On Wednesday, as Mitt Romney’s mega-donors clinked glasses aboard a Caymans flag-bearing yacht, one of his biggest, ballsiest bundlers was nowhere to be seen. Anthony Scaramucci, Mitt’s Wall Street matchmaker, has had a busy Republican National Convention. “I was at the Republican Jewish Council’s fashion show,” he tells me, “and I can assure you and your readers: the Republicans have just as many good-looking women as the Democrats.”
For a guy who stumped for the Democrats in 2008, only to jump over to Romney’s well-heeled finance team in 2012, that’s important. This week, in the muggy Tampa evenings, “The Mooch”—his nickname at the annual hedge-fund powwow he organizes—heads to a hotel suite shared by Romney’s top 100 fundraisers. The “Victory Council” networks and watches the action from above.
Unlike his fellow bundlers, whose names the campaign keeps private, Scaramucci relishes press-friendly antics: like accusing his former classmate Barack Obama of “whacking” Wall Street “like a piñata,” appearing as an extra in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, and “bar-fighting” with journalists who slam his controversial fund-of-funds business, which sells medium-rich investors on risky hedge fund bets.
But fun and funds aside, Scaramucci is likely raising a lot more than the rest of the Victory Councilors. He won’t tell me the exact amount—he “doesn’t want to grandstand,” he says. But he has "raised millions," and does call himself “one of the top raisers for Romney’s campaign,” just behind “team leader” Woody Johnson IV, owner of the Jets. “Governor Romney is the new gold medalist for political fundraising,” he tells me. “He’s ‘Usain Bolted’ Barack Obama.” For Mitt’s charming Wall Street consigliore, the RNC is more than a feel-good rain delay. It’s game time.
A strapping Long Island lad with a penchant for Loro Piana suits, Scaramucci doesn’t strike a Mitt-like figure—but like his new pal, his investment record is divisive. In 2005, the well-coiffed former Goldmanite founded SkyBridge, a firm that helps smaller-scale investors—like doctors, lawyers, small-businessmen—invest in hedge funds. It now manages about $6.5 billion. More important, its Las Vegas-based conference, SALT, is one of Wall Street’s must-attends: Bellagio slots, Karl Rove, fire-breathers, Al Gore, absurdly open bars, Sarah Palin, schmoozing, and, of course, Mitt Romney— all heartily consumed by the world’s biggest moneymen, from T. Boone Pickens to Phil Falcone.
Doesn’t sound like a Mitt scene? Take a look at his campaign’s fundraising figures, and you begin to see why Scaramucci, the hedge-funder’s hedge-funder, is such a key asset. In 2008, Democrats scored 67 percent of hedge fund donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But this year, Romney and the GOP are taking 73 percent from Team Mooch. The guy who runs a fund of funds is Romney’s living, breathing fund of hedge-funders. You see “some of the same faces” at the RNC as you do at SALT, he says.
As we spoke, Scaramucci’s lobby stroll was interrupted by a Morgan Stanley broker—a guy who helps sell SkyBridge products, as it happens. The broker thanked him for fighting the good fight. “I know man, I’m taking a lot of heat for what I’m doing,” Scaramucci replied. “Yeah I’m taking flak,” he explains. “Democrats buy hedge funds too. But I just want the country to be better. Besides, our performance is too good for people to pull their money.”
That part’s hard to prove. SkyBridge has consistently underperformed the plain old S&P, although, as Scaramucci points out, it trades at 40 percent of that index’s volatility. Scaramucci has been called “sleazy” by Reuters’ Felix Salmon; Slate’s Matt Yglesias says he’ll “make you poor.” He shrugs. “I’m Italian-American, doing a conference in Vegas, and wrote a book about being fired from Goldman—I’m an easy mark. But I got armadillo skin.”
Whether or not Anthony Scaramucci helps investors is still an open question. Whether or not the Barack Obama era helps investors is less ambiguous. The stock market has doubled in the past three years, and all major indices have traded near five-year highs in the past three weeks, helping out many of Scaramucci's clients.
But Scaramucci is circumspect. He once fouled Barack on the Harvard Law School basketball courts, but voted for him in 2008. Since then, he says, that “smart, biracial, transformative” guy has become “a rank ideologue,” “socialistic,” and “a president of class warfare.” Again, Scaramucci reminds me, “I’m of Italian-American descent, and my family members who live in Italy are out of work,” thanks to the president’s poor economic stewardship. So he manages his 53 SkyBridge employees the Scaramucci way: no payroll deduction for healthcare, maximized contributions to retirement accounts. “I’m not anti-union,” he says, “I’m a member of a union. I’m a member of the Screen Actors Guild.”
As a Romney surrogate, the finance co-chair—not an official spokesman—is a riot, with more good lines than 10 John Sununus. Obama may have “the best smile in American politics since Jack Kennedy,” he says, but we’ve gone from “hope and change” to “no hope and spare change.”
“President Clinton would never do this,” he says. “His endorsement spot looks like a hostage video. I bet there's a water-boarder standing off-camera.”
Is the economy growing? Sure, he says, but we’re still in a “statistical recession” and “the real reason the stock market rebounded was the Federal Reserve monetary stimulus.”
Did the bank bailout work? Sort of, but, “as Hank Paulson said to me privately … it’s not gymnastics, you can’t get a perfect 10.”
Does he relate to Obama personally? “He wants to win by 50.1 percent so he can have the house and plane. I understand that.”
But he isn't a party man. Other than “muscularity on defense” and cutting the deficit, Scaramucci says he’s “socially progressive, pro-choice, and against the death penalty.” It’s “you didn’t build that” that really unleashes the wrath of the Mooch. “We can’t have a president standing on his bully pulpit denouncing business leaders,” he says. “That’s disgraceful.” For Scaramucci, it’s personal. After all, he knows what it’s like to have his business attacked. “I love my company. I won the 2011 Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. My entire life is in my business: my assets, my blood, my sweat, my tears.”
And that’s why he wouldn’t accept a position in the Romney administration, he says. “I’d say 'I’m sorry, I don’t have the experience, it’s not the right time in my life, and I want to help out your reelection campaign by raising you dough.'” But as Mooch is one of Romney’s biggest and highest-profile fundraisers—Mitt’s bridge back to the Street set—it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t get his fair share of face time in a Romney White House. What about, say, the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability? “I would join that, 100 percent,” he says. “And I hope to God they ask me.”
The RNC might not have the glitz, glamour, and good-looking women of Scaramucci’s Vegas spectacular. But, for now, it’s exactly where he wants to be.