Hedge Fund CEO: Billionaires Have Insufficient Influence in Politics

Most Wall Street billionaires like to buy their candidates as inconspicuously as they can.  Once in a while, a banking tycoon will open up about his multi-million dollar donations to the candidates most likely to work for the deregulation of the financial industry.

In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune’s Melissa Harris, Kenneth Griffin, CEO and founder of the hege fund Citadel discussed his political funding of candidates and Super PACs.  Like most Wall Street billionaires, Griffin knows how to hedge his bets – donating to Obama and McCain during the 2008 election.  Now, his opposition to any regulation of the financial industry has moved him to the candidate of Wall Street, Mitt Romney.

Excerpts from the Chicago Tribune article:

Griffin reveals how the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis changed his industry’s relationship with government — and not to his liking. He has responded by giving millions of dollars to candidates and political groups that support his belief in limited government.
“I spend way too much of my time thinking about politics these days because government is way too involved in financial markets these days,” he said.
In the 2012 election cycle, Griffin (alone or in tandem with his wife Anne) has given $150,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney; more than $560,000 to the Republican Governors Association; and $300,000 to American Crossroads, founded by Republican strategists Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove.

According to Chicago magazine, the Griffins were the top donors in the 2010 election cycle to Republicans running for Illinois legislative seats. Also in 2010, Ken gave $500,000 to American Crossroads and $500,000 to Stand for Children Illinois, an education-reform group that helped win Chicago a longer school day and limited the chances of a Chicago teachers strike.
The Griffins also have given approximately $1.5 million over time to David and Charles Koch‘s conservative causes, which operate under the umbrella Americans for Prosperity.

From the interview:

Harris: What do you think in general about the influence of people with your means on the political process? You said shame on the politicians for listening to the CEOs. Do you think the ultrawealthy have an inordinate or inappropriate amount of influence on the political process?
Griffin: I think they actually have an insufficient influence. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet. And so I hope that other individuals who have really enjoyed growing up in a country that believes in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – and economic freedom is part of the pursuit of happiness – (I hope they realize) they have a duty now to step up and protect that. Not for themselves, but for their kids and for their grandchildren and for the person down the street that they don’t even know …

Harris: How much do you think your influence comes from the size of your donations? Do you think you should be able to make unlimited donations? Should you be able to donate $500,000 to a super PAC?
Griffin: In my opinion, absolutely. Absolutely. The rules that encourage transparency around that are really important. And I say that with a bit of trepidation.

Harris: Why with trepidation?
Griffin: Target made a political donation and there was a huge boycott organized.

Harris: So do you or don’t you think the public should know if you’re giving this money?
Griffin: My public policy hat says transparency is valuable. On the flip side, this is a very sad moment in my lifetime. This is the first time class warfare has really been embraced as a political tool. Because we are looking at an administration that has embraced class warfare as being politically expedient, I do worry about the publicity that comes with being willing to both with my dollars and, more importantly, with my voice to stand for what I believe in.
As government gets bigger every single day, how does my willingness to stand up for what I believe is right become eclipsed by my dependency on institutions that are ultimately controlled by the government? Remember I live in financial services, and every bank in the United States is really under the thumb of the government in a way it’s never been before. And that’s really worrisome to me, as someone who’s willing to say, ‘Wait, we need to step back and try to push government outside the realm of every dimension of our lives.’

Harris: Is there anything you’ve done in the last month that’s going to pop on the pages of the national press?
Griffin: We sent $100,000 in to Romney.

 

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