Tuesday, 13 October 2015
Last updated 4 min ago
May 30 2012 | 11:52am ET
Deep pocketed donors have long played a role in national politics, but perhaps no group has become more influential in this election cycle than the financial titans known as asset managers.
In this series, which will appear over the next two weeks, we take a close look at hedge fund managers, private equity executives and their less glamorous but equally powerful Wall Street counterparts to discover who is supporting Romney and who is backing Obama—why, and for how much.
Jim Simons, Robert Mercer and Peter Brown, Renaissance Technologies
When it comes to politics, one of the world's most successful hedge funds, is a house divided.
Renaissance Technologies, the secretive quantitative hedge fund with more than $20 billion in assets under management, is helmed by Robert Mercer and Peter Brown. The two, computer science Ph.D.s both, were recruited to the firm from IBM and even shared an apartment in New York upon their arrival at the Long Island-based hedge fund. But the similarities end there.
Mercer is a man of the right, a political conservative who carries a National Rifle Association card. Brown, like RenTech founder Jim Simons, leans to the left—his wife, Margaret Hamburg, is President Barack Obama's head of the Food and Drug Administration.
Brown's and Hamburg's monetary contributions have been relatively modest, totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars over the past few election cycles. Not so Simons and Mercer, who have fought each other to a near-draw in the political battle of the checkbooks.
Simons has given more than $1.5 million to support Democratic Party candidates and political action committees, notably Majority PAC, dedicated to preserving the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. The former mathematics professor is also dedicated to increased state spending on education in that area, while any increased state spending would likely be anathema to his hand-picked successor at RenTech, who took the helm of the firm alongside Brown two years ago.
Mercer has given more than $1.4 million to the other side, including $1 million to Restore Our Future, a PAC backing Romney, and thousands of dollars to Republican candidates for the House of Representatives. While the split at the top of RenTech doesn't seem to have affected the firm's performance, it could make for some uncomfortable moments. Former RenTech executive Nick Patterson, who was crucial in recruiting Mercer and Brown, told the Financial Times that Hamburg "will not have a job if Romney wins the election" with Mercer's help.
But Mercer does not seem to have turned RenTech much to the right during his time at the top. Donors from the firm remain overwhelmingly supporting of Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, including Henry Laufer, the now-retired former vice president at RenTech and a former colleague of Simons at the Stony Brook University math department, and Nathaniel Simons, Simons' son and the manager of RenTech's fund of hedge funds business. Both men have given in excess of $35,000 to Democrats during this election cycle.
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