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Pawlenty, Portman Finances Pose VP Vetting Challenge

Pawlenty, Portman Finances Pose VP Vetting Challenge

By Erin McPike - June 25, 2012


With Mitt Romney's vice presidential vetting process well under way, two of the likeliest contenders for the nod -- Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman -- have some of the thickest financial backgrounds to comb through.

Since dropping his own bid for president last August, Pawlenty has joined the boards of seven companies and serves as a senior adviser to another. Portman has a complicated financial history from a previous ownership stake in his family’s since-sold company, Portman Equipment, as well as numerous investments.

Republican researchers familiar with both potential picks say neither the former Minnesota governor nor the Ohio senator presents major problems; still, the vetting process might be more involved for the two top contenders than it is for an array of other contenders who appear to be further down Romney’s list.

Pawlenty appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday to say that he is not campaigning for the No. 2 spot. Nonetheless, he has been perhaps the highest-profile and most active surrogate on the campaign trail for Romney in recent months.

Brian McClung, Pawlenty’s former spokesman and deputy chief of staff, told RCP: "Governor Pawlenty is focused on his business responsibilities and enjoys his work in the private sector. He helps Governor Romney's campaign when his schedule permits."

Pawlenty’s opponents characterize his decision to join the corporate boards as “cashing out.” (The much wealthier Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China and also a former governor, likewise joined several boards upon withdrawing from this year’s Republican primary race.)

Apart from Pawlenty’s gubernatorial record -- which is viewed largely as an asset (though he did preside over a shutdown of the state government and held office during a 2.5 percent jump in Minnesota’s unemployment rate) -- Romney’s vetting team will have to review Pawlenty’s involvement with each of those companies and the pitfalls they could bring.

Given Romney’s past experience with the private equity firm Bain Capital, and the intensive media scrutiny of each company it invested in or acquired, this is not a small consideration. Still, Pawlenty’s role in each of the eight companies is far less involved than Romney’s experiences as a chief consultant who guided businesses to either success or failure.

Public documents do not make clear exactly how much Pawlenty will earn from his directorships, but reports suggest they will award him hundreds of thousands of dollars within the first year. Of course, the two-term governor comes from a blue-collar family background and had long career in public service, and thus never earned large sums of money. If chosen as Romney’s running mate and subsequently elected, each of the companies Pawlenty is associated with now could become fodder for conflict-of-interest charges later, even after he’s withdrawn from the boards.

About half of the companies are connected to or based in Minnesota, and they are about evenly split between software and medical equipment, with one energy ingredient supplier.

In December, Pawlenty joined the seven-member board of Digital River, a publicly traded global e-commerce company based in Eden Prairie, Minn., with revenue of $398 million in 2011. He also joined the small board of the Minneapolis-based and privately held Ionix Medical, which bills itself as “developing the next generation of minimally-invasive prostate treatments.” Pawlenty is among the trio of directors on Miromatrix Medical, created in 2009 following a successful experiment at the University of Minnesota in 2008; the company purports to “enable the creation of fully biological replacement organs for the human body.”

Outside of the North Star State, Pawlenty joined RedPrairie, another global software company (it is based in Georgia but has an office in Eden Prairie). He’s also joined California-based Tiburon, which makes software equipment for public safety needs. Out of North Carolina, there’s Inmar, which “operates collaborative commerce networks and makes them intelligent,” the company website reads, adding that retail, pharmaceutical and manufacturing firms are among its top clients.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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