Trump's labor nominee resigned from Catholic university's board over racy ads

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By ANDREW KACZYNSKI AND CHRIS MASSIE
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - Donald Trump's labor nominee, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, was pushed out of his position on the board of a Catholic university after his company ran an advertisement campaign featuring Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

Under Puzder's leadership, CKE Restaurants, which owns Carl's Jr. and Hardee's restaurants, launched several racy ad campaigns featuring women in bikinis eating burgers. Women's groups opposing Puzder's nomination have pointed to these ads as promoting a sexist view of women.

But the ads also drew the ire of Christian conservatives.

In one 2003 ad featuring Hefner, the Playboy founder responds to a question about having favorites while standing with his girlfriend and two Playboy Playmates, according to reports in the L.A. Times and in AdWeek.

"People always ask me, 'Hey, Hef, do you have favorites?' I tell them no. It's not about that. I love them all. It just depends what I'm in the mood for," he says, in the commercial, according to the L.A. Times.

"Some guys don't like the same thing night after night," a narrator says while Hefner eats a burger.

The ads were too much for Thomas Aquinas College, the California Catholic school, on whom's board Puzder had served since 1998. Shortly after the ads launched in late 2003, Puzder resigned from his board seat under pressure from the university. Puzder had inherited the board seat from Carl's Jr. founder Carl Karcher, a devout Catholic, when Karcher retired.

"It's common knowledge that Hugh Hefner and Playboy stand for hedonism and unbridled pleasure-seeking, and that is impossible to reconcile with what we stand for," said Ann Forsyth spokeswoman for the college at the time, to the L.A. Times.

"We've retained great admiration for Carl Karcher and have a close relationship with him," she added.

The school's president, Thomas Dillon, added the ads stood in contradiction its Christian principles.

"Thomas Aquinas College stands for principles that are in direct conflict with those of Hefner and Playboy," he said in a statement. "I spoke with Mr. Puzder yesterday about this issue, and it was agreed that he would resign from the college's board, effective immediately."

A spokesman for Puzder told CNN's KFile that the Thomas Aquinas episode has nothing to do with his confirmation.

"Mr. Puzder's resignation from his board seat 14 years ago has absolutely nothing to do with his qualifications for Secretary of Labor," said a Puzder spokesman George Thompson. "Any suggestion to the contrary is flagrantly biased. Instead of recycling chatter about old ads, a better conversation for the American public is Mr. Puzder's strong record as a jobs creator."

Puzder, is the president and CEO of CKE Restaurants. He has been praised for taking over the struggling company and growing it.

At the time of the ad's launch, Puzder praised the decision use Hefner for the campaign.

"Who better to deliver the message of variety than Hugh Hefner?" Puzder said in a press release announcing the ads. "We're appealing to an audience of young, hungry guys who expect a quality product but want to have something different from time to time.

"As a pop-icon, Hefner appeals to our target audience and credibly communicates our message of variety."

The ads didn't just draw the ire of Thomas Aquinas College. Christian conservative commentators, pastors, and Christian organizations also objected to the ad.

A Televangelist, Rev. Robert Schuller, protested the ads at the time, in his sermons.

He said Karcher is "just heartbroken that a company he founded on Christian principles has taken such an amoral act that can be so dangerous on the impressions left with the children who watch."

Michael Reagan, the son of former president Ronald Reagan, blasted Puzder in his book and praised the college for standing up against "corporate immorality, irresponsibility, and greed."

Puzder has said he doesn't see the issue, and in a 2011 press release, the company outlined certain "truths" about their commercials.

"We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don't sell burgers."

And, in a 2015 television interview with CNNMoney, Puzder doubled down on the company philosophy.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with a beautiful woman in a bikini, eating a burger and washing a Bentley or a pickup truck or being in a hot tub," Puzder told CNNMoney in 2015. "I think there's probably nothing more American."

In an interview with a local PBS station in 2011, Puzder stated, "You can't be the place for young hungry guys and the place for women and kids."

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