COLUMBIA, South Carolina - Newt Gingrich returned to the stump Thursday with a heavy dose of populism and defended himself against charges of being anti-capitalist and anti-free enterprise.

"I think when you have crony capitalism of politicians taking care of their friends, that's not free enterprise, that's just backdoor socialism in which the rich get all the money and the rest of us get left, get left with all the debt," Gingrich told an audience of senior citizens gathered at the state fair grounds for a convention.

Gingrich said he's been "amazed" by the intensity of critics who he said are attacking him for questioning the bailout of big banks. He suggested the bailouts were tied to corruption at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury.

"American people have a right to know what has been happening to their economy, and they have a right to know where all the money went, they deserve an audit on the Federal Reserve, and the Treasury, to find out where the money went, to find out who got the money and why they got the money," said Gingrich to wide applause.

But it's not Mr. Gingrich's questions about bank bailouts that are raising eyebrows among prominent conservative voices, it's his questions about Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital. And while Gingrich would later tell reporters he was referring specifically to the bailouts of AIG and Goldman Sachs when he criticized "back door socialism," the candidate made a point to tell seniors that it wasn't just financial institutions that need to be more transparent but also presidential candidates as well.

"I'm not going to back down or be afraid to say we the American people have the right to know and any candidate for president has an obligation to tell us and I think that these extraordinarily wealthy institutions are going to somehow bring enough pressure to bear to say you better shut up, that tells you just how bad-off the system has gotten. No one tells the American people that they aren't allowed to learn what has happened in their very own country and that's what's at stake."