Executives at Bain and companies like it say they are in business to make money, not to create jobs. Some Democrats openly worry that the criticism of Bain could alienate important donors in private-equity hedge funds and traditional Wall Street firms.
However, a Silicon Valley bundler for the president, Wade Randlett, said Monday that Obama’s attacks on Bain will help more than they will hurt. “People forget that for every Wall Street financier who would cross over to Romney [because of the attacks], there are two tech execs who are furious about being lumped in with them as a ‘one-percenter’ ” and will support Obama, said Randlett, who said he does not speak for the campaign.
If the president takes on the private-equity industry, he could rally public anger against Wall Street’s unpopular practices and some of its most lucrative non-banking industries. On the other hand, his attacks could be perceived as targeting capitalism itself. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue said that Obama’s approach reveals “a failure to understand the role” that private-equity companies play in resuscitating other firms and strengthening the economy.
Democrats have long relied on Wall Street donations for support, which has influenced the party’s approach to economic, regulatory and tax issues. That support has been particularly important for the financial industry’s most outspoken defenders, including Booker and Ford, both of whom have expressed interest in running for statewide office.
The Newark mayor, for example, has courted support from hedge fund and private-equity donors, according to people familiar with his effort. They have supported Booker’s electoral campaigns and aided his efforts to promote school reform. In recent years, Booker sought to raise $100 million to match a grant from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to remake Newark’s schools.
The mayor relied, for example, on William Ackman, founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, and his wife, who pledged $25 million to the schools cause, according to a report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Booker declined a request for comment Monday afternoon. A spokeswoman, Anne Torres, said any claim that he is beholden to private-equity benefactors is ridiculous.
Booker wrote on Twitter that “I will fight hard for Obama to win. But just as his 08 campaign did, I believe we must elevate & not denigrate.”
While previous attacks on Romney’s time at Bain have produced controversy, they have proved effective. Romney was making headway against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in his 1994 Senate bid, but his campaign faltered as Kennedy attacked Bain’s record of job loss at certain unionized companies.