Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ended up defending Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday during TV appearances in which the Democratic politician was supposed to be serving as a surrogate for President Barack Obama. Patrick, who has a history of ethically questionable connections to financial firms, applauded Boston-based Bain Capital, implicitly criticizing the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney's record at the private equity firm.
Patrick is the second Obama surrogate with strong ties to the financial industry to defend Bain, following in the footsteps of Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, who ignited a week of outrage from Democratic Party strategists for describing the Obama campaign's slams against Romney's Bain work as "nauseating."
Patrick, who followed Romney as governor of the Bay State, praised Bain in two separate TV appearances on Thursday.
"I've got a lot of friends there," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," calling Bain "a perfectly fine company" with "a role to play in the private economy."
"I think the Bain strategy has been distorted in some of the public discussions," said Patrick. "I think the issue isn't about Bain. I think it's about whether [Romney has] accomplished, in either his public or private life, the kinds of things he wants to accomplish for the United States."
The governor reiterated his position on CNN's "Starting Point," declaring, "It's never been about Bain."
Patrick's close relationship with Ameriquest, once one of the largest subprime lenders in the country, was widely criticized during his first campaign for governor in 2006. As head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in the 1990s, he had settled a discriminatory lending complaint against Ameriquest for $4 million -- a relatively small amount for the lender. Patrick later landed on Ameriquest's board, where he made $360,000 a year, according to a report in the Boston Globe. While serving on the board, Patrick personally lobbied the U.S. Senate to grant Ameriquest's CEO an ambassadorship, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Patrick -- who has also worked for Coca-Cola and the Ford Foundation -- stayed on the subprime lender's board during the housing bubble from 2004 to 2006, even as the embattled lender began settling several high-profile predatory lending lawsuits. He resigned from Ameriquest's board during his first run for governor, just prior to the company's financial collapse, but not before he asked Citigroup executive and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to provide Ameriquest with emergency financial assistance, according to the Globe. Citigroup acquired Ameriquest in 2008.
Patrick's comments on "Morning Joe" echoed his statements last week in an interview with CNN's John King.
"No, they're not a bad company," Patrick said. "And nobody is saying they are, including the president. It's a remarkable thing, to take a little step back, to see how good the Republicans are at changing the subject. This is not about Bain, it's not about private equity in general, it's about a guy who is holding himself out to be a job creator whose record is fair game."
The Obama campaign's ads, however, have directly attacked Bain, suggesting the company is responsible for the bankruptcy of a steel company and inappropriately profited from its collapse. The ads have sought to link Romney to Bain's investments even when Romney was not directly involved with the particular deals or companies.
But top Patrick political aide Alex Goldstein insisted to HuffPost that Patrick's position on Bain is consistent with Obama's.
"Gov. Patrick has been clear that Mitt Romney's record in the private sector and as governor ought to be fair game to better understand the choices he would make as president," Goldstein said. "The governor today painted a crystal clear picture of Mitt Romney's failed record as governor of Massachusetts and the bill of goods he tried to sell Massachusetts voters. No amount of spin is going to change the fact that under Romney, Massachusetts was 47th in the nation in job creation, education funding was slashed, wages declined, and so much more."
Watch Patrick on MSNBC (above) and on CNN last week (below).
This story has been updated with comment from Gov. Deval Patrick's office.