Desperately digging for some dirt

Published 9:20 am Thursday, January 19, 2012

The name is Spade. Sam Spade. I’ve been a private investigator a long time, but my last assignment was a dud.

I was hired to find “scandalous” actions or personal failings committed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Here’s what puzzled me at first: I was hired by a Romney supporter.

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It was often boring digging into the private lives of Republicans — particularly clean-living fellows, such as Romney — but I needed the dough.

According to his official biography, he hails from humble origins. His father started off as a lath-and-plaster carpenter, then worked his way up to heading American Motors and eventually became governor of Michigan.

The old man had the dough to send his son to fine schools. Mitt Romney earned dual degrees from Harvard’s law and business schools, then became a business consultant. Failing companies paid him to turn them around.

In 1984, he founded an investment firm, Bain Capital, to buy struggling companies and fix them. He must have had some aptitude for his work, as he became a very rich man making broken companies work.

I talked to old business colleagues and scoured old financial records. If there were improprieties, they aren’t obvious.

The worst thing I could pin on Romney was the alleged use of a company phone to make a personal long-distance call to his wife. That’s right, he allegedly stole a $1.28 call.

I shifted gears to his personal life. Surely a man with all that money could afford to keep a girl or two on the side. I began shadowing the guy from morning until night, at home and on the road, campaigning.

No luck. He appeared to genuinely care for his wife. He met her in elementary school. He spent all his free time with her, their kids and grandkids.

But one night as I shadowed him, he woke at 3 a.m. I hoped to catch him sneaking out to a lady friend, only to discover him sneaking a cookie as he went into the kitchen to get his wife a glass of water.

Still, I wasn’t buying it. It’s the upright, clean-living types who often have skeletons in their closets. Gambling. Drinking. Prescription drugs. There had to be something.

I dug harder. I looked through more records. I talked to more people. The time came for me to report back to my client, the Romney supporter.

“Please tell me you got some dirt on Romney,” he said.

“I hate to break it to you, but Mother Theresa had a more colorful social life than this guy,” I said.

“What about the dog story?”

That one is making the news — again. In 1983, Romney secured his dog — in a special cage — to the roof of his station wagon for a long vacation drive.

“The dog survived the trip OK,” I said. I could see the disappointment in my client’s face.

“He hired illegal immigrants?” he asked.

“Romney hired a landscaping company that had hired illegal immigrants. He never directly hired illegal immigrants.”

The Romney supporter was beside himself.

“We have to find something better than dogs and landscaping companies!” he said. “Pollster John Zogby says Romney comes across as too perfect and wooden to voters. Zogby says a scandal would make him more human and relatable.”

I nodded.

“Don’t you see,” the client continued. “With such an uninspiring Republican field, it appears that Romney is our best hope of unseating President Obama — our best hope of tax, entitlement and spending reform, which we need to keep our country from going over a cliff. Please tell me you found some other Romney dirt!”

“In the sixth grade, he abandoned his station as a school-crossing guard.”


Tom Purcell is a freelance writer and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email Tom at