Romney wealthiest among presidential hopefuls

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is seen during a commercial break at the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate at the CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa, Aug. 11, 2011. Pool,AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's personal wealth up to $250 million survived the nation's economic crisis, according to figures released Friday. But his pledge to sell off interests that conflict with his GOP stances did not extend to some investments in a family charity.

The new records make clear that Romney is much wealthier than President Barack Obama or any of Romney's GOP opponents. The immense fortune controlled by Romney and his wife, Ann, is worth $190 million to $250 million within the same range as his 2007 presidential financial disclosure records, his campaign said.

Romney's financial records, submitted Friday to meet a deadline set by the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, valued his fortune at $86 million to $264 million.

The campaign, however, reported his wealth within a narrower range.

The holdings reflect Romney's success in running a major Boston venture capital firm and his stewardship of his own investments on Wall Street a strong base in his drive for influential donors and the Republican nomination. But amid a deep recession and populist outrage, Romney's wealth could prove double-edged, as seen in the controversy brewing over his comment Thursday that "corporations are people."

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The former Massachusetts governor was criticized by GOP presidential campaign rivals in 2007 because some of his vast array of investments reaped profits from corporations with interests in Iran, China and embryonic stem research. In response, Romney pledged that his financial portfolio "would conform to my positions."

At the time, Romney urged companies to divest interests in Iran and opposed Chinese human rights violations and the creation of new human stem cell lines for medical research. Although insistent that he had no sway over the blind trust that controlled his investments, Romney said his Boston-based trustee would sort out any conflicts.

Romney's latest report shows that since 2007, his blind trust had sold off shares in many of the companies that posed conflicts with hard-line stances on Iran, China and stem cells. Among the investments listed as sold on the 2011 disclosure are Honeywell, which had aided Iranian gas production through a British subsidiary, and Schlumberger, an oil services firm that operated both in Iran and Sudan. Both stocks were managed through a private Goldman Sachs portfolio, the disclosure said.

But IRS records show that between 2007 and 2009, Romney's family charity, the Tyler Charitable Trust, continued to buy and sell other investments in companies that dealt with Iranian firms, complied with Chinese censorship or aided in stem cell research.

The Romney campaign said that a 2010 filing for the charity is expected later this year but declined to comment on any specific investments in either Romney's personal disclosure or his separate charity filings.

"Governor and Mrs. Romney's assets are managed on a blind basis," Gail Gitcho, communications director for the Romney campaign, said in a statement. "They do not control the investment of these assets."

Both Romney's blind trust assets and his family charity are under the direction of Boston attorney R. Bradford Malt. Echoing Romney, Malt said in 2007 that he would prune out investments that did not comport with Romney's political stances.

"As I become aware that ownership of a stock was inconsistent with public positions, I might sell them," Malt said during a 2007 teleconference.

Yet as late as the 2009 period, tax filings show, Romney's charity bought shares worth $5,734 in Petroleo Brasiliero SA, also known as Petrobras, a Brazilian state-owned energy firm that reportedly invested $100 million to develop Iranian oil and natural gas reserves in the Caspian Sea. The charity later sold the shares that year at a loss.

Similarly, the charity bought and sold at a profit $10,600 worth of Baidu Inc., a major Chinese Web search engine firm that has been accused by human rights activists of collusion with strict Chinese government censorship of the Internet.

The charity also bought and sold at a loss $37,345 worth of Beckton Dickinson, a bioscience company that has helped develop environments for the growth of stem cells and funded grants for stem cell research.

In 2007 and 2008, the charity also purchased and sold hundreds of other investment shares worth thousands of dollars in more than a dozen other foreign and domestic companies that have conducted dealings with Iran, China or stem cell research.

The companies included China-based businesses Hang Lung, Telefonica and China Mobile Limited; medical research companies such as Merck, Roche Holdings and Fisher Scientific; and companies that dealt with Iran, among them Schlumberger, Gazprom and Total.

Many of those companies, which had been shown as investments on Romney's 2007 financial disclosure, were listed as sold on his 2011 report. And the new report clearly shows that the blind trust has pruned many other stock purchases among the former Massachusetts governor's former investments. While the 2007 report ran to 47 pages, the new disclosure is only 28 pages.

Romney's new disclosure also shows signs of more cautious investing, a response to the recent recession. The report details an investment of $250,000 to $500,000 in gold since 2007, a period when gold prices climbed.

Romney's disclosures describe at least $3 million in investments from Bain Capital, the Boston venture capital firm he co-founded in 1984. Some of the assets were part of a retirement agreement with Bain and reflected the values of those investments before the agreement expired in December 2010.

Bain is also the former employer of Edward Conard, a former Romney co-worker and investor who secretly contributed $1 million through a short-lived company, W Spann LLC to a Romney-leaning political committee, Restore Our Future, before coming forward as the donor.

In comparison to Romney's $190 million to $250 million fortune, Obama reported assets last May worth $2.2 million to $7.5 million, swelled by royalties from the books "Dreams From My Father" and "Audacity of Hope."

Romney has donated the proceeds of "No Apology," his most recent campaign-related book, to charity.

Among Romney's chief rivals, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, by comparison, holds fewer assets. He earned about $120,000 a year in salary as governor. He has outstanding credit lines on his suburban home. Upon retirement, he'll be able to draw on public pensions from his time as a legislator and governor.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has assets with a net worth of $500,000 to $1 million, 2010 House financial disclosure records show. That includes a family farm in Wisconsin and Bachmann & Associates in Lake Elmo, Minn., a psychotherapy clinic headed by her husband, Marcus.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to announce his GOP candidacy this weekend, has disclosed two blind trusts worth more than $50,000 combined, but some reports have estimated Perry's financial worth as closer to $1 million.

Despite the vast personal reserves at Romney's command, the financial assets wielded by presidential candidates may matter less this time around, thanks in part to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling known as "Citizens United."

The court ruling overturned a ban on corporate spending in federal elections. In turn, big-money donors this election cycle have already given millions to outside political committees known as super PACs in support of candidates.

But Romney leads his GOP rivals there as well. Restore Our Future raised more than $12 million during the first six months of 2011, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The pro-Romney PAC has had to fend off questions surrounding the shielded identities of some of its top donors, such as Conard. Meanwhile, other groups have said they are setting up PACs in support of Bachmann and Perry.

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