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Multimillionaire GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he built that wealth himself, "the American way."
Romney, the son of a corporate CEO, made his own fortune leading private equity firm Bain Capital.
But as the product of a wealthy Michigan suburb, private prep school and ultimately Harvard, Romney still faces accusations of silver-spoon privilege.
"I know the Democrats want to go after the fact that I've been successful," Romney said at a Republican presidential debate in Charleston, S.C. on Jan. 19, 2012, as he explained why he would wait to release his tax returns. "I'm not going to apologize for being successful."
His father, George Romney, who led Detroit automaker American Motors Corp., was a three-time governor of Michigan and himself ran for president in the 1960s.
"I could have stayed in Detroit like him and gotten pulled up in a car company," Romney said at the debate. "I went off on my own. I didn't inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned. I worked hard, the American way."
We were curious. Did Romney, the last of George and Lenore's four children, receive no inheritance on his path to wealth?
We asked Romney's campaign about his claim.
According to a short history of the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management at BYU, the family provided an endowment in 1998, within a few years of George Romney's death.
So, in Romney's own words, he did "inherit some funds" from his dad. But he gave them away.
"I figured we had enough of our own," he said.
He probably did. By 1995, Romney had already led Bain Capital for more than a decade, where shrewd investments made him millions. He stepped down in 1999.
He now says he's worth somewhere between $190 million and $250 million.
How Romney got rich
"I went off on my own," Romney said at the debate. "... What I have I earned. I worked hard, the American way."
So while he didn't ultimately benefit from an inheritance, we wondered: Had Romney's parents' wealth helped build his own fortune?
There's no evidence we saw that Romney's parents helped buy him a business career. But there were certain advantages to Romney's comfortable upbringing.
Romney started college at Stanford, where his "allowance" was big enough for frequent plane tickets to sneak home to Michigan see his girlfriend, Ann, according to a recently published book by two Boston Globe journalists, "The Real Romney."
After a two-year missionary trip to France, where he lived sparely as he proselytized door-to-door, he finished his undergraduate studies at BYU, where he married Ann in 1969. He was 22, his wife 19. His parents' wedding gift? A car. Meanwhile, the students — who started a family a year later — lived in a modest, $62-a-month basement apartment, Ann later told the Boston Globe. But they didn't have to work.
"We were happy, studying hard. Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time," she said.
When the couple moved to Boston so Romney could study business and law at Harvard, his parents helped them buy a house.
It's not clear who paid for his education, but Romney wasn't exactly a struggling student: enough cash for plane tickets, a car as a wedding gift, stock that kept him from having to work, help buying a home.
What about that hard work he mentioned?
"I said, 'Boy, I want to do something with my life if I can.' So when I came home, I was a much better student."
At BYU, he graduated with highest honors and gave a speech at graduation. He got accepted to a recently created dual-degree program in law and business at Harvard.
Of hundreds of Romney's law and business school classmates at Harvard, just 15 earned the dual degree — which packed courses required for the two degrees into less time than earning them separately. Romney didn't just earn the degree. He graduated with honors from the law school and in the top 5 percent of his class in the business school, according to The Real Romney.
His mere presence among the elite MBA/JD earners got him heavily recruited by Boston Consulting Group. So while he passed the Michigan bar in case he needed to go back to his dad's state to work near the car industry, it wouldn't be necessary.
"(Romney) was an outstanding recruit with exceptional grades, and he was the very charming, smooth, attractive son of a former presidential candidate. So everybody was bending over backward to get their hands on him," said Charles Faris, who was with Boston Consulting Group, according to the The Real Romney.
When he started work with Boston Consulting Group, "he worked his butt off," Faris said.
The young father worked nights, weekends and traveled often, including frequent trips to Europe, the book says.
He got hired away by Bill Bain at consulting company Bain & Co., who ultimately tapped him to launch Bain Capital in 1984.
There, he made the deals that dramatically increased his wealth.
Mitt Romney, comments at a Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jan. 16, 2012 (transcript from CQ, subscribers only)
Email interview with Ryan Williams, spokesman for Mitt Romney, Jan. 17, 2012
"The Real Romney," Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, Harper Collins, 2012
Interview with Michael Kranish, Jan. 20, 2012
New York Times, "Romney and his money," Jan. 20, 2012
Washington Post Fact Checker, "Fact checking the CNN debate in Charleston," Jan. 20, 2012
CSPAN, "Q&A Gov. Mitt Romney," March 19, 2006
New York Times, "George Romney Dies at 88; A Leading G.O.P. Figure," July 27, 1995
Associated Press, "George Romney, Former Michigan Gov. and Presidential Candidate, Dead At 88," July 27, 1995, via Nexis
Boston Globe, "George Romney, 88; ex-governor of Mich., presidential hopeful," July 27, 1995, via Nexis
PolitiFact, "King of Bain video accuses Romney of hiding his fortune," Jan. 13, 2012
Brigham Young University George W. Romney Institute of Public Management, "George W. Romney, Shirtsleeve Public Servant," accessed Jan. 20, 2012
Brigham Young University George W. Romney Institute of Public Management, "The Legacy of George W. Romney," Winter 2008
Brigham Young University George W. Romney Institute of Public Management, "A short history of the Romney Institute," Fall 2004
Boston Globe, "Ann Romney's sweetheart deal; She decided her love of 30 years should be senator," Oct. 20, 1994, via Nexis
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