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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Obama campaign chair partnered with Bain-like firm

Obama’s ties to private equity reshape his campaign pitch

By Neil Munro

President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally at the Paul R. Knapp Animal learning center, Thursday, May 24, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

One of President Barack Obama’s 35 campaign “co-chairs” partnered with a private equity firm frequently decried by progressives — Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) — to lay off workers at Del Monte Food Company.

The revelation underscores the difficulty that Obama faces while trying to simultaneously slam Gov. Mitt Romney’s investment career and also spur donations from the many wealthy Democrats in the investment sector.

After complaints from several Democrats, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Obama has changed his campaign-trail rhetoric and is now arguing that private equity investors are selfish and can be useful contributors to the economy, but that their skills aren’t useful in the White House.

In private equity business, “investors walk off with big returns, and working folks get stuck holding the bag. … That’s fine,” Obama told cheering donors at a May 24 De Moines, Iowa fundraiser.

“But that’s not the job of a president. That’s not the president’s job. There may be value for that kind of experience, but it’s not in the White House,” he declared.

Obama’s public relations problem is exacerbated by Federico Pena, who is a co-chair of Obama’s campaign, a former mayor of Denver, a cabinet secretary for President Bill Clinton, and a “senior adviser” at Vestar Capital Partners, which allied with Kohlberg Kravis to buy Del Monte in March 2011.

Since then, the new management team has announced plans to lay off at least 135 full-time Del Monte workers in California and Pennsylvania, plus 1,000 seasonal workers in a California fruit-packing plant.

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