POLITICS

Romney Olympic success required federal payout

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Mitt Romney likes to remind voters that he saved the 2002 winter Olympics from the "shadows of scandal," but he rarely mentions that his success was made possible, at least in part, by $1 billion in funding from the federal government.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee and self-described deficit hawk was hired in 1999 to run the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City after a bribery scandal threatened the games.

Romney, who is now visiting the opening of the London Olympics, subsequently registered as a lobbyist for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and secured $342 million in direct funding from the federal government and another $1.1 billion in indirect financing from Washington.

In Romney's book "Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games," Romney describes in a chapter entitled "Funds from the Feds" how he lobbied Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for funding, saying he "would need hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal support from a long list of departments."

"No matter how well we did cutting costs and raising revenue, we couldn't have games without the support of the federal government," Romney wrote.

Among the taxpayer-funded expenditures was $33,000 for an Olympic horse adoption program and $55,000 for the Department of Justice to assess racial tension in Salt Lake City, according to a Government Accountability Office report. More than half of the funding went to security, drug testing and shuttle buses.

McCain later called the Olympics "an incredible pork-barrel project for Salt Lake City and its environs."

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, a Democrat who worked with Romney to secure the federal funding, said security was a serious concern in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"This was the largest public event in this country since 9/11 and we wanted to make sure things went along smoothly," Anderson told MSNBC. The funding also helped the city pay to build highways and a light-rail line.

"I really think it's very hypocritical" for Romney to now say he's against federal earmarks like those used to fund the Olympics, Anderson said.

Romney has railed against Obama for cheerleading public investments in the nation's infrastructure when federal debt is at an all-time high. He has pledged to ban congressional earmarks if elected president in November.

"I think [earmarks open] the door to excessive spending, spending on projects that don't need to be done," Romney said during a Republican primary debate in February. The Olympics, however, are an exception, he added.

"In the history of the Olympic movement, the federal government has always provided the transportation and security," he said. "So we came to the federal government asking for help on transportation and security."

All told, the 2002 Olympics were seen as a major success, so Romney will continue touting that accomplishment -- he just won't mention the role that federal funding played.

"The Olympics were not a logical choice, but it was one of the best and most fulfilling choices of my life," Romney said recently. "Opportunities for you to serve in meaningful ways may come at inconvenient times, but that will make them all the more precious."

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Hayley Peterson

Staff writer - White House/campaign and Maryland politics
The Washington Examiner