A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Does Tagg Romney ‘Own’ Ohio Voting Machines?


Q: Does Mitt Romney’s son Tagg own Ohio’s electronic voting machines?
A: There’s no evidence of that. A spokesman for Tagg Romney’s private equity firm states that it has no stake in Hart InterCivic, a supplier of voting machines in two of Ohio’s 88 counties.

FULL QUESTION

Is it true that Tagg Romney owns voting machines in Ohio?

FULL ANSWER

We have received a lot of emails from readers with questions about Ohio’s voting machines — all prompted by a conspiracy theory that suggests Mitt Romney supporters will “steal” the election by tampering with voting machines in the critical swing state of Ohio.

This theory has been fostered in recent weeks by some liberal bloggers and fanned by some Democrats, including Jennifer Brunner, who oversaw Ohio elections as the state’s secretary of state. Brunner told MSNBC, “It doesn’t look good for a presidential candidate’s son to be an investor in a voting machine company.”

But the facts are that Tagg Romney’s company, Solamere Capital, does not own Hart InterCivic, the company that provides voting machines in Ohio, and there’s no evidence that Solamere has even invested in it. Solamere says that it has no investment in Hart InterCivic and, therefore, no direct or indirect control over it.

It’s true that the voting machine supplier is controlled by an investment firm whose executives are some of the biggest donors to the Romney campaign, and it’s also true that Tagg Romney has done business with that investment firm. However, Hart InterCivic supplies electronic voting machines in just two of Ohio’s 88 counties, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

A Flawed Conspiracy

The conspirators focus on the relationship between three companies:

  • Solamere Capital, a private equity firm founded by Tagg Romney
  • H.I.G. Capital, an investment firm whose employees have contributed nearly $450,000 to Mitt Romney’s campaign
  • Hart InterCivic, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of voting machines

In 2008, Tagg Romney, along with Spencer Zwich (currently Mitt Romney’s national finance director), founded Solamere Capital. Mitt and Ann Romney contributed $10 million to the firm.

A spokesman for Solamere, who called us after we contacted the Romney campaign, told us that the company has 22 investments — including one in H.I.G. BioVentures, a medical device fund that was started by H.I.G. Capital.

In 2011, H.I.G. Capital made a controlling investment in Hart InterCivic — the voting machine vendor. Three of Hart InterCivic’s five board members are H.I.G. executives: Neil Tuch, Jeff Bohl and Amanda Kalin.

Romney’s critics are mixing up two different funds, the Solamere spokesman told us.

“Solamere invested in a fund that has absolutely nothing to do with the fund that invested in [Hart InterCivic],” he said. “It invested in a fund that invested in medical devices. It is wholly and entirely separate.”

The spokesman identified the fund as H.I.G. BioVentures.

“Neither Solamere nor its principals as individuals have any investment in the company or the fund that controls the company that makes the voting machines,” the spokesman said.

A Solamere spokesman gave similar statements to Forbes’ op-ed contributor Rick Ungar and the Weekly Standard.

Forbes, Oct. 20, 2012: According to a spokesperson who contacted me on Solamere’s behalf, “Neither Solamere nor its principals have any investment in or ownership of the company or the fund that controls the company.”

Weekly Standard, Oct. 23: “Not only does Solamere have no direct or indirect interest in this company [Hart Intercivic], Solamere and its partners have no ownership in this company, nor do they have any ownership in nor have made any investments in the fund that invested in the voting machine company,” the spokesman said.

We cannot independently confirm Solamere’s statement, since it is a private company investing in another private company. But this much is clear: There is no evidence to disprove the company’s public declaration that it did not invest in Hart InterCivic.

H.I.G. Capital, on the other hand, which does control Hart InterCivic, has clear ties to the Romney campaign — another part of this conspiracy theory. H.I.G. Capital’s cofounder and managing partner, Anthony Tamer, was a partner at Bain & Co., where Romney once served as CEO. Tamer, who is also managing partner of H.I.G. BioVentures, has donated $73,300 to Romney Victory Inc., a joint fundraising committee, and an additional $5,000 to Romney’s presidential campaign committee.

In fact, many at H.I.G. Capital have contributed to Romney committees. H.I.G. Capital executives have given a combined $436,550, as of Oct. 25, to Romney’s various political committees — making them collectively the sixth-largest financial contributor to Romney fundraising committees, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Two of H.I.G. Capital’s executive managing directors, Brian Schwartz and Douglas Berman, are also big Romney donors, federal campaign records show.

Schwartz gave $50,000 to the Romney Victory PAC and $5,000 to Romney’s campaign committee in the last two years. He also gave $30,800 to the Republican National Committee, which Romney controls as the party’s nominee. Berman, a former Bain & Co.  executive, gave $90,000 to the Romney Victory PAC — donating $50,000 on two occasions in a four-month span this year (minus a $10,000 contribution refund).

In addition, an H.I.G. Capital executive who serves on Hart InterCivic’s board (Bohl) has donated to Romney committees.

But, on the other hand, we see that another H.I.G. Capital executive who sits on the Hart InterCivic board (Tuch) gave to both Romney and Obama in the 2008 campaign, records show. Tuch has given no contributions to either candidate this cycle.

None of this, of course, is evidence that Hart InterCivic will tamper with the election results in Ohio or anywhere. It’s just grist for a conspiracy theory — a version of which has popped up every election cycle since 2004 because of concerns about the security of electronic machines.

Past Conspiracy Theories

Remember the swirl of stories around Diebold Election Systems and its CEO, Walden O’Dell, in 2004? O’Dell was an Ohio resident who held a fundraiser at his home for President Bush and wrote a fundraising letter promising to help “Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” Some took him too literally, claiming that Bush “stole” Ohio’s electoral votes and the 2004 election.

But even the liberal New York Times editorial board waved off that conspiracy theory as nonsense. There were some glitches, as expected, with the machines on Election Day, but, as the Times wrote, there was “no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale.”

New York Times editorial, Nov. 14, 2004: It’s important to make it clear that there is no evidence such a thing happened.

In 2008, there were concerns again about the potential for widespread fraud — including concerns involving Hart InterCivic’s electronic voting machines in, yes, Ohio.

A Dec. 7, 2007, report on electronic voting systems that was commissioned by the Ohio secretary of state (the aforementioned Brunner) discovered security problems with all the machines used in Ohio, including Hart InterCivic, as the New York Times reported.

New York Times, Dec. 15, 2007: The study released Friday found that voting machines and central servers made by Elections Systems and Software; Premier Election Solutions, formerly Diebold; and Hart InterCivic; were easily corrupted.

Chris Riggall, a Premier spokesman, said hardware and software problems had been corrected in his company’s new products, which will be available for installation in 2008.

“It is important to note,” he said, “that there has not been a single documented case of a successful attack against an electronic voting system, in Ohio or anywhere in the United States.”

It’s still true that there’s not a single documented case of a sophisticated and widespread security breach.

Matthew Blaze, a University of Pennsylvania computer science professor and a coauthor of that Ohio report, continues to follow developments in the field. We asked him if he knew of any actual instances of such a security breach. He replied, “I’m not aware of any documented cases of tampering,” though one of the problems is that it’s hard to detect.

What’s more likely is human error or low-tech polling mischief.

Blaze wrote in 2009 about a case in Kentucky where eight poll workers were indicted for, among other things, tampering with ballots in Clay County during the 2006 elections. The poll workers, all of whom were convicted, took advantage of voters who were confused by the new machines. Some voters cast their ballots but failed to press the “confirm vote” box on the touch screen — allowing poll workers to change the votes.

Blaze told us the Kentucky case was “first example I’m aware of” of any kind of vote tampering with electronic machines. But it’s not the widespread, sophisticated kind of fraud that conspirators warned about in 2004 and again in 2012.

In fact, Blaze noted in his blog post that the voting machine tampered with in Kentucky — iVotronic — was one that he and others examined for flaws in its 2007 study of Ohio’s machines. He wrote that “none of the published security analyses of the iVotronic — including the one we did at Penn — had noticed the user interface weakness.”

So, what are we left with?

Tagg Romney does not own or control voting machines in Ohio. There’s no evidence that he is even invested in them. There is a lot of money flowing from H.I.G. executives to Romney’s political committees, but that’s not evidence of wrongdoing — just as it wasn’t in 2004, when conspirators falsely accused O’Dell and Diebold of something they did not do.

— Eugene Kiely and Lucas Isakowitz

Sources

Katz, Celeste and Jonathan Lemire. “Ohio key state to win 2012 presidential election for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.” New York Daily News. 13 Oct 2012.

Bello, Gary et al. “Does the Romney Family Now Own Your e-Vote?” Truthout.com.

Roth, Zachary. “Former election official: Tagg Romney’s stake in voting machine firm ‘doesn’t look good’.” MSNBC. 22 Oct 2012.

Eaton, Sabrina. “Ohio elections boards deny that Mitt Romney backers or anyone else could tamper with results.” Cleveland Plain Dealer. 24 Oct 2012.

Luo, Michael and Julie Creswell. “Ties to Romney ’08 Helped Fuel an Equity Firm.” New York Times. 30 Apr 2012.

Press release. “Hart InterCivic Announces Strategic Investment by H.I.G. Capital.” Hart InterCivic. 6 Jul 2011.

Ungar, Rick. “Romney Family Investment Ties To Voting Machine Company That Could Decide The Election Causing Concern.” Forbes. 20 Oct 2012.

Warren, Michael. “Tagg Romney Is Not an ‘Investor In a Voting Machine Company.” The Weekly Standard. 23 Oct 2012.

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Center for Responsive Politics. “Top Contributors to All ROMNEY Cmtes.” Accessed 1 Nov 2012.

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Center for Responsive Politics. “Donor Lookup. Bohl, Jeff.” Accessed 1 Nov 2012.

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