WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's surprise visit Thursday to the closed headquarters of Solyndra, meant to highlight the failed energy company's ties to President Barack Obama's administration and its federal loan guarantees, was the latest stop on his crusade against crony capitalism.
“It's a symbol not of success, but of failure. It's also a symbol of a serious conflict of interest,” the GOP presidential candidate told reporters at the defunct Fremont, Calif., business.
Earlier this year, Romney hit on a similar theme. "You’ve got to stop the spread of crony capitalism," he told voters, a message amplified by his campaign since primary rival, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), dropped out.
But Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance reports from Romney's first year as governor show that the candidate's promises do not include ending nepotism. A review by The Huffington Post shows Romney's eldest son, Taggart Romney, collected a salary from his father's campaign as well as the campaign of the newly elected lieutenant governor -- well after their victory.
Tagg Romney received a salary from the successful race for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, long after the majority of the non-family campaign staff was laid off. The campaign payments, which lasted for 10 months, netted him a total of $19,636.24. State records show that Tagg Romney also collected a paycheck from the campaign funds of the newly elected lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, during the same post-election year. Healey did not respond to a request for comment.
The total combined funds paid to Romney into 2003 from both campaigns amounted to $27,422.67, making him the single most highly paid staffer of the combined Romney/Healey campaigns for the post-election year. The Romney campaign declined to comment.
However, there is nothing illegal about the payments, provided they were for legitimate work and reported accurately, said Jason Tait, spokesman for the state's OCPF. "In general, existing political committees can continue to pay campaign or committee staff for work that is actually done."
There is also nothing unusual about campaigns continuing to operate in non-election years. Pam Wilmot, executive director of government watchdog group Common Cause Massachusetts, said the practice is common. "Campaigns in Massachusetts are perpetual," she said. "They don't ever shut down ... The standard is very loose for what money is spent on."
Wilmot added that there is a high standard for campaigns paying family members, but without knowing exactly what Romney did for the campaigns post-election night, it's hard to say whether the payments were justified.
"I'm pretty sure that Tagg was in charge of the close-down operation of the campaign," said one former staffer, adding that the work seems kosher. "Maybe it's a couple months longer than necessary."
At the time that Romney was employed by the campaigns full time, his start-up sports ticket company, Season Ticket Solutions, was in the process of shutting down. The company's failure was followed by a 2005 lawsuit, which was settled out of court against its main competitor, Ticketmaster.
"If you were to look through the campaign finance reports of incumbents, you will see many expenditures in off-election years," said Tait.
But the more than 7,500 donors who gave Mitt Romney $500 or less in 2003 might be surprised to learn that part of it paid his son's salary.
"I wouldn't [put my child on the payroll]," said one longtime Boston politico. "I meet too many hardworking people, who gave $5, and they think it's an important part to help win a campaign.
"[Donations] are not done to support a political junket or a candidate's relative. That's not why they do it. I think you have to have some respect for the donors," they said.