Hedge-fund and private-equity founders dominate the early giving to the new Barack Obama Foundation, which is raising money for the official Obama Presidential Library, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis.
Six of the eleven contributors are high-profile hedge-fund and private-equity firm owners, according to the foundation’s 2014 IRS Form 990 filing.
Unlike Obama, who has publicly scorned private-equity and hedge-funds, the foundation seems to have no aversion taking money from multi-millionaires and billionaires who run investment powerhouses for wealthy clients.
Martin Nesbitt, the foundation’s chairman and reportedly Obama’s “best friend,” has raised $5.4 million for the library to date, nearly twice the amount President Clinton raised at the comparable point in his second term, according to Politco.
Nesbitt, however, also is the founder and CEO of Vistria, a Chicago-based private-equity firm he started in 2013, which now claims more than $220 million under management. Nesbitt’s firm only accepts clients able to invest at least $10 million.
Nesbsitt also accepts “carried interest,” earnings that have been slammed as a tax dodge by Obama throughout his Oval Office tenure.
Nesbitt’s investment materials for prospective investors that he filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission earlier this year confirms that he will accept “carried interest” as payment from his investors. Carried interest is a provision of the IRS tax code that enables hedge-fund operators to receive additional profit from an investment in payment for their services.
Obama has blasted carried interest regularly, including in a February 3, 2013 CBS News interview with Scott Pelley, in which the chief executive claimed it enables wealthy investors to avoid paying taxes because it is taxed at a far lower rate than ordinary income.
“Can we close loopholes and deductions that folks who are well-connected,” Obama asked during the interview, “so they end up paying lower rates than say, a bus driver or a cop?”
“The average person doesn’t have access to ‘carried interest income,’ where they end up paying a much lower rate on billions of dollars that they’ve earned,” Obama said.
The foundation’s first tax return also makes clear the prominent played by Chicago Hyatt hotel chain heiress Penny Pritzker and her closest colleagues during the early planning for the library.
Pritzker, who’s net worth is estimated at $2.5 billion, was national co-chairman of Obama for America in 2012, and national finance chairman for his 2008 campaign. Obama appointed Pritzker Secretary of Commerce in 2013.
First among Pritzker’s former executives is Nesbitt, who served as vice president of the Pritzker Reality group.
The Obama Foundation’s president is J. Kevin Poorman who was the president and CEO of Penny Pritzker’s PSP Capital Partners, LLC.
Until recently, a third board member, Robbin Cohen served as the foundation’s treasurer. Cohen was president of the Pritzker Realty Group.
Another individual on the foundation’s board who is tied to financial services is John Doerr, a partner at Silicon Valley’s venture capital firm of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. Doerr’s estimated net worth is $2.7 billion.
But it’s the private-equity and hedge-fund donors who stand out.
Tim Collins donated $300,000 to the foundation. He is CEO of Ripplewood Holdings, a New York private-equity firm that focuses on leveraged buyouts and management buyouts, among other investments. He also sits on the board of Citigroup.
Ripplewood has $4 billion under management. Collins donated $50,000 to Obama’s 2009 inaugural committee. Two of Ripplewood’s most prominent liquidations were Hostess Brands and Reader’s Digest. When Hostess closed its doors, 18,500 employees lost their jobs.
Collins announced in 2014 that his fund would no longer accept outside investors but would only use his family wealth.
Michael and Cari Sacks gave the unusual amount of $666,666 to the Obama foundation. Michael is the chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Grosvenor Capital Management, described by Crain’s Business as one of the most “secretive” hedge funds in the world.
Sacks manages $48 billion in investment portfolios. He was a major bundler in both Obama presidential campaigns, and the Sacks couple donated $101,000 to Obama’s second inauguration celebration.
Mark T. Gallogly and Lisa Strickler donated $340,000 to the foundation. Gallogly is cofounder and managing principal of the private-equity firm Centerbridge Partners. Centerbridge has more than $20 billion under management and is focused on leveraged buyouts and distressed securities.
Gallogly worked at Blackstone Group for 16 years and he was an executive at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company for a decade earlier. Gallogly was an Obama bundler in 2008 and 2012, raising $500,000 for both races.
Lisa Strickler gave $1 million to NextGen Climate Action, the SuperPAC founded by San Francisco billionaire and hedge fund founder Tom Steyer, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Obama appointed Gallogly to his Economic Recovery Board in 2009.
James and Marilyn Simons contributed $340,000 to the foundation. James is the founder of Renaissance Technologies, one of the world’s most successful private-hedge funds with over $25 billion under management. Simons retired at the end of 2009. His net worth is estimated to be $14 billion.
Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Permanent subcommittee on investigations condemned Simons in 2014 for masking day-to-day trades as long-term investments, avoiding more than $6 billion in taxes.
“Two banks and a handful of hedge-funds developed a complex financial structure to engage in highly profitable trades, while claiming an unjustified lower tax rate and avoiding limits on trading with borrowed money,” charged Sen. Carl Levin, D., Mich. at the hearing.
The Medallion Fund, a Renaissance subsidiary, is based in Bermuda and has been linked to Klein, Ltd., a shadowy firm located at the same address, which allegedly funneled Russian funds to anti-fracking environmental groups through the Sea Change Foundation. Sea Change is owned by Simon’s son, Nathaniel.
Robert and Carol Wolf donated $100,000 to the foundation. He is a former president and chief operating officer of UBS Investment Bank, as well the chairman and CEO of UBS’s Group Americas division. He is currently chairman of 32 Advisors, a financial advisory firm.
Wolf raised $500,000 as a bundler for Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Obama appointed Wolf to the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Border Infrastructure Task Force and the President’s Export Council.
David and Beth Shaw gave $250,000 to the foundation. He owns D.E. Shaw, a global investment firm that relies on proprietary algorithms for securities trading. Forbes estimated his wealth at $4.1 billion.
Shaw was a $500,000 bundler for Obama in his re-election bid. In 2012 and 2014, he was donated $2.5 million to Democratic Party groups.
Other millionaire couples rounding out the top individual donors, include Liesel Pritzker Simmons and her husband Ian Simmons. Ian gave $500,000 to the Obama Foundation. Pritzker received $280 million in a nasty lawsuit against her family, claiming as a teenager that her father, Robert Pritzker, emptied her trust fund when she was a child.
Pritzker originally asked for $2 billion, along with her brother, Matthew, but they settled with their father in 2005 for $560 million, which was split between the two. She received the money when she was 20 years old.
Pritzker was a child actress who appeared with Harrison Ford in the 1997 production of Air Force One. She is a cousin of Penny Pritzker.
Ian Simmons inherited family money. His family co-founded the Montgomery Ward chain. The Simmons couple was highlighted by the New York Times when they attended a special April 2014 White House meeting of 100 young millionaires who want to use their inherited personal fortunes to help advance liberal causes and Democratic candidates.
Another power couple is Scott Miller and Tim Gill who together donated $432,000 to the foundation. Unlike other donors, Gill earned his money neither through Wall Street nor through inherited wealth. He founded software company Quark and today he is estimated to be worth $400 million.
Both Miller and Gill run The Gill Foundation, which funds equality campaigns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups.
Gill was part of Colorado’s “Gang of Four,” who used $3.6 million to crush Republicans in the state in 2004. Gill was a $500,000 Bundler for Obama in 2012.
Another donor from the LBGT community is Fred Eychaner, an openly gay Chicago media mogul. He gave $1 million to the foundation.
Eychaner was a top Obama bundler, and, in 2014, he gave $8.4 million in hard money to outside Democratic groups as well as $14 million to Democratic causes. Obama named Eychaner to the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts.
Another couple that did not get their money from Wall Street were Sonya and Tom Campion. They gave $500,000 to the foundation.
Campion is a self-made businessman who founded Zumiez, a specialty clothing store that offers gear for skaters, snowboarders and surfers. His firm has been publicly traded since 1978. The couple also run a non-profit that addresses homelessness and wilderness issues.
The 11th contributor is the liberal Joyce Foundation, which gave $1 million to the foundation. Obama sat on the Joyce Foundation’s board from 1994 to 2002.
Other Obama Foundation board members include David Plouffe and Julianna Smoot, two long-term Obama political aides.
Also on the board is Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and Thelma Golden, the chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem.
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