Salt Lake City
By all accounts Salt Lake City is a pristine landscape. But in 1999 when Mitt Romney returned to run the 2002 Olympic effort, he landed in an ethical swamp that was more comparable to what occurs in the Nation’s Capital, not near the Great Salt Lake.
Nature shows there are those creatures that thrive in the swamp – political ones among them. And if presidential campaigns are character tests, Romney’s started in the Salt Lake City swamp.
Late in 1998 the Salt Lake City Olympics scandal had exploded leaving the 2002 Games under a cloud of troubles. Salt Lake Olympics Committee (SLOC) heads Frank Joklik and Dave Johnson were removed, after it was revealed that Salt Lake organizers paid bribes to International Olympic Committee (IOC) in charge of determining where the Games were to be held, in order to win the bid. An internal ethics report pinned the blame on Johnson and former SLOC chief Tom Welch.
Enter Mitt Romney, who stepped in to fill the leadership void and run the Games. And while Romney’s supposed brilliance in managing the Salt Lake City (SLC) Games has been commonly reported, there has been virtually no scrutiny of the alliances he made during the Games. A close examination has found dealings that indicate the Republican candidate established contacts with some of the very individuals implicated in the bribery scandal. Today, the Republican nominee continues to accept sizable donations to his campaign and affiliated super PAC’s from these same individuals.
A series of articles by investigative reporter Wayne Barrett in the Daily Beast shows how Romney’s campaign continues to cash in on these Olympic connections by raising enormous sums of campaign money from businessmen tainted by the Salt Lake bribery scandal. Romney’s indiscriminate acceptance of huge campaign contributions from dubious characters may raise questions about his integrity.
Sead Dizdarevic is one of Romney’s major super PAC and campaign benefactors. Dizdarevic was granted immunity from prosecution in the 2003 corruption trial of Tom Welch and David Johnson, where he admitted that he made payments in an attempt to snare his first exclusive Olympics hospitality contract. According to the Deseret News, at the time Romney knew prosecutors were investigating Dizdarevic’s, but nevertheless elected to give Dizdarevic the contract as the official ticket packager for the games in exchange for a hefty sponsor fee. His company has enjoyed near-monopoly control of elite Olympic ticket/accommodation packages ever since.
Awarding Dizdarevic the contract coupled with the acceptance of later campaign donations could suggest that Romney is untroubled by the conduct of Dizdarevic. In his book, Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games, Romney noted that Dizdarevic contributed to the Games in ways beyond just sponsorship fees. Way beyond it appears as since Dizdarevic’s company and his family together, have given $221,800 to Romney’s campaigns and affiliated super PAC’s.
David Simmons, another cooperating witness in the 2003 federal trial of Romney’s IOC predecessors, is another of Romney’s close donors to emerge from the scandal. Simmons avoided a “multi-count federal indictment” by pleading guilty to a federal tax misdemeanor, born out of a phony job for the son of a critical IOC member to secure his vote for Salt Lake City. Simmons' family businesses—which have deep ties to Utah's Mormon community— reaped a windfall from the Games. Simmons admits he was "incredibly grateful" for Romney's effort to "save" the Olympics. Grateful to the tune of more than $317,000 given to Romney by Simmons and his family.
The Dizdarevic and Simmons donations to Romney over the years add up to nearly $1.5 million, all of it connected directly or indirectly to contributors at the heart of a scandal. These two donor networks represent only a portion of the Olympics connected money Romney has accepted. At the time Romney was not phased by this or any of these associations and financial ties he may have as he seeks the 50.1 percent of the vote he needs to defeat Barack Obama.
Another revelation when it comes to Romney, is that as chair of the Games he awarded a sponsorship deal to Provo, Utah based Nu Skin. As part of the deal, Nu Skin subsidiary Pharmanex was allowed to distribute nutritional supplements and vitamins to the athletes. The deal sparked controversy because IOC doping officials were advising athletes not to take any of the supplements citing concerns that they may be tainted with steroids and other banned substances.
There was also the appearance that Nu Skin was trying to buy its way to legitimacy. According to the Deseret News, former CEO and co-founder of the firm Steven Lund, a longtime Romney supporter, promised that the Olympic rings affixed to distributors' business cards would bring them loads of new recruits, saying that the Olympic affiliation, "will also further mainstream our brands in the business community."
Romney insisted that he had no problem with Nu Skin's quality, and the company ended up having its name featured all over TV for the duration of the Games.
Nu Skin has since helped bolster Romney’s campaigns. An August, 2011 MSNBC story broke the news that some of the main donors to Romney affiliated super-PAC, Restore Our Future, were essentially shell companies that dissolved right after giving $1 million to the PAC. Nu Skin doesn't have quite the cachet of some of Romney's more loyal Wall Street and Fortune 500 financial backers, but two of those companies were founded by top operatives of Nu Skin, including Steven Lund.
Making deals with the people involved in the scandal that brought down your predecessors is no big deal to Romney. However, it has lead some to begin to call into question the ethical character of a man seeking the Presidency.
As the 2012 Summer Olympics rapidly approach, Romney does risk drawing scrutiny to his relationships with those tainted figures as he plans to travel to London for the start of this year’s Games set to begin later this month.