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Letter of the Law

Claim:   Mitt Romney is facing federal ethics charges.

MIXTURE:
FALSE: Mitt Romney has been charged with ethics violations by the federal government.
 
TRUE: The United Auto Workers (UAW) and several other organizations have requested a federal investigation of Mitt Romney's financial disclosures.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, November 2012]

I saw this on Face Book and I am wondering if this is true?

BREAKING: Romney facing federal ethics charges. YES. This is REAL.

On Monday, Mitt Romney is expected to face charges for ethics violations and profiteering with regard to his involvement with the 2009 government bailout of the auto industry.
 

Origins:   On 1 November 2012, five days before the U.S. presidential election, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and several other organizations sent a letter to Don W. Fox, the General Counsel and Principal Deputy Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, calling for an investigation of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's financial disclosures. The senders maintain that Mitt Romney has "undisclosed stock holdings [that] create very serious conflicts of interest" and that he garnered a profit of "at least $15.3 million" from the automobile industry bailout of 2009.

In a press release about the letter, the UAW stated:
A coalition of community, labor and good government organizations is calling on the U.S. Office of Government Ethics to investigate presidential candidate Mitt Romney for noncompliance with the Ethics in Government Act and compel him to either disclose his investments or divest them.

A letter sent to Don W. Fox, general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics, states that Gov. Romney "has not even attempted to meet the requirements for a federal blind trust with respect to his substantial equity holdings. The only way for this law to be enforced in a meaningful way is for your Office to act promptly to
demand that candidate Romney disclose his stock holdings, or divest them if disclosure is not feasible."

The letter was sent by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, People for the American Way, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, SEIU, UAW and The Social Equity Group, and it follows up on a previous letter sent to the Office of Government Ethics on Aug. 23, 2012, that urged the office to act.

"The American people have a right to know about Governor Romney's potential conflicts of interest, such as the profits his family made from the auto rescue," said UAW President Bob King. "It's time for Governor Romney to disclose or divest."

The groups believe that Romney’s undisclosed stock holdings create serious conflicts of interest. They point to the auto loans as a key example. The Nation recently reported that the Romney family personally profited by at least $15.3 million from the auto loans of 2009. Yet Romney's June 1, 2012, Public Financial Disclosure Report to the Office of Government Ethics did not reveal this windfall because he did not disclose the underlying holdings of his private equity and limited partnership funds.

Romney profited from his family's investment in Delphi Corp. at the expense of the Delphi workers. Other unreported investments that could create conflicts of interest include controversial holdings in Sensata and Global-Tech.
The statement that Mitt Romney is "facing federal ethics charges" is at this point an exaggeration, however, as no charges have been issued against him by the federal government for violating ethics laws. All that has happened is that some groups have sent a letter to the Office of Government Ethics requesting an investigation of Romney's financial disclosures, based on information of as-yet undetermined accuracy. Whether sufficient basis will be found to merit an investigation, whether any such investigation will be conducted, what that investigation might find, and whether it would result in any criminal charges being brought against Mitt Romney are all matters of mere speculation.

Last updated:   5 November 2012

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