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GOP spat began with Olympics

McCain and Romney's acrimony dates to a dispute over spending.

February 03, 2008|Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writer

Romney "takes credit for cleaning everything up," complained Stephen Pace, who helped run Utahns for Responsible Public Spending, a local nonprofit group. "How much he really did, how much initiative he showed, is hard to tell."

Romney gives his version of events, including early face-offs with McCain, in his 2004 book, "Turnaround."

At a time when the Games needed "record-breaking federal support," he wrote, McCain and a few of his Senate colleagues were threatening to revoke the tax deductibility of corporate sponsorships. "That would nail the coffin of the Salt Lake Olympics and future Games," Romney worried.

McCain, he added, "had earned the unfair reputation of being out to destroy the Games." After their first meeting, in early 1999, Romney decided that McCain "did not oppose the Olympics -- he simply opposed the federal government paying for the Games, particularly when he saw any waste and abuse. And he had plenty of examples."

After the Sept. 11 attacks, however, McCain "made clear there would be no problems from him when we came to Congress for the funding necessary to keep the Games secure," Romney wrote.

In the end, neither Romney nor McCain were correct in their public statements about how much the Olympics cost.

In response to a request from McCain, the General Accounting Office -- the research arm of Congress that is now known as the Government Accountability Office -- reported in September 2000 that federal agencies would spend $1.3 billion in and around Salt Lake City, or less than McCain claimed.

Most of the money was allocated to improve or build highways and transit systems, not expenses directly related to staging the games.

Bennett, Romney's chief backer, struck back the following year.

He asked the GAO to recalculate the federal tab minus the heavy construction and infrastructure. Not surprisingly, the tally was far smaller: $342 million, but still more than Romney had said.

Additional security measures added after Sept. 11 raised the total to about $400 million, subsequent reports showed.

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bob.drogin@latimes.com

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