I can’t help but be bemused by the pickle that Cory Booker finds himself in. The problem for him wasn’t his Harold Ford-like approval of private equity firms. It was his denigration of a key Obama campaign talking point, right as it was getting started.
In doing this, Booker found himself facing a crew of Obama supporters eager for revenge. And the facts about Booker’s career weren’t so hard to find, to fuel that revenge fantasy.
Wall Street has been a huge backer of Booker’s campaigns. In 2006, “Lee Ainslie, the founder of hedge fund Maverick Capital Management LLC and a former protégé of Tiger Management LLC’s [Julian] Robertson; and D. Ian McKinnon, the managing partner of Ziff Brothers Investments,” maxed out in their donations to Booker’s campaign. Even putting aside direct donations to Booker’s campaign, Wall Street has also curried favor with the Newark Mayor through other routes. For instance, Bloomberg chronicled in 2010 how Booker worked to raise as much as $240 million from Wall Street and other American financial services hubs to invest in urban renewal in the city of Newark. By promising dollars for projects Booker backed, Wall Street has has possibly been able to exert a level of influence on him.
Robertson, the prominent Booker campaign supporter who helped finance a Newark Charter program on behalf of Booker, is a close ally to Mitt Romney. Robertson is a primary donor to Romney’s Super PAC, Restore Our Future. Robertson’s $1.8 million in contributions to Restore Our Future make him the second biggest contributor, next to Bob Perry.
Lee Ainslie, the other hedge fund manager that helped finance Booker’s career, has given $100,000 to Romney’s Super PAC.
And there’s plenty more where that came from, including this report from the Obama-aligned Think Progress. Turns out that Booker raised lots of money from executives from Bain Capital. As John Cole writes, Booker is “paid for in full.”
But no more than, say, Barack Obama, who raised $3.5 million from private equity and hedge funds in 2008. The same day Obama released his first attack ad on Bain Capital, he was holding a fundraiser in the home of private equity head Tony James of the Blackstone Group. Booker was following a time-honored tradition in the Democratic Party of the last decade or two, complete with the money-grubbing from Wall Street. With unions collapsing, this is the base of support to which Democrats with national ambitions have gone. Booker just got caught.
But the irony of Booker getting savaged by Democratic partisans, to the extent that he had to do damage control on Rachel Maddow out of nervousness over his shattered career prospects, when the leader of the party followed the exact, precise path to power, is a little much.
I think it’s important to recognize that this issue is not a “distraction.” This is part of the debate that we’re going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success and if they’re working hard and they’re acting responsibly, that they’re able to live out the American Dream.
Now, I think my view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits. And that’s a healthy part of the free market. That’s part of the role of a lot of business people. That’s not unique to private equity. And as I think my representatives have said repeatedly, and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area. And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries, but understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.
And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be President is his business expertise. He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He is saying, I’m a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business.
And when you’re President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who got laid off and how are we paying for their retraining. Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so that they can attract new businesses. Your job as President is to think about how do we set up a equitable tax system so that everybody is paying their fair share that allows us then to invest in science and technology and infrastructure, all of which are going to help us grow.
And so, if your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you’re missing what this job is about. It doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity, but that’s not what my job is as President. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.
This is how it’s done for an establishment Democrat. You talk in somewhat populist terms about how a President has to look out for the little guy. You do it in such a way that you don’t demean private equity. You talk about retraining and equitability and employment clusters and investments. And you come off sounding like the one who cares about the average worker in the street instead of turning a profit.
Now the next day you go back to Wall Street and ask them for some more money. And you make sure that none of their misdeeds go punished. And you make sure that the constraints on their businesses are as minimal as possible. It turns out they still don’t like you, because you want to raise their tax rates by about 2% and your opponent wants to shower them with millions. And you scratch your head and wonder how a group of people who you’ve bent over backward for can turn on you so quickly.
But you still have your adoring fans. And Cory Booker doesn’t. Booker’s problem was that he let everyone behind the curtain see who was holding his puppet strings. Ah, the folly of youth.