'Romney Riches Are Being Seen as New Hurdle' - at the Times, Anyway

Wealthy hedge fund consultant (and liberal Democrat) John Edwards didn't get nearly this kind of scrutiny of his personal finances during the 2008 Democratic primary.

The New York Times has been going to town on controversies over Mitt Romney's money, from his personal tax rate to the work of Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded. Thursday's front page story goes into excruciating detail on what is known about Romney's wealth, under the self-fulfilling headline 'Romney Riches Are Being Seen as New Hurdle,' by Nicholas Confessore, David Kocieniewski, and Michael Luo. Riches were not nearly a problem when liberal John Edwards ran for president in 2008.

With a fortune estimated to be as large as a quarter of a billion dollars, Mitt Romney is among the wealthiest men ever to run for president.

But attacks from Democrats and Republicans over his career in the leveraged buyout business and his reluctance to release his tax returns have underscored another central fact about Mr. Romney: The wealth that has helped underwrite his career in politics remains shrouded in considerable secrecy, which now poses a major political risk on the campaign trail.

Mr. Romney's finances are complex and far-flung. He and his wife, Ann, have reported holdings in dozens of publicly traded companies, mutual funds and high-end investment partnerships, with much of their family wealth held in blind trusts that conceal their full size from public view. And Mr. Romney's disclosure on Tuesday that he pays an effective tax rate of about 15 percent on his income focused new attention on some aspects of his finances, including his millions of dollars in donations to the Mormon Church and his continuing compensation from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he left more than a decade ago.

If Romney is "among the wealthiest men ever to run for president," who is with him? Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards, to name just a couple. Times reporter Robert Worth's writeup on John Kerry's wealth in October 2004 puts Romney's wealth in context: 'If Mr. Kerry is elected, he and his wife will be the richest couple ever to live in the White House, said Kevin Phillips, a political commentator and the author of 'Wealth and Democracy.'...But Mr. Kerry's elitist reputation goes deeper than his wife's fortune, now estimated at $1 billion.'

The Times focused on Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' wealth only after his sudden withdrawal from the 2008 presidential race, when it was safe to bring up the supposed liberal populist's previous employment in Fortress Investment Group, the hedge fund where he worked after his failed 2004 campaign as John Kerry's running mate.

A Nexis search uncovered a mere eight Times stories mentioning Edwards' consultant work with Fortress Investment Group, a Manhattan hedge fund for institutions and wealthy individuals that invested in subprime mortgage companies that foreclosed on victims of Hurricane Katrina. Those eight stories included one reporting Edwards would divest his $16 million portfolio of those controversial investments, after the Wall Street Journal brought them to public attention. In contrast, there have been almost 150 mentions of Romney's private equity firm Bain Capital in the last three months alone.