Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret, Reuters has learned.
The move during the final weeks of Romney's administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, Massachusetts officials say.
The effort to purge the records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party's nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.
Five weeks before the first contests in Iowa, Romney has seen his position as frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates whittled away in the polls as rival Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gained ground.
When Romney left the governorship of Massachusetts, 11 of his aides bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers to keep for themselves. Also before he left office, the governor's staff had emails and other electronic communications by Romney's administration wiped from state servers, state officials say.
Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney's four-year tenure as governor, which ended in January 2007. Precisely what information was erased is unclear.
Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of emails - and a claim by Romney that paper records of his governorship are not subject to public disclosure - hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.
As Massachusetts governor, Romney worked with a Democrat-led state house to close a budget shortfall and signed a healthcare overhaul that required nearly all state residents to buy insurance or face penalties.
Massachusetts' healthcare law became a model for Obama's nationwide healthcare program, enacted into law in 2010.
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