WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney promised “complete transparency” when he took charge of the scandal-plagued Salt Lake City Olympics, a pledge that included access to his own correspondence and plans for an extensive public archive of documents related to the Games.
But some who worked with Romney describe a close-to-the-vest chief executive unwilling to share so much as a budget with a state board responsible for spending oversight. Archivists now say most key records about the Games’ internal workings were destroyed under the supervision of a staff member shortly after the flame was extinguished at Olympic Cauldron Park, after Romney had returned to Massachusetts.
“Transparency? There was none with [the Salt Lake Organizing Committee] when he was there,” said Kenneth Bullock, a committee member who represented the Utah League of Cities and Towns. “Their transparency became a black hole. It was nonexistent.”
According to Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul, “Mitt Romney resigned from SLOC in early 2002 to run for governor of Massachusetts and was not involved in the decision-making regarding the final disposition of records.”
Romney and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee had no legal obligation to preserve their records or make them public, even though the state paid $59 million, and the federal government spent $342 million on the Games and contributed roughly $1 billion more in indirect aid for transportation projects and other capital improvements in the Salt Lake region.
Like other Olympics, the 2002 Winter Games were managed not by a public entity but by a private, nonprofit corporation that was exempt from public records laws.
Earlier Olympic organizing committees, too, had destroyed internal documents. Organizers of the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, burned records of their bid to host the Olympics — a move widely believed to have covered up bribery.
But Romney vowed that he and his committee would operate out in the open. Dubbed a “franchise player” by Utah’s Governor Mike Leavitt, Romney was charged with leading the comeback from a scandal in which some on the Salt Lake bid committee had quietly doled out cash payments to International Olympic Committee members during the host city selection process.
“Any time there has been a breach of trust by people at the top, that organization is going to be placed under a microscope, and that is appropriate,” Romney said at a news conference on Feb. 11, 1999, the day he was named chief executive of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. “We will be viewed much more carefully than any other organizing committee, perhaps in the history of the Olympics, and we deserve to be so viewed. I believe we will come through with flying colors.”
There were two major prongs on Romney’s transparency promise: One was “the most open documents policy of any enterprise.”
“All of the documents inside our organization are available to the public,” Romney said in a speech to the National Press Club in 2000. “Simply submit a form saying which documents you want. For instance: ‘I want to see all the letters written by Mr. Romney to [then-IOC President Juan Antonio] Samaranch.’ You’ll get ’em all.”
But letters between journalists and the organizing committee obtained by the Globe show reporters were sometimes denied access to records they believed were covered by the committee’s open documents policy. Only a week after Romney spoke to the National Press Club, the Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wrote a complaint to the committee.
“There were some difficulties and some reporters felt they were treated differently than others,” recalled Paul Murphy, the Utah chapter president at the time.
The committee charged news outlets $25 per hour to research records requests, even if the requests were eventually denied.
Even within the organizing committee, access to information was sometimes restricted, according to Bullock, the committee member.
“Everything should have been accessible to the board, but it wasn’t because that’s not what Mitt wanted,” he said.
The other prong was the public archive, billed as an unvarnished documentary of the Salt Lake City Olympics — from bid scandal to closing ceremony.
A decade later, the Games’ official records, housed at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library, still have not been made available to the public. ABC News reported Monday on the unpublished archive and the destruction of documents.
When the collection is finally unveiled next month, the public should not expect any major insights into the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s leadership of the Games, archivists say. Instead of executive office memoranda, budgets, and correspondence, the 1,100 cartons of records contain only previously published brochures, manuals, and some general guidance on how to run an Olympics.
“It’s not about the inner workings of anything,’’ said Elizabeth Rogers, the library’s curator of manuscripts. “I haven’t seen anything particular to Mitt Romney.”
Salt Lake Organizing Committee officials confirmed to the Globe that most administrative records were destroyed in the months after the Games concluded.
Romney did not oversee the destruction of organizing committee documents. That task fell to Fraser Bullock (no relation to Kenneth Bullock), the committee’s chief operating officer and a former Romney colleague at Bain Capital, who took over as the Games’ chief executive when Romney left to run for governor of Massachusetts.
“Mitt didn’t have anything to do with any of those decisions,” Fraser Bullock said. “He was long gone, and it was really left up to the people left behind to decide what to keep and what not to keep.”
Fraser Bullock said the goal was to save materials that future organizing committees might find useful.
“What we instructed our people to keep were things that were relative to putting on the Olympics, for future groups who would want to understand how operations worked,” Fraser Bullock said.
But that was not the original purpose of the archive, according to an agreement between the organizing committee and the University of Utah.
“Our intention was we were documenting the Salt Lake Olympics, and it sounds like they were just thinking about someone using that for future planning,” said Jeffery O. Johnson, Utah’s state archivist until 2002 and a member of the ad hoc committee that helped form the archive agreement. “Certainly that was not our intention.’’
The agreement was the product of years of collaboration by the organizing committee, university, state, Utah State Historical Society, and other interested parties. Signed Oct. 30, 2001, it outlined the “probable scope” of records to be archived in the Marriott Library, including written records of SLOC management and departments, Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee records, and “other administrative records that document the planning and staging of the Olympic Winter Games.”
But the agreement contained a clause that gave Olympic organizers the authority to withhold any records for any reason.
Publicly, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee suggested the archive would be a hallmark of the 2002 Winter Games, according to media accounts of the time. But internally, archiving was not a high priority, according to committee archivist Mark Jensen.
“People were encouraged to select documents about the planning and staging of the Games, but it was voluntary,” Jensen said.
“I didn’t interact with Mr. Romney to any degree, except for a couple of occasions,” he added. “But my impression is that his philosophy on the archive mirrored that of [Fraser] Bullock.”Christopher Rowland can be reached at email@example.com. Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.