The effort to derail Mitt Romney’s presidential quest heightened dramatically on Friday when a super PAC associated with Newt Gingrich outbid all comers for the rights to a scathing 30-minute attack video depicting Romney as a greedy, job-killing corporate raider “more ruthless than Wall Street.”
In a season filled with negative ads and rhetorical crossfire, the striking feature of the film, aside from its mini-documentary length, is its authorship. The film was made by Jason Killian Meath, a former associate of Romney’s top strategists, Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer. Meath had worked for the Romney campaign in 2008, creating much of the ad content for that failed effort. He left Stevens and Schriefer’s firm, SSG, in 2010. Meath declined to comment on his project, referring inquiries to the pro-Gingrich PAC Winning Our Future.
“We’re going to release a short, 27-minute film that is well-documented, and tells the real story of Mitt Romney at Bain Capital—and it’s not a pretty story,” says Rick Tyler, an adviser to the Gingrich-supporting PAC.
The video, called When Mitt Romney Came to Town, is a slick production focusing on Romney’s tenure as CEO of Bain Capital, a private investment firm.
The movie begins with a cinematic tableau of Americana, as the narrator intones, “Capitalism made America great. Free markets. Innovation. Hard work. The building blocks of the American dream. But in the wrong hands, some of those dreams can turn into nightmares.”
A shot of an American flag, waving in the breeze is replaced by gathering storm clouds, as the narrator continues: “Wall Street’s corporate raiders made billions of dollars. Their greed was matched only by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits … nothing spared. Nothing mattered but profits. This film is about one such raider and his firm.”
At that point, a black-and-white photograph of Romney appears on the screen, as the narrator alleges that “Romney took foreign seed money from Latin America” to exploit “dozens of American businesses” and the “thousands of employees that worked there.”
“A story of greed,” the narrator intones. “Playing the system for a quick buck. A group of corporate raiders, led by Mitt Romney. More ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.”
According to four sources familiar with the project, the film was commissioned by Barry Bennett, a conservative activist who was once chief of staff for Ohio Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt. Bennett is now at the Alliance for America’s Future, a Virginia-based group whose principals include Mary Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. (Bennett declined a request for comment).
When Mitt Romney Came to Town focuses on four case studies of Bain’s acquisitions—a Florida-based company called UniMac, which produced commercial laundry equipment; KayBee Toys; the electronics company DDI; and AmPad, an Indiana-based office-supply producer. The key result of these transactions, the film asserts, was “spectacular returns” for Bain through “stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder, and often killing jobs for big financial rewards.”
The Romney team responded Saturday. “It is sad when any American loses their job,” said spokesperson Andrea Saul. “Under President Obama, 25 million Americans are out of work, underemployed or have stopped looking for work. It’s puzzling to see Speaker Gingrich and his supporters continue their attacks on free enterprise. This is the type of criticism we've come to expect from President Obama and his left-wing allies at Moveon.org. Unlike President Obama and Speaker Gingrich, Mitt Romney spent his career in business and knows what it will take to turn around our nation’s bad economy.”
Bennett began to pitch the film to people associated with Romney’s competitors several weeks ago, according to the sources, but potential buyers at first shied away from the project.
That changed this week, when Romney won the Iowa caucuses. The film suddenly had several interested suitors—including a super Pac connected to former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, according to the sources. Members of the pro-Huntsman group apparently believed they had acquired the film on Friday morning, but found themselves outbid by Winning Our Future.
While the film itself tells a pointedly polemical tale of corporate greed, the story behind the film has undertones of bad blood, and even vendetta.
Though Huntsman, like Romney, is a Mormon known for his mild public manner, there is said to be a considerable measure of enmity between the two candidates. Huntsman has staked everything on New Hampshire, where Romney is expected to gain an easy victory in Tuesday’s primary. Huntsman’s campaign, noting that super PACs operate independently of the candidate’s operations, disclaimed any knowledge of the film, or possible interest in it on the part of the Huntsman-associated PAC.
For Gingrich’s supporters, the acquisition of the anti-Romney film was a chance to strike back at the man they—and Gingrich himself—hold responsible for Gingrich’s precipitous slide in the polls in the days and weeks before the Iowa caucus. Gingrich has not been circumspect in expressing his disdain for those responsible for the barrage of negative advertising directed toward him in Iowa—by one estimate, nearly half of all attack ads were aimed at Gingrich—or about the fact that he blames Romney.
The filmmaker, Jason Killian Meath, is an award-winning director who worked on Romney political ads in Romney’s run against John McCain in 2004. When Romney retained the services of SSG for his current presidential bid, Meath was not part of the team. Meath declined to comment on the film, or upon his motives in making it.
There was also an element of redemption in the Gingrich-related super PAC’s acquisition of the film. A key figure at Winning Our Future is Tyler, a longtime Gingrich associate, and a personal friend, who had been a central part of Gingrich’s original campaign team last spring. When much of that team abruptly left the campaign in June, Tyler was among the defectors—a fact that he later came to regret.
Romney’s candidacy, and the sense of inevitability attending it, has rankled some conservatives within the Republican Party from the start of the presidential-candidates race. Those familiar with the film hope that it will strike at the heart of what they see as Romney’s chief vulnerability—the image of a privileged creature of capital, distanced from, and indifferent to, the travails of ordinary Americans.
A central theme of Romney’s campaign has been his ability to create jobs in the private sector, having done so by aiding the startup of such companies as Staples, the office-supply giant that Bain helped to bring into being.
A Winning Our Future representative said that the PAC has not yet decided how to use the film, though it is expected to be widely distributed through the news media, now congregated in New Hampshire, as early as this weekend. Saturday morning, they launched a website, called kingofbain.com, featuring a two-minute trailer from the video.