CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal took a turn in the political spotlight Wednesday night, making a business case for re-electing President Obama and saying the incumbent “understands what the private sector needs to succeed.”
Speaking at the Democratic National Convention, Sinegal pushed back against the argument by Republicans – and some business allies – that entrepreneurs succeed on their own.
“Some of my friends in corporate America say that all they need is a government that gets off the backs of businesses,” Sinegal told the crowd at the Time Warner Cable Arena.
“But I think they get it all wrong. Business needs a president who has covered the backs of businesses,” he said, citing Obama’s support of public investments in education, research and infrastructure.
Sinegal was part of a concerted Democratic effort Wednesday to contest the Republican Party’s reputation as the more pro-business party — while simultaneously attacking the ethics of Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s own business record at private equity firm Bain Capital.
Several business leaders spoke before Sinegal, including Austin Ligon, co-founder of the used-car retailer CarMax, who praised Obama for rescuing domestic car manufacturers from collapse.
Sinegal’s support for Obama is no surprise. He has long been a major Democratic donor and hosted Obama at a pair of fundraisers at his Hunt’s Point home in July. He and his wife, Janet, have donated more than $107,000 to Democratic candidates and committees since 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks money in politics.
Sinegal’s speech began at about 7 p.m. Pacific – just ahead of the night’s headliners, Massachusetts Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren and former President Bill Clinton.
He spoke calmly, frequently staring down at notes. The speech received cheers, though nothing close to the adulation that greeted Warren.
The longtime CEO of Costco who retired earlier this year, Sinegal touted the company’s creation of hundreds of thousands of American jobs, boasting of plans to hire 7,000 people next year.
His speech represented a pushback against the Republicans “We Built It” slogan, which was repeated frequently at the GOP convention in Tampa last week.
That line was based on a comment Obama made in a campaign stop this summer. In a speech arguing that everyone benefits from public education, roads and other infrastructure, Obama said, “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”