Romney — the likely Republican presidential nominee — and Bain Capital responded forcefully to the attacks, but it was questions from Democrats that complicated the debate for Obama. Those complications began Sunday when Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a close ally of the president, criticized the Obama campaign for targeting Bain in its ads. Booker equated those attacks with ones using statements by former Obama pastor Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. against the president. Booker decried both as “nauseating.”
On Monday, the Romney campaign put out an ad featuring Booker and Democratic former congressman Harold Ford Jr., who agrees with Booker’s statements.
Previously, one of Obama’s former advisers, Steven Rattner, called the president’s attacks on Romney’s private-equity career “unfair.” He added in an interview with MSNBC that “Mitt Romney made a mistake ever talking about the fact that he created jobs,” because the purpose of private-equity firms such as Bain is to create wealth, not jobs. Rattner was “car czar” for Obama early in the administration and has been a Wall Street financier.
Booker and Ford have long ties to Wall Street and the world of private equity, which has a history of supporting Democrats. Bain executives, for example, gave generously to Obama in the past.
This year, the firm’s executives, and the financial industry in general, are strongly supporting Romney. But during the 2008 election cycle, employees of Bain Capital and Bain & Co. donated $1.47 million to federal candidates, parties and political committees, with two-thirds of that money going to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During that cycle, the Democratic National Committee collected $215,000 from Bain-related sources, and its GOP counterpart collected $61,650, the center found.
The debate suggests that a big focus of the presidential race will be competing definitions of capitalism, including criticism by Democrats of some of private equity’s most lucrative and controversial practices.
At a news conference Monday after a NATO summit in Chicago, Obama was asked about the criticism from Booker, a close ally.
“This is part of the debate that we’re going to be having in this election campaign,” he said, “about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success.”
Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Booker said, “I have to just say from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity.”