B of A chooses alluring deal with sizable risks

Merrill Lynch Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Thain (left) shakes hands with Bank of America Chairman and CEO Ken Lewis on Monday after the deal for the bank to buy Merrill Lynch was reached.

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Republican presidential contenders have crisscrossed the nation bashing President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plans as a waste of taxpayer money. But with an awkward frequency, these same candidates are campaigning at businesses that benefited from the president's stimulus package.

With the cameras rolling, the Republicans celebrate the hard work of local entrepreneurs in places like Pella, Iowa, and Milford, N.H., while later condemning the federal resources that helped those entrepreneurs navigate the economic downturn.

"He came into office and said, 'Oh I know how to create jobs; I'll spend billions and billions, trillions of dollars,' " Mitt Romney recently told cheering supporters at the Derryfield Country Club, referring to Obama.

But Romney himself made at least two campaign appearances this summer with stimulus beneficiaries. There are a half dozen such examples involving several candidates, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann among them.

Huntsman last month toured the New Hampshire manufacturer Cirtronics, which received five stimulus-related contracts worth $3.3 million since 2009, according to data posted by the federal government. A week later, Romney campaigned at the Iowa-based Vermeer Corp., which benefited from nearly $200,000 in stimulus funds.

This phenomenon has produced negative media attention in isolated cases, but taken together, the visits highlight the candidates' complicated relationships with the $78 billion stimulus program that many Republicans say they hate.

The issue also underscores the often hypocritical nature of American politics -- politicians usually oppose the other party's policies, but support the people who benefit from them. The apparent inconsistencies offer opponents fuel for political attacks. "Every one of these candidates has a potential problem with respect to the stimulus," said Michael Dennehy, a GOP operative who led Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign four years ago.