Obama campaign swings and misses on Bain Capital attacks.
FORTUNE — President Obama’s reelection campaign today took its most pointed shots at Mitt Romney’s business career, launching a website that focuses on select Bain Capital deals from Romney’s time running the private equity firm.
Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said the following in an email announcing the site:
The website currently focuses on three Bain Capital transations: GST Steel, Dade Industries and Stage Stores.
Unfortunately, somewhat like the “documentary” distributed earlier this year by a SuperPAC supporting Newt Gingrich, the Obama campaign gets a bit bedeviled by certain details.
For example, look at what it says about Dade Behring:
I have no idea where the “healthy company” characterization is coming from. Bain originally created Dade International in 2004, by purchasing the medical diagnostics business of Baxter International BAX for $448 million. At the time, it was a failing unit. For example, MLA had just canceled a large blood analyzer/reagents supply contract with Dade. Not only did this cost Dade a large chunk of high-profit, recurring revenue, but it also set MLA up as a viable competitor (Bain ultimately found a replacement supplier in Japan).
All I can think is that the Obama campaign cleverly used the name Dade Behring, which is what Dade International was renamed two years later once Bain had acquired both a German company (Behring) and a diagnostics unit from DuPont. One could argue that, by that point, Dade was a “healthy company” — but only thanks to Bain’s efforts. Moreover, some of those “profits” were cash tied to the Behring acquisition.
To be clear, I’m not a big fan of what Bain did with Dade, as I’ve previously written. But there is no reason for the Obama campaign to embellish on the history.
As for GS T Steel, the campaign writes:
All mostly true — although GS Steel had already cut down its product line due to budget constraints — except for what is omitted: Mitt Romney was no longer at Bain when GST Steel bust. Would seem to be a fairly salient fact.
On the other hand, Romney’s campaign today recycled its candidate’s absurd claim that while he made the GST investment, he didn’t actually run the company. If you own the company, which Bain did, you’re in charge (including of picking managers). There is no such thing as an arm’s-length leveraged buyouts.
Finally, there is Stage Stores. From RomneyEconomy.com:
All true, but I don’t quite see what Romney and Bain are being accused of here. The Obama campaign acknowledges that Bain had been out of Stage Stores for nearly three years when it went bankrupt. Bain may have heaped debt on the company, but institutional investors knew that when they bought the company’s shares from Bain — and apparently thought it was a solvent bet. Unless there is some claim of fraud (i.e., Bain somehow hiding the debt), then Stage’s bankruptcy is hard to pin on Romney and Bain.
Moreover, if Bain is going to be blamed for what happened after selling its stake, should it also get credit for the current thriving businesses of both Dade (now owned by Siemens) and Stage Stores SSI ? Or can Romney claim credit for all those Staples SPLS jobs created long after he and Bain were involved with the company?
As a broader point, it’s interesting that the Stephanie Cutter went out of her way to say that no one “is questioning private equity as a whole.” Kind of mirroring a similar message from campaign boss Jim Messina said back in February. But it’s not really true, is it?
Bain is being accused here of taking actions that are commonplace in private equity. So if it’s “legitimate to question whether those are the values America needs in a president,” then it’s apparently legitimate to question whether private equity is consistent with American values. Pretty sure that’s a broad brush masquerading as a razor blade.
I’ve reached out to Obama spokespeople, and will update this post if they reply. Romney’s team already has issued a couple pages of talking points, but most of it is simply attacking Obama for the Solyndra loans (proving that both sides can make silly arguments).
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