Mitt Romney Gives Money To Unemployed Woman At Campaign Stop

Charity? Or campaign stunt? Does it matter?

There seems to be some effort from some corners of the political world to make something out of what happened at the end of a Romney campaign appearance in South Carolina earlier this week:

SUMTER, S.C. — Amid shaking hands and signing campaign posters, Mitt Romney did something he has never done before on the ropeline: He took out his wallet and handed a wad of cash to a woman waiting to shake his hand.

The woman, 55-year-old Ruth Williams, says she has been following the Romney campaign since he arrived in the state on Jan. 11, when she said she received a message from God to track him down.

“I was on the highway praying and said, ‘God just show me how to get [my] lights on,’ and I pulled up to a stop sign and his bus was there,” said Williams, who has been unemployed since last October. “And then God said, ‘Follow the bus,’ and I followed the bus to the airport.”

According to Williams, she followed the campaign bus to the Columbia airport on Wednesday, the same day Romney was arriving from New Hampshire. When Romney wasn’t on the bus, aides told her to go to the rally scheduled in Columbia later that day. When she showed up, Romney found her to say hello and pulled over South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to say “hello” too.

“He was kind to me and he made Gov. Haley come see about me,” Williams said. “He stopped doing everything.”

Williams, who would not specify how much money Romney gave her, said also that South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis paid her light bill on Thursday. A spokesman for Loftis, one of Romney’s major endorses in the state, confirmed to ABC News that he paid Williams’ bill. While Loftis didn’t know the amount of the bill, he confirmed that he gave her $150.

“God didn’t tell me to go to nobody else, he told me to pray for Romney,” said Williams, when asked why she has decided to support Romney. “I listened to the Lord.”

Williams said she has been volunteering at Romney’s Columbia headquarters since meeting his bus last week.

Some are already declaring this nothing more than a photo op and a campaign stunt. There’s no doubt that it does provide positive PR to a candidate who is currently being attacked by his rivals on charges that he used to head a company that did little more than fire people for profit, however it’s worth noting that it wasn’t the Romney campaign that brought this story to the public’s attention and that if they really wanted to exploit the PR value of something like this it could have been in a more public, far more cynical and exploitative manner. Is it really hard to believe that this could have been a spontaneous act of charity? And I ask that question as someone who is usually entirely cynical about politics, politicians, and their motives.

Even some conservatives, though, seem to be reacting negatively to the whole thing. AJ Strata calls this whole thing “cringe worthy,” for example:

Are we now left with Daddy Warbucks as our solution to big government? Is this not the most crass political stunt you’ve ever had to digest?

In other words, tipped by his political handlers Romney tried to put on a little skit showing how the rich can help the poor with a hand out. Pathetic. What she needs is a good job.

No doubt, but in a state with 9.9% unemployment rate is it at all surprising that a 55 year-old woman might have trouble finding work at the moment? Additionally, the whole “What she needs is a job” argument seems profoundly dismissive of the woman’s immediate concerns, such as the fact that her lights had been turned off because she couldn’t pay the electric bill. Also, the “Daddy Warbucks” comment points to one reason why campaign concerns might not have been at the top of the priority list here. The idea of a very rich man handing out whatever cash he had on him to a woman in such a desperate situation has as much potential to make Romney look bad as it does to make him look good. No doubt, in fact, people will draw their conclusions about what happened here based on their per-concieved notions of Romney and his politics, or of the Republican Party in general.  I’m no fan of Mitt Romney in general, but I’m willing to at least willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one rather than turning it into the latest political outrage of the day.

Anyway, like I said, everyone will make their own judgment call on this one, here’s ABC’s video on the story so you can make your own call:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

H/T: Jazz Shaw

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. ponce says:

    Just like Jesus would have.

  2. Buffalo Rude says:

    Is it really hard to believe that this could have been a spontaneous act of charity?

    Yes, incredibly hard to believe.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:
  4. Herb says:

    Photo op? No. There are too many mean-spirited people on the right to make that a slam dunk, so I don’t think it was preplanned. A genuine act of charity then? Sure, why not. $150 is spare change for Mitt. You’ll find more wadded up forgotten in the pockets of his laundry.

    Indeed he handled this as best as he could have. This woman seems, well, strange. Talking to God, being told to follow Mitt Romney around. Not so sure she’d get such a warm reception in my campaign. I think I might be yelling “Security!”

  5. rodney dill says:

    @Herb: I agree if he’d stopped to think about it his brain would’ve got in the way trying to figure how it would be perceived.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    I think for Romney this is equivalent to me handling a buck to a panhandler at the train station. Unless Romney does this at each whistle-stop, I wouldn’t interpret it as being anything more.

  7. mattb says:

    To be completely fair, Obama has taken similar actions, occasionally sending personal checks to people who write him letters.

    Quoth Obama:

    “It’s not something I should advertise, but it has happened… Some of these letters you read and you say, ‘Gosh, I really want to help this person, and I may not have the tools to help them right now.’

    And then you start thinking about the fact that for every one person that wrote describing their story, there might be another hundred thousand going through the same thing. So there are times when I’m reading the letters and I feel pained that I can’t do more, faster, to make a difference in their lives.”

  8. DRS says:

    It was a nice gesture. I don’t think it was a photo-op because, frankly, there would have been concern on his campaign that he’ll be confronted with more people just as desperate asking for money at his every stop – and I think that’s a legitimate concern, and as a result of this episode there will indeed be more people.

    I have worked on political campaigns in the past and desperate people are always approaching politicians for help. Sometimes they are quite sad and pathetic, and totally willing to believe that the person they see on television all the time has almost magical powers to solve problems for them. I hope Haley does more than just say hello to the woman.

  9. steve says:

    This strikes me more as feeling sorry for someone who is clearly mentally ill. Politicians are people too.


  10. Hey Norm says:

    Here’s some money…now vote for me so I can raise your taxes while slashing my own. Oh yeah…I’m going to cut Medicare and Medicaid too so I hope you are healthy. Have a nice day.

  11. hauke says:

    I used to live in MA, so i happen to know the reason he does that… every Mormon makes a vow on turning adult, and Romney’s vow at 18 years of age was to never pass a beggar without putting something in the person’s hands. I’m suprised i couldn’t google it… maybe it’s only that i heard him speak on the radio and that fact stood out for me, since i felt someone with that high a principle would think of others first before himself while running government. I almost regret voting for him because of Romneycare, but don’t because MA would probably have passed a more perfidious law without a Republican to ameliorate it…

  12. Hey Norm says:

    You make a good point. I have always complained that Republicans abdicated their responsibilty to govern and failed to bring more conservative ideals to the PPACA. But today’s Republican is uninterested in, and incapable of governing.

  13. TruBlu Am says:

    It is not at all hard to believe it happened just they way it is portrayed. People who know Mitt say he helps people all the time, but you won’t hear about it from him, and I’m sure he would just as soon this wasn’t made public.

  14. Ernieyeball says:

    Last month I was granted $348 from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
    to help pay my heating bill. The payment goes directly to the electric utility and is a credit on my bill.
    Where I live in Makanda Township, IL the program is administered by the Western Egyptian Economic Opportunity Council.
    It would please me to no end for Mitt Romney or any other charitable citizen to donate that or any other amount to WEEOC so other poor saps like me can stay a little warmer this winter.

  15. Phillip Hall says:

    Romney through personal sacrifice saved a 14 year-old girl missing in New York. He closed down Bain and funded a manhunt. And they found her. He is a very good man and very competent.

  16. Mike says:

    providing people $ without merit, sounds like socialism to me #hypocrite

  17. Ernieyeball says:

    @Mike: You can call it what you want. (You can call me what you want too…Sticks and Stones…) Not sure what you mean by merit. The money to fund LIHEAP comes from the federal treasury. I have been making contributions to that account for the better part of 50 years in the form of Federal Income Tax.
    It’s nice to get some of that back.
    There was I time about 10 years ago when I got behind in my taxes and eventually paid thousands of $$$ in intrest and penalties to get caught up.
    If Washington is low on funds I don’t think it is on my account.
    I will also appreciate any Social Security benefits I may collect in the near future.
    The contributions I made over the years certainly helped my parents survive well into their 80’s.
    Considering the life I have lived I probably won’t be on the dole that long.

  18. karen says:

    the bible says that as we come into the end times, good will be bad, and bad will be good. Mitt Romney is a good human being from all I can see, Newt Gingrich is a lying, cheating whoremonger, and I just heard on tv that “values voters” prefer Newt! What a witness for Christianity they are! Shameful… and don’t get me going on Obama and keeping poor people enslaved.

  19. Carl says:

    Mitt Romney for president?