Biden Decried Bain in '12, But Has Taken Execs' Donations in '19
The booming voice of Vice President Joe Biden reverberated throughout the cavernous manufacturing facility as assembled workers took in his message of economic populism.
“Romney made sure the guys on top got to play by a separate set of rules,” Biden said. “He ran up massive debts, and the middle class lost. And folks, he thinks that experience is going to help our economy?”
It was May of 2012, and the Obama reelection campaign had sent the veep to Youngstown, Ohio, to contrast the economics of the administration with those of Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Obama stood for manufacturing and the middle class, Biden promised the Rust Belt voters. Romney, the campaign argued, represented predatory capitalism and the corporate banking class that made up the ranks of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that the GOP nominee had helped get off the ground.
The press called it “the Bain Capital Offensive.” And it worked: Obama and Biden won another four years leading the country. But now Bain Capital could complicate Biden’s attempt to return to the White House. He has accepted campaign contributions in 2019 from the same corporate executives he decried seven years ago.
Records publicly available through the Federal Election Commission and first reported by RealClearPolitics show that Biden has taken $14,000 in contributions from Bain executives.
Joshua Bekenstein, who helped found the company, donated $2,800 -- the maximum allowed by law. So did Jonathan Lavine (co-managing partner) and Jonathan Desimone (managing director of Bain Capital Credit -- who left the firm in June)), as well as Sally Dornaus (chief financial officer of Bain Capital Credit) and Michael Treisman (general counsel of Bain Capital Credit).
Bekenstein, Lavine, and Desimone all overlapped with Romney, who served as CEO of Bain Capital until his official departure in 2002. (He was on a leave of absence from the firm between 1999 and 2002 to head up the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee.) All, apart from Treisman, worked there when Biden criticized the company. None were available to contribute to this story — a Bain spokesman declined to comment.
That the firm’s leaders would be hesitant to speak publicly about politics is understandable. They were savaged relentlessly the last time Biden was on the ballot.
The Obama campaign called the private equity firm parasitic, condemning its business model of buying struggling businesses, running up the debt to pay investors, and then cutting costs (and laying off workers) to pay back that debt. In some cases, the once-healthy businesses would be shut down or resold. Politically expedient examples were readily available, such the GST Steel plant in Kansas City, Miss., which was the focus of a famous Obama-Biden campaign ad.
The two-minute clip ran during the evening news in the critical states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. One former worker told the camera he views Romney “as a job destroyer.” Another called Bain “a vampire — they came in and sucked the life out of us.”
The message was so successful that the Obama camp posted a longer six-minute version on a website called RomneyEconomics.Com.
And back in that Ohio factory, the vice president told of how the steel mill was $13 million in debt when Bain acquired it and how that sum had grown to $533 million when GST Steel declared bankruptcy.
“What that means is, when you’ve got that kind of debt and things turn bad, you’re dead,” Biden told the workers. And it wasn’t just an isolated incident, he argued. It was a microcosm of how Romney would govern if elected president.
“You all get it,” he continued. “You know the difference between an economy that’s built on making things rather than on collateralized debt, creative credit default swaps, financial instruments like subprime mortgages.
“That’s not how you build an economy,” he concluded. “You build an economy by building things.”
The message suited the Scranton-born Biden, whose blue-collar bona fides had kept him in the Senate for decades. And in 2012, the story about the steel mill created an immediate contrast between his boss and Romney. It became a stump speech staple.
The vice president continued the Bain Capital offensive a week later in New Hampshire, making sure to whack Romney over his past business dealings.
“You hear all these stories about his partners buying companies where they load up with a tremendous amount of debt,” Biden said. “The companies go under, everybody loses their job, the community is devastated, but they make money.”
The Biden campaign declined to comment for this story. It is unclear whether the campaign knew about the contributions from Bain executives or if the Democratic front-runner no longer sees the firm as a pariah.
But Biden is not the only candidate for president to receive campaign contributions from Bain employees.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, an anti-corporate crusader who called private equity “legalized looting,” accepted contributions from Bain executives in 2018 when a White House run was rumored. Her presidential campaign, however, has not taken any subsequent donations.
The presidential campaigns of Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have accepted campaign contributions from Bain Capital executives. So have the campaigns of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Unlike Biden, however, none of them ran on a presidential ticket against Romney in 2012.