Gawker Looks To Crowdsource Romney's Bain Docs

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 23 2012 2:12 PM

Gawker Publishes Trove of Bain Docs, Financial Reporters Yawn

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Mitt Romney arrives at a campaign event at Watson Truck and Supply in Hobbs, New Mexico, on August 23, 2012

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages.

Gawker is looking for help sorting through nearly 1,000 pages of documents from Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, which the site published Thursday in bid to encourage crowdsourcing.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

(It looks like they're going to need the help from all the John and Jane Qs they can find because financial reporters don't seem particularly interested in them. But we'll get to that in a minute.)

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Here's how John Cook summed things up on Gawker:

Mitt Romney's $250 million fortune is largely a black hole: Aside from the meager and vague disclosures he has filed under federal and Massachusetts laws, and the two years of partial tax returns (one filed and another provisional) he has released, there is almost no data on precisely what his vast holdings consist of, or what vehicles he has used to escape taxes on his income. Gawker has obtained a massive cache of confidential financial documents that shed a great deal of light on those finances, and on the tax-dodging tricks available to the hyper-rich that he has used to keep his effective tax rate at roughly 13% over the last decade.

Gawker promises that the 950 or so pages of documents include internal audits, financial statements, and private investor letters for about 20 entities in which Romney had at least a $10-million stake in as of 2011, most of which are affiliated with Bain Capital. You're more than welcome to sort through them yourselves here.

At first blush, however, Gawker's get doesn't appear to be exactly groundbreaking. For one thing, the biggest news to come from the posting, so far at least, is, well, that the site published them. (Huffington Post's front page: "BAIN DOCS LEAK...") To be fair, the site went live with the documents with a handful of related stories, but none seem to be particularly jaw-dropping. It would strike me as an odd decision to hand over something like that to your competitors without first digging a little further to turn up a standalone front-page-leading story or two. To put it another way, a reporter doesn't typically get a hot tip from a source and then announce it to the world before checking it out.

(When newspaper outlets tried a similar crowdsourcing effort last year with Sarah Palin's emails, that was different: The docs were released to everyone at the same time, so it was a scramble to see who could find any newsy nuggets first.*)

Still, given the remarkably small center of a journalist-accountant Venn diagram, it is of course still possible that by turning over the docs to the public, someone with a little more financial expertise may be able to find some buried treasure.

But that seems particularly unlikely given the initial reaction to the leaked docs from reporters on the financial beat, which appeared to be a collective "meh." Fortune's Dan Primack, for one, says he had already seen most of the now-published files but that he opted against reporting about them because they didn't contain anything particularly newsy.

"Let me save you some time: There is nothing in there that will inform your opinion of Mitt Romney," he wrote in a post this afternoon. "How do I know? Because I saw many of the exact same documents months ago, after requesting them from a Bain Capital investor. What I quickly learned that there was virtually nothing of interest, except perhaps for private equity geeks learning exactly how much Bain paid for a particular company back in 2006. Sure I would have loved the pageviews, but not at the expense of tricking readers into clicking on something of so little value."

Correction, Aug. 23, 2012: This post originally misspelled Sarah Palin's first name.