Three years might not seem like a big deal when looking back over Mitt Romney's two-decade career with Bain Capital.
But a growing number of journalists — and the Obama campaign — think it is.
The Boston Globe reported Thursday that Romney stayed chairman and CEO of Bain Capital through 2002 — three years longer than he has maintained throughout his political career. It cited public documents that the firm filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, among other records.
"The timing of Romney's departure from Bain is a key point of contention because he has said his resignation in February 1999 meant he was not responsible for Bain Capital companies that went bankrupt or laid off workers after that date," writes the Globe.
"The article is not accurate," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement. "As Bain Capital has said, as Governor Romney has said, and as has been confirmed by independent fact checkers multiple times, Governor Romney left Bain Capital in February of 1999 to run the Olympics and had no input on investments or management of companies after that point."
David Corn at Mother Jones had raised the issue early in July.
But previous stories did not include the details or have the impact of Thursday's report. In a conference call with reporters, deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter declared: "Mitt Romney is the most secretive person running for president since Richard Nixon."
Roberta Karmel, a former SEC commissioner, told the Globe: "You can't say statements filed with the SEC are meaningless. This is a fact in an SEC filing. ... It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to say he was technically in charge on paper but he had nothing to do with Bain's operations. ... Was he getting paid? He's the sole stockholder. Are you telling me he owned the company but had no say in its investments?"
But Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post's "The Fact Checker" questioned the relevance of the newly unearthed documents: "We're considering whether to once again take a deeper look at this, though it really feels like Groundhog Day again," he wrote. "There appears to be some confusion about how partnerships are structured and managed, or what SEC documents mean. (Just because you are listed as an owner of shares does not mean you have a managerial role.)"
Kessler also questioned the source, writing that it "would have more credibility if the Globe had disclosed [Karmel] was a regular contributor to Democrats."
Bain made Romney a lot of money and helped launch both his high-profile public service (running the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics) and political careers.
And Romney-as-businessman has been a prominent theme in a campaign dominated by the ailing economy. The former Massachusetts governor often touts his experience running the highly profitable Bain Capital — a firm that specialized in restructuring troubled companies — to show that he could help turn around the nation's economy.
President Obama's campaign has repeatedly claimed that Romney's business experience does not translate into helping the U.S. economy, in large part because it included instances where a company's jobs were eliminated or sent overseas while under Bain management. The same charges were made by some of Romney's Republican opponents during the primary campaign.
Cutter, from the Obama campaign, said: "Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments. And if that's the case — if he was lying to the American people — then that's a real character and trust issue that the American people need to take very seriously."
Boston Globe reporters Callum Borchers and Christopher Rowland write:
"Contradictions concerning the length of Romney's tenure at Bain Capital add to the uncertainty and questions about his finances. Bain is the primary source of Romney's wealth, which is estimated to be more than $250 million. But how his wealth has been invested, especially in a variety of Bain partnerships and other investment vehicles, remains difficult to decipher because of a lack of transparency."