You can’t follow the politics of our nation without hearing a reference to “pork-barrel politics” – slang used when politicians undertake projects to benefit a group of friends in exchange for campaign donations.
If we go back to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, we’re told Mitt Romney became well known for saving the Winter Olympics from corruption surrounding the International Olympic Committee.
Coming off his defeat by Sen. Edward Kennedy for Senate, and with apparent thoughts of running for president, Romney needed a network to support his political aspirations. The Winter Olympics seemed like the perfect place to begin. The fact that he could have the project funded by taxpayers was icing on the cake!
Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe said Romney’s determination to present himself as a white knight came at a cost. Some say he magnified the extent of the committee’s fiscal distress, risked possible conflicts of interest among board members, and shunted aside others whose work had been instrumental in promoting the Games.
Lisa Roche wrote in the Desert News, “Mitt didn’t save the games. It was a publicity ploy from the beginning to build his platform in politics.”
Sydney Fonnesbeck, a member of the Salt Lake City Council, said, “He just came in and gathered the money already (pledged)…He didn’t want to give anyone else any credit. We became nobodies. A lot of us were hurt and angry. It didn’t surprise…us when he ran home and ran for governor.”
In a Dec. 2001 Sports Illustrated article, Donald Bartlett and James Steele wrote that “…while attention was on the Great Olympic Bribery Scandal…private and public interests siphoned about $1.5 billion out of the U.S. Treasury, the amount of taxpayer money spent, considering inflation, was more than spending for all seven games in the U.S. since 1904 – combined.”
Private enterprise derived significant long-term benefits from the congressional giveaways, draining funds from an unprecedented number of federal agencies. The largest amount of taxpayer money per athlete was spent – about $625,000, far more than Atlanta or Los Angeles.
Romney spent far more tax dollars to enhance the long-term worth of for-profit businesses than any of our former host states. Public records show cronyism when Kem Gardner, Romney’s friend, was given a contract to build the Olympic Legacy Park in his shopping mall with millions of tax reimbursements available. There was no competition for the bid. The park was built on private land with no thought of using public land.
Romney received over $1.5 million in campaign funds from people with ties to the Olympics; those he helped benefited greatly, too. Does it surprise you they donated to his campaign for governor soon after and many joined fundraisers for his presidential campaign?
Dr. E. Faye Williams is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc.