A documentary Newt Gingrich’s allies plan to air highlighting jobs lost after takeovers by Mitt Romney’s investment firm was created by a veteran Republican strategist who says his goal is to make the former Massachusetts governor a better candidate.
“I wanted people to see what the Democrats are going to do this guy,” Barry Bennett, who commissioned the film, said in an interview.
“If I was able to put this together on a shoestring budget, imagine what they could do for $1 billion. Everybody needs to know what his baggage is, and let him explain it and get stronger as a candidate. It’s not fair to the party for him not to figure this out until next October,” said Bennett, who is supporting Texas Governor Rick Perry in the primary.
Not everyone agrees with Bennett’s tough-love treatment of the party’s presidential primary front-runner. Republican strategist Trey Hardin, a senior vice president with Vox Global in Washington, said he would prefer to avoid intra-party fights.
“Sooner, rather than later, is always better for information about the candidate to come out,” Hardin said. “But Republicans beating up Republicans is never a positive thing when you’re taking on an incumbent president.”
Outside Group Influence
The airing of the documentary in the days leading up to the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary would provide the most vivid evidence of the new role of outside groups in political campaigns.
Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich group, received a $5 million donation from one backer, Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner and long-time supporter for the former House speaker, to help finance the media buys. To match that sum under campaign finance laws, Romney would have to collect 2,000 checks from individuals made out for the maximum $2,500 donation.
Even with that financing, the pro-Gingrich camp will face challenges in landing prime television time on short notice.
“It’s not a matter of dollars; it’s a matter of time,” said Scott Perreault, founder of Scott Political, a nonpartisan national media buying company based in Minneapolis. “He could have $100 million to spend. It’s about what space is available.”
General managers of five South Carolina television stations told Bloomberg News they haven’t been contacted about placing a 30-minute political program for airing before the Jan. 21 primary.
Opposition Research Inspiration
Bennett, 47, who once worked for an independent group backing Perry and left as planned after he helped set it up, said he got the idea for the film after obtaining opposition research materials developed on Romney during his 2008 presidential primary bid. Bennett said he acquired the information after pages identifying the campaign that paid for it were removed.
After being “stunned” by what he read, Bennett said he wanted to get the facts out long before President Barack Obama and David Axelrod, the president’s chief political adviser, could use the information in the general election.
To make the documentary, titled “When Mitt Romney Came To Town,” he hired Jason Meath, a former partner in the firm headed by Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer, which worked on Romney’s 2008 campaign. Meath and Bennett became friends while working together in the 1990s at the Republican National Committee under then-Chairman Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor who considered joining the presidential primary.
The documentary is almost 30 minutes long and focuses on what happened to employees at four companies taken over by Bain Capital LLC, which was founded by Romney. Bennett said he sold the film to Winning Our Future for $40,000, the amount it cost him to make it.
“I chose four of the Bain investments,” Bennett said. “I could have chosen 40. It could have been a miniseries. I don’t have that kind of money.”
A three-minute trailer for the film airing on Winning Our Future’s website sums up the documentary as “a story of greed, playing the system for a quick buck, a group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney, more ruthless than Wall Street.”
Ex-Bain Employee Interviews
It shows images of ill and elderly women who lost their jobs and homes after Bain took over the companies where they worked. “That hurt so bad to leave my home because of one man who has 15 homes,” one woman says.
Even with the program’s negative messages and unflattering images of the former Massachusetts governor -- including one in which a young Romney is smiling and holding up a dollar, Bennett said he didn’t expect the movie to hinder Republican efforts to win the White House next November.
“I have no concern that it’s going to hurt,” Bennett said. “If we didn’t do it now, David Axelrod is going to do it next October. It’s going to come out. It’s far better for Mitt Romney for this to come out now than for it to come out in October if he’s the nominee.”
Andrea Saul, a Romney spokesman, said she expected such criticism to come from the opposing party, not her own.
“We expect attacks on free enterprise from President Obama and his allies on the left, not from so-called fiscal conservatives,” Saul said. “Governor Romney will continue talking about his experience in the real economy, his vision for getting America back to work, and how important it is that we defeat President Obama in November.”
Television Time Buys
The film will be posted online and possibly aired on television in South Carolina, said Rick Tyler, a senior adviser to Winning Our Future. The PAC has bought $3.4 million worth of ad time in South Carolina, though in 30- and 60-second chunks, not 30 minutes.
Still, Tyler said, “we’re going to give them an opportunity” to see the documentary. “It’s a compelling story,” he said. “We wanted to tell it.” Romney is “well outside what more venture capitalists consider ethical.”
A pro-Romney PAC, Restore Our Future, is beginning a $2.3 million advertising campaign in South Carolina, according to Brittany Gross, a spokeswoman.
Ken Goldstein, president of New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, said it would be very expensive for the pro-Gingrich PAC to buy a half-hour of air time so close to the primary.
Prime Time Costs
Rich O’Dell, president and general manager of CBS’s WLTX in Columbia, said he would be “pretty hesitant to run the ad in prime time.” He would not estimate the cost, describing it only as “expensive.”
O’Dell said the station screens every political ad, whether from a candidate or an independent committee, and would do that for the documentary, if the station is asked to run it. He said today was “huge” for media buys, “the busiest day of the past year.”
The documentary would be an “odd request,” said John Soapes, president and general manager of NBC’s WYFF in Greenville.
Before airing it, he would “have to research the nuts-and-bolts of what our obligations are to vet it.” He declined to estimate the cost of a 30-minute spot.
Rita Scott, general manager of CBS’s WCSC in Charleston, said her station probably wouldn’t have a prime-time spot available for a 30-minute piece.
To run it on a Sunday at 11 a.m., for example, would cost $1,500 to $2,500, she said, or she could probably place the ad on one of the station’s two alternative channels.