PAC Ads to Attack Romney as Predatory Capitalist

Trip Gabriel and Nicholas Confessore|The New York Times
Mitt Romney attack ad
Source: YouTube.com

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Thanks to a $5 million donation from a wealthy casino owner, a group supporting Newt Gingrich plans to place advertisements in South Carolina this week attacking Mitt Romney as a predatory capitalist who destroyed jobs and communities, a full-scale Republican assault on Mr. Romney’s business background.

The advertisements, a counterpunch to a campaign waged against Mr. Gingrich by a group backing Mr. Romney, will be built on excerpts from a scathing movie about Bain Capital, the private equity firm Mr. Romney once ran. The movie, financed by a Republican operative opposed to Mr. Romney, includes emotional interviews with people who lost jobs at companies that Bain bought and later sold.

“We had to load up the U-Haul because we done lost our home,” one woman says.

Democrats have signaled that they intend to make Mr. Romney’s history at Bain a central part of their case against him if he wins the Republican nomination. But Bain has also emerged as an issue in the Republican primary, despite the party’s free market stance and business-friendly policies, reflecting the depth of public anger about the economy. At an appearance here on Sunday, Mr. Gingrich suggested that Bain’s approach was to carry out “clever legal ways to loot a company.”

But the planned advertisements appear to be intended to elevate the subject to a new level as Mr. Gingrich and the other Republican contenders begin to run out of time to slow Mr. Romney’s progress toward the nomination. They are the latest example of how “super PACs” are carrying out attacks in sync with their preferred candidates and in the process helping to reshape the presidential race. Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money but are barred from coordinating with the campaigns they are supporting.

The Bain-centered campaign strikes at the heart of Mr. Romney’s argument for his qualifications as president — that as a successful executive in the private sector, he learned how to create jobs — and advances an argument that President Obama’s re-election campaign has signaled it will employ aggressively against Mr. Romney.

“His business success comes from raiding and destroying businesses — putting people out of work, stealing their health care,” said Rick Tyler, a senior adviser to the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, which recently bought the film, “King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” after groups backing two other Republican candidates passed up opportunities to use it.

The movie scenes and the influx of money that enable the pro-Gingrich group to run the advertising campaign have “all the makings of a game-changer,” Mr. Tyler said.

Winning Our Future got the money for the campaign from Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino owner in Las Vegas who has long supported Mr. Gingrich.

The group said it would spend $3.4 million initially on radio and TV advertisements starting Wednesday in South Carolina, where the campaign will move after New Hampshire. Mr. Gingrich, who held the lead in the polls in South Carolina last month before falling back, attributes his fade there and earlier in Iowa, where he finished fourth in the caucuses last week, to a deluge of attack advertisements from a super PAC supporting Mr. Romney, Restore Our Future.

When Mr. Gingrich accused Mr. Romney at a debate on Saturday in New Hampshire of following a “Wall Street model” where “you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers,” Mr. Romney retorted that he had helped create 100,000 jobs, citing successes like Staples.

“It’s puzzling to see Speaker Gingrich and his supporters continue their attacks on free enterprise,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney, Andrea Saul. “This is the type of criticism we’ve come to expect from President Obama and his left-wing allies at Moveon.org.”

The film’s producer, Barry Bennett, a former consultant to a super PAC that supports Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, said he came up with the idea himself.

Mr. Bennett said he had bought an “opposition research book” on Mr. Romney compiled by the staff of a Republican rival during the 2008 campaign and had found its contents “stunning.”

“David Axelrod ... is going to have a heyday with this, and Republicans need to know this story before we nominate this guy.”
Producer, "King of Bain
Barry Bennett

“David Axelrod,” he said, referring to Mr. Obama’s strategist, “is going to have a heyday with this, and Republicans need to know this story before we nominate this guy.”

He said he had commissioned Jason Killian Meath, an advertising executive and freelance filmmaker, to direct the movie. Mr. Meath worked on the Romney campaign in 2008 as an associate of Stuart Stevens, who is Mr. Romney’s strategist.

Mr. Bennett said he paid the film’s entire cost, $40,000, from his own pocket; it was never an official project of the pro-Perry group, Make Us Great Again. He said had he never showed it to the pro-Perry group, which he left in October.

But people with knowledge of the film’s provenance said that officials at Make Us Great Again were shown an early portion of the film, and had told Mr. Bennett that they had no interest in using it or paying for it.

In a statement, Scott Rials, the executive director, said: “Make Us Great Again had nothing to do with this video in any way. Period. Barry Bennett worked with us during the startup phase of the super PAC, but we are now working on different projects.”

Mr. Bennett also shopped the film to a super PAC supporting another candidate, Jon M. Huntsman Jr. But officials with the group, Our Destiny, also passed on the film, according to a person with ties to the group.

“We made the decision that that was just not the kind of campaign we wanted to participate in,” said the person, who asked for anonymity to describe private negotiations.

Mr. Tyler, a former long-time aide to Mr. Gingrich who helped set up the super PAC supporting him, disagreed. “I’m a capitalist, I’m a conservative,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time defending free enterprise from a biblical perspective.”

But Bain Capital, he said, did not fit the model of responsible corporate citizenship. “If this is free enterprise, then conservatives should have nothing to do with it,” he said. “It is predatory paper-shuffling. Mitt Romney was engaged in the engineered destruction of free enterprise.”

The full 28-minute movie, which the group plans to post online, cuts back and forth between images of Mr. Romney’s “$12 million California beach house” and men and women describing the pain of losing jobs.

A man in a Vietnam veterans hat says: “Who am I? I’m Bob Safford. Mitt Romney and those guys, they don’t care who I am.”

In news clips in the film, Mr. Romney is jeered at for calling corporations “people” and explains that capitalism is “creative destruction.”

Mr. Adelson’s $5 million contribution instantly makes Winning Our Future a major player on the political landscape.

A supporter of conservative causes, including the Republican Jewish Coalition, Mr. Adelson is especially close to Mr. Gingrich, a kinship that stretches back to the former speaker’s days in the House and has evolved into a relationship that is as much personal as political, according to people who know both men.

Mr. Gingrich, who has vowed to run a positive campaign, has said he will tell supporters not to donate to any group that runs negative advertisements on his behalf. Mr. Tyler said the Romney campaign might find the commercials negative. “But I think voters will find them instructive and positive and help them make a decision,” he said.