Shortly before leaving the governor's office in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney's administration spent nearly $100,000 of state money to purge computer and email records in an unprecedented attempt to wipe out the paper trail of his tenure. His staff took home hard drives from state-owned computers and erased emails and other communications from state servers, complicating current efforts to retrieve and review the records of Romney's four-year term that ended in 2007.
It is not believed that Romney violated any laws, but according to state officials who spoke to Reuters, the move to scrub the digital archive of his administration was unusually thorough. Several members of his staff used their own money to purchase the hard drives of their state computers so that they could take them home after leaving their jobs. The staff also broke an existing lease on office equipment so that they could rent new "clean" computers at the end of their run, a move that cost the state $97,000 in additional funds.
Romney claims that whatever record remains of his time in office — including possible details of what was erased — are not subject to state disclosure laws. However, like regulations governing the destruction of digital records, Massachusetts law is vague on what is and isn't allowed. The court ruling most likely to cover any disclosure ruling is from 1997 (well before most state business was done on email) and the state's official records law has not been updated to deal with digital records, meaning Romney could benefit from Massachusetts' failure to adapt to the 21st Century.
The loss or potential sealing of Romney's Massachusetts records could become a huge issue in 2012, should he secure the Republican nomination. Those were the only four years that Romney ever spent in public office and how he ran his state will be a focal point of scrutiny for both voters and the media, particularly when it comes to the passage of his state health care law. Several news organizations are already working through freedom of information requests in the hope of combing through the historical record, but any legal complications regarding the release of those records — or the fact that many of them no longer exist — could delay any formal accounting of Romney's tenure until it's too late to make any difference. Sounds like that's just the way he would like it.