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Was Romney right? Does Obama's pension have investments in China?

October 18, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Mitt Romney and President Obama, at their debate this week, tangled over many issues, including their pensions.
Mitt Romney and President Obama, at their debate this week, tangled over… (David Goldman / Associated…)

Mitt Romney obviously thought he had a big chance in this week’s presidential debate to expose hypocrisy by President Obama on the question of just who maintains overseas investments. Just when the challenger looked like he might have the incumbent cornered, though, Obama escaped with a quip about Romney’s wealth.

In one of his many tough shots during their second debate, Obama described Romney as someone who “can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it.” Romney tangled with moderator Candy Crowley to get a chance, later, to revisit the topic.

The former Republican governor of Massachusetts acknowledged that a blind trust that manages his assets has investments in China. But Romney said he was not alone.

“Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?” Romney asked not once, but three times. Obama finally replied: “I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long.”

That got a big laugh from the audience, the tension was defused, and many viewers of Tuesday night’s face-off might not have caught Romney’s next point: “Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States. You also have investments through a Cayman's trust.”

As Politics Now reported Wednesday, Obama’s financial disclosure form shows he has an investment of between $50,001 and $100,000 in the Illinois state retirement system, dating from his years as a state legislator. The system has funds invested overseas, as is typical for such retirement systems. The Illinois system also has committed $30 million to a private equity fund based in the Cayman Islands.

The Obama campaign had previously attacked Romney for investments in the Cayman Islands, saying they were a tax dodge. Romney said they were private equity investments, not designed for tax avoidance.

With the big audience reaction, Obama’s counter-punch got most of the attention from the media on debate night. But that didn’t mean Romney’s underlying claim was wrong, and he won fact-check battles that have followed.

james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesrainey

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