Private equity invests in lawmakers


Whether or not the much-in-the-news private equity industry has been the bane of the economy or a job creator, one fact remains uncontested:  it has been very, very good for political fundraising, for Republicans and Democrats alike.

With $22 million contributed this election cycle alone, according to Influence Explorer, top recipients look like a who's who of powerful politicians. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., have collected large amounts, along with Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who recently served as chairman for his party's senatorial campaign committee and is himself facing relection this year.   Top recipients over time also include Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.,  another former head of the DSCC.

WIth money distributed so widely, it makes those politicians who speak out against President Barack Obama's ad blitz against rival Mitt Romney and his record at Bain Capital, a bit, well, suspect. After Newark Mayor Cory Booker spoke out against the ads on a Sunday talk show this week, The Star-Ledger, Newark's daily paper, reported that he'd taken $491,000 from the financial services industry.

Meanwhile, independent groups are jumping into the fray. The Private Equity Campaign Council, headed by longtime Democratic donor and fundraiser Steven Judge, today released a new video that touts how private equity helped turn a struggling Michigan-based manufacturer into a major defense contractor.

"Our goal is to cut through the political rhetoric and promote a more even view of private equity," the Council's spokesperson, Noah Theran, told Sunlight.

The group, which reports spending half a millon on federal lobbying so far this year,  is relying largely on the web and "earned media" to get its message out and is declining to reveal its budget. The campaign is being managed by Joseph Caruso at the Glover Park Group, whose staff also includes longtime Democratic pols as former Clinton staffer Dee Dee Myers  and Susan Brophy. (The Glover Park Group itself has benefited from private equity investment, receiving an infusion of private cash back from a Chicago-based firm back in 2006.)

The AP also reports today that Crossroads GPS has launched a $10 million ad buy to air in ten swing states attacking President Obama's economic record, a response to his critiques of private equity. As a nonprofit advocacy group, Crossroads GPS does not reveal its donors.

And the super PAC Priorities USA, which supports Obama's reelection campaign, is also airing an ad  that echoes one Obama's campaign went up with recently, highlighting the experience of a woman laid off by the Armpad company shortly after it had been bought by Bain, the private equity firm founded by Romney. 

Interestingly, Obama's campaign has received campaign contributions from Bain employees, reports the Center for Responsive Politics. "Okay, it's all a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.5 million given to Romney's campaign or Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting him," added the group.