Politics & Policy

Obama’s Offshore Team

Some of the president’s top donors use foreign tax havens.

In one of the president’s latest campaign commercials — an ominous spot that looks a bit like the trailer to a B-grade horror movie — Mitt Romney gets some flak for his offshore bank accounts. Apparently, keeping money in places like the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands is a sign that one might not be the most upstanding citizen.

This raises a question: Why do some of the president’s wealthiest donors use the same strategies this commercial decries?

At least five of the president’s “bundlers” — in lay terms, people who form groups with their acquaintances and pool funds in order to donate significant sums to campaigns — run firms that keep some of their money in tax havens such as Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda. This is exactly the same behavior for which the president’s ad condemns Romney.

Though politicians don’t disclose the specific amount of money in each bundle, records give ranges of how much bundlers have funneled to the president’s reelection campaign, with $500,000 or more as the highest range displayed. Michael Sacks, one of the president’s top bundlers, is responsible for collecting at least $500,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign. Sacks is the CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, a hedge fund that has offices in London, Tokyo, and Chicago, and he resides in the prosperous village of Winnetka, Ill., just north of Chicago. One of his funds, the Grosvenor Registered Multi-Strategy Fund, LLC, has authorized “certain in-kind transactions” with the Grosvenor Multi-Strategy Offshore Fund, Ltd., a fund conveniently located in the lovely Cayman Islands — known for their sparkling beaches, for their first-class snorkeling, and for being one of the world’s largest offshore financial centers, as the president’s ad points out.

Sacks isn’t the only substantial Obama donor with a tropical outpost. Farallon Capital Management is one of the largest hedge funds in the world and has a handy location in the Caymans — and its founder, Tom Steyer, has directed between $50,000 and $100,000 to the president’s reelection efforts. His son Sam, while a student at Harvard in 2008, appears to have given $28,500 to the president as well. Generosity must run in the family.

Sacks and the Steyers, of course, aren’t the only ones participating in a system their chosen candidate vocally criticizes. New York’s Mark Gallogly, cofounder of Centerbridge Partners, has sent a bundle of $200,000 to $500,000 Obama’s way. And we can only guess what benefits Gallogly’s firm derives from Centerbridge Credit Partners Master, LP,  a Cayman Islands corporation.

The Caymans don’t have a monopoly on tax-havenry, as Blair Effron, another $500,000-plus bundler for the president, could tell you. In 2006, soon after Effron founded Centerview Partners, Centerview’s private-equity fund made a $50 million investment in Nielsen, the American ratings company, via an investment vehicle called Valcon Acquisition Holding, SARL. Valcon’s home address? Fifty-nine rue de Rollingergrund, L-2440, Luxembourg. Luxembourg, a tax haven, was the chosen location for this deal and for Nielsen’s previous private-equity buyout, earlier in 2006, by a variety of Caymans-based firms. Effron’s choice of the grand duchy as an investment locale hasn’t gotten a campaign-ad shout-out yet.

Then there’s Jonathan Lavine, who has raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for the president’s reelection campaign and who made the maximum personal donation of $35,800. It’s quite curious that he supports the president, since he is the chief investment officer of Sankaty Advisors, Bain Capital’s credit-investment affiliate. Sankaty — as we all know by now, thanks to the president’s ad — spreads its money all over, managing many offshore funds and corporations. These include Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors, LLC, which maintains a relationship with Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors, Ltd., a Bermuda corporation wholly owned by Romney that has received much condemnation as a shadowy vehicle. Vanity Fair lamented that “we have no idea what is in this company.” Perhaps someone at the White House could just ask Lavine next time he comes over — he has visited five times over the past three years, including once in June 2009 for a personal meeting with Rahm Emanuel.

And here’s another great thing about Jonathan Lavine: He seems to have overseen the Ampad takeover of a small Indiana office-supply company that the president highlighted in an attack on Romney in May. You could be forgiven for wondering why the Obama campaign is devoted to attacking the handiwork of its top supporters.

— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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