A spokesman for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign said on Thursday that it was a common practice for departing staffers in the Massachusetts governor's office to buy their state-issued computer equipment, as 11 aides did when Romney stepped down as governor in January 2007. But officials from three previous administrations said Friday that that wasn't the case.
I don't remember anybody buying their hard drives. I don't remember anybody buying anything, Stephen Crosby, who worked for Governors Paul Cellucci (1997-2001) and Jane Swift (2001-2003), both Republicans, told The Boston Globe. I can't even remember anybody discussing it. It certainly wasn't [standard operating procedure] in any way. That's almost unthinkable. It seems inherently a bad idea.
When it came out that Romney's aides had bought their hard drives and that the administration had replaced all remaining computers and wiped all e-mails from the office server before leaving, one of the aides, former chief legal counsel Mark Nielsen, told The Globe that the purchases were in conformance with the law and with longstanding executive branch practice.
The longstanding practice in the governor's office was to give employees the option to buy old equipment when they were leaving office, and certain employees, including me, did that, said Nielsen.
But there's no record of any such purchases in the three administrations that preceded Romney's, and moreover, employees from those administrations say it was never mentioned as an option.
Nobody offered it to me any more than they offered any other furniture, Peter Forman, who served as Cellucci's deputy director of finance and Swift's chief of staff, told The Globe.
Romney's aides also didn't just purchase their own hard drives. Natalie Crate, Romney's special assistant in the governor's office, bought three hard drives belonging to unspecified employees.
Massachusetts public records law requires state and municipal officials to retain all paper and electronic records and submit them to the state archives before leaving office. The governor is not explicitly included in that law, according to a 1997 Supreme Judicial Court decision, but that doesn't mean he or she is exempt from submitting electronic records to the archives -- it just means those records don't have to be released to the public.
It squarely appears that it is the policy of the Commonwealth that electronic records maintained by constitutional officers are public property, whether they are subject to disclosure or not, Jeffrey Pyle, a Boston lawyer who has worked on public records cases, told The Globe. That means the hard drives should not have been sold as private property.
The Romney administration followed standard procedure in submitting applications to the state Records Conservation Board to submit some documents to the state archives and destroy others. Between 700 and 800 boxes of paper records were sent to the archives, and other documents, including vendor invoices, intern files, accounting records and travel expense records, were destroyed with the board's permission.
None of the applications to the Records Conservation Board mentioned e-mails, and The Globe reported that it was unclear whether Romney aides printed out e-mails and included them in the boxes that were sent to the state archives.
Blaming the Democrats
Spokespeople for Romney denied any wrongdoing by the former governor's administration, and his campaign responded to the allegations by filing a public records request for correspondence between the administration of current Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
Under state law, a public employee may not provide services to a candidate or campaign during his or her work hours, Matt Rhoades, Romney's campaign manager, wrote in the request. It is evident that your office has become an opposition research arm of the Obama re-election campaign.
Romney's campaign is also trying to turn the tables by accusing the Obama administration of being obsessed with secrecy and of turn[ing] its back on his campaign promises of openness and transparency, according to a memo it sent to reporters.
Mark Reilly, Gov. Patrick's chief legal counsel, said in a statement the governor's office would be happy to fulfill Romney's request for documents.
In response to Romney's public records request, the Democratic National Committee filed its own request on Thursday for records involving the 11 Romney aides who bought hard drives, as well as records of applications for permission from the Records Conservation Board to delete e-mails, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The committee also asked for a cost estimate for providing records that include phrases like change position, flip-flop, political expediency and move to the right. These terms relate to one of the most common criticisms of Romney: that he has abandoned the moderate positions he espoused as governor of Massachusetts, a heavily Democratic state, in an effort to court conservative voters now that he's running for president.