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Obama’s Big Bird-Romney ad also attacks financial markets

A screen grab from an ad for President Barack Obamshows business trading floor. The image is accompanied by voiceover thsays

A screen grab from an ad for President Barack Obama shows business on a trading floor. The image is accompanied by a voiceover that says "gluttons of greed."

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Updated: November 16, 2012 6:17AM

By poking fun at Mitt Romney for promising to eliminate Big Bird’s federal funding, did President Barack Obama lay an egg?

The TV ad from the president’s campaign that took a satirical swipe at Romney also could be interpreted as a jab at the financial futures markets, a major industry in Chicago and one Obama represented when he was in the U.S. Senate.

The 30-second ad opens with photos of corporate felons. “Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski … criminals … gluttons of greed,” the announcer says. But over the phrase “gluttons of greed,” the commercial shows a brief clip of activity on a trading floor, with someone throwing confetti.

It looks like the daily chaos on the Chicago markets. But it appears on closer examination to be footage from the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, a market known for wheat futures. Its contracts serve the same function for investors and speculators as the products offered at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade.

So is Obama equating those traders with “gluttons of greed”? The president’s campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt, denied that’s the case. “Listen to the script,” LaBolt said in an email. “‘Gluttons of greed’ is a reference to Lay, Madoff, etc.”

LaBolt couldn’t confirm if the footage showed the Minneapolis exchange, which closed its trading floor in late 2008, before Obama’s inauguration. It converted to an electronic marketplace using the trading network of CME Group Inc., owner of the Chicago exchanges.

A board member of the Minneapolis market, William Power, said he had heard of the ad but hasn’t seen it. He criticized Obama for offering a “villainous portrayal of everybody that’s involved with the trading business or Wall Street or the banking business.”

Power said the image’s use in an ad about the nation’s economic trouble shows a lack of knowledge. “They are so far away from business,” he said.

A longtime trader in futures and options, Power called himself a “socially progressive” person who backs Romney. “This guy Obama is a danger to this economy,” Power said.

A CME spokesman declined to comment.

The ad veers to humor, offering up Big Bird as the sinister force over all corporate wrongdoing and asserts that only Romney has the gumption to take him on. In promising during the presidential debate to cut funding for public broadcasting, Romney said he’d do it despite a high regard for the network’s Big Bird character.

“Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, but Sesame Street,” the ad says.

The criminals the ad mentions all had prosecutions at least started under President George Bush, whereas some have accused federal regulators under Obama of being slow to punish those involved in more recent scandals, such as the collapse of the MF Global brokerage.

LaBolt summed up the ad’s point: “There’s no doubt that excessive risk taking and a lack of oversight triggered the financial crisis that crashed the economy and devastated the middle class. The president took essential steps to ensure that never happens again, but Mitt Romney won’t stand up to Wall Street — he’d repeal Wall Street reform and risk a relapse. Instead, he’s found the strength and courage to take on Big Bird.”

Either way, Obama can’t say he didn’t know he was putting future traders in the middle of the fight. “I’m Barack Obama and I approved this message” are the first words that greet the viewer.

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