Greed is good -- until it gets in the way of a union-friendly restructuring deal. President Obama, generous recipient of Wall Street largesse, angrily derided a group of hedge fund managers this week as "speculators." The miffed president suggested that uncooperative firms were selfish for holding out on the government's Chrysler bankruptcy plans and refusing to make "sacrifices" to benefit the United Auto Workers.
The "sacrifices" involved Chrysler debt holders agreeing to sell the debt to the government at prices determined by union-beholden bureaucrats instead of bankruptcy courts. The hedge firms balked. Obama sneered that the dissenters were looking for an "unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout." But the holdouts never took banking bailout funds from Washington. And the targeted financial executives were simply doing what good money managers are supposed to do: put their clients' fiduciary interests first.
Obama's corporate-bashing rhetoric should, of course, come as no shock. During the campaign and continuing through his first 100 days, he has routinely attacked the "ethic of greed." When Sen. John McCain publicized Obama's wealth redistribution comments to Joe the Plumber, Obama snarked that McCain was "fighting for Joe the Hedge Fund Manager" and was "in cahoots with Joe the CEO." First lady Michelle Obama also singled out hedge fund managers for scorn, urging young people to turn away from unrewarding work on Wall Street for more fulfilling jobs in the "helping industry."
But behind the public lashings, the Obamas were all too happy to pass the plate around the pews of the Church of "Greed." According to the Center for Responsive Politics, hedge funds and private equity firms donated $2,992,456 to the Obama campaign in the 2008 cycle. Obama, vocal critic of the campaign finance practice known as "bundling," accepted more than $200,000 in bundled contributions from billionaire hedge-fund manager James Torrey, more than $100,000 in bundled contributions from billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones and more than $50,000 in bundled contributions from billionaire hedge-fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin, chief executive officer of Citadel Investment Group in Chicago.
No less than 100 Obama bundlers are investment CEOs and brokers; nearly two dozen work for financial giants such as Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. By comparison, Evil Republican Rich Guy McCain received $1,699,525 from the industry.
Obama lambastes the "system and the culture" of the un-helping industry. But he is so much a part of -- not apart from -- the very climate he condemns. "Speculators" fill many of the top positions in the Obama White House. Hedge fund manager Larry Summers heads the National Economic Council. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made millions as an investment banker at Wasserstein Perella. Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, made a comfy living in the hedge fund business until he got entangled in an ongoing mess with the shady Paradigm Capital Management involving fraud and giant Ponzi schemes.
Yes, there are rotten hedge fund managers who have squandered billions of dollars without accountability -- not unlike the government bailout and stimulus fund managers in Washington, who continue to throw good money after bad. Obama demagogues the unpopular industry because it fits the popular narrative: Wall Street bad, Washington good. Like battered wives, most hedge fund managers who supported Obama have tolerated the abuse, futilely hoping it will stop.
Until this week, that is. In an extraordinarily candid open letter to Obama, hedge fund manager Cliff Asness defended his industry from the president's "backwards and libelous" charges. "Managers have a fiduciary obligation to look after their clients' money as best they can, not to support the president, nor to oppose him, nor otherwise advance their political views," Asness wrote. He has oversight of some $20 billion at AQR Capital Management, LLC, which is not involved in the Chrysler case.
Asness minced no words: "The president's attempted diktat takes money from bondholders and gives it to a labor union that delivers money and votes for him. … Shaking down lenders for the benefit of political donors is recycled corruption and abuse of power."
Business as usual in the Era of Hope and Change. Perhaps demonized entrepreneurs will finally learn that when the dog you feed bites your hand, you don't roll up your sleeve and give him your arm. You get a new dog.