Romney campaign could mean bad news for private equity industry

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were first. Barack Obama is following suit — attacking Mitt Romney’s record as an executive at Bain Capital. The latest Bloomberg Businessweek explores the likely impact on the private equity industry.

This ugly portrayal of Romney and private equity first took shape in the GOP primaries, when Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry labeled their rival a “vulture capitalist.” Obama will amplify this message, backed by what’s likely to be the richest campaign in U.S. history. In the next few weeks alone, the president’s team plans to spend some $25 million on ads, hoping to cement this impression of Romney before Memorial Day, when many voters tune out for the summer. “We expected that the general election would bring new attention to private equity,” says Ken Spain, vice president of public affairs and communications for the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, the industry’s Washington lobbying group. “But what is lost in the politically charged debate is the fact that the private equity industry has pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy, supporting and strengthening tens of thousands of businesses in all 50 states.”

Spain is right to be concerned. Romney won’t be the only one damaged by this onslaught, because most voters won’t distinguish attacks on Romney’s private equity career from attacks on private equity generally. One byproduct of the presidential campaign is bound to be that many Americans will come away with a deeply negative impression of the industry.

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