Romney Backer Defends Bain’s Money Making Mission

A top surrogate to Mitt Romney said making money -- rather than creating jobs -- was the primary goal of the presumed Republican Party presidential nominee when he was running Bain Capital LLC, saying he “acted responsibly” as chief executive officer of the private-equity firm.

“The role of private equity as fiduciaries is certainly to make money,” said Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples Inc. (SPLS), in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital,” airing this weekend. Bain also helped businesses grow, so “these things had redeeming social value, in addition to making Mitt and his investors a lot of money.”

Stemberg appeared with a top backer of President Barack Obama, Lawrence Fish, the former chief executive officer of Citizens Financial Group, Inc., who questioned Romney’s record at Bain while recognizing that the private-equity industry plays a positive role in the economy.

“The question about private equity -- and this applies to Mitt Romney and his partners -- specifically is,” when jobs are eliminated, “whether they have behaved fairly and whether they’ve behaved responsibly. Was fair and complete severance provided to displaced workers? Were their pensions honored?” he said.

Targeting Romney’s Record

This week, the Obama campaign and its allies began airing commercials targeting Romney’s business record, portraying him as a corporate raider eager to put profits ahead of employees.

A spot released by Priorities USA Action, a super-political action committee backing Obama’s campaign, highlighted Bain’s investment in GST Steel, which cut jobs and declared bankruptcy in 2001.

Stemberg said the commercial is unfair because the GST, like the entire steel industry, was shrinking because of foreign competition.

“When a company goes bankrupt, you as a company have absolutely no say whatsoever as to what happens,” he said. “Whatever happened there -- and I’m sure there were some unfortunate circumstances there, cannot be laid to rest at Mitt Romney’s lap.”

While objecting to that commercial, Stemberg said he generally supports negative advertising run by super-PACs, which can accept unlimited corporate, individual and union donations. Those ads, he said, will be an important tool for Republicans to criticize Obama’s record.

Demonstrating Foibles

“He doesn’t know how to run anything and his record demonstrates that,” he said. “So if it means that my money has to be used for negative ads to demonstrate some of the foibles there, I can live with that.”

Stemberg has given $20,000 to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC supporting Romney’s campaign.

A Republican proposal to run ads linking Obama with his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr., whose racially divisive sermons became an issue in 2008, reignited questions this week about the role of super-PACs.

Fish, who’s given $25,000 to Priorities USA Action, called on super-PACs to eschew negative campaigning, even though the Democratic group has funded multiple attack ads including the one this week assailing Romney’s record at Bain.

“I am not comfortable with having my support of the president used in the form of character assassination or negative campaigning,” Fish said. “To the extent that the PACs support negative campaigning, I think it will reflect badly on the candidates.”

Stemberg fired back: “Your money’s being used for that, Larry.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net; Julianna Goldman in Washington at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.