updated 4/17/2007 12:38:25 PM ET 2007-04-17T16:38:25

Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson told a Jewish group Monday that earning money is "part of the Jewish tradition," a remark for which he later apologized.

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"I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money," Thompson told the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that."

Later, he added: "I just want to clarify something because I didn't (by) any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things. What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz first reported the comments.

Asked about the comments, Thompson spokesman Tony Jewell said the former Wisconsin governor, who is Catholic, was sorry.

"Governor Thompson recognizes he misspoke in his remarks to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and is very apologetic, especially given his strong relationship with the Jewish community in the United States and Israel," Jewell said in a telephone interview.

"He didn't mean it as such," Jewell said. "He is sorry he misspoke in complimenting the success that Jewish people have had in the United States. It is something that he admires - financially and otherwise."

Jewell said that one of Thompson's first trade missions as governor was to Israel in 1988.

Thompson, who served as secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration, has launched a long-shot bid for president. Thompson is a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, independent chairman at Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, and president of Logistics Health.

Thompson is using some of his new private sector money to help fund his campaign. His latest campaign finance report shows that he loaned his campaign $75,000 in the first quarter of the year, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the $391,000 he raised in the reporting period. Jewell said that Thompson has loaned the campaign an additional $50,000 since that report was filed.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism confirmed Thompson's remarks were accurate, but declined to comment beyond saying that it was pleased he addressed the group.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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