama's proposals are modeled on European laws, policies and practices. And in finance, European nations appear to be moving in the direction of an American model, with tighter restrictions on banking practices and deficit-reduction programs.
Associated Press writers Nancy Benac, Charles Babington, Joan Lowy, Matthew Lee and Tom Raum contributed to this report.