This Deserves Attention

10.19.12

How Romney Profited from the Auto Bailout

This excellent piece by Greg Palast from The Nation deserves some attention. Ann Romney's blind trust was invested with a hedge fund that took over (and took apart) Delphi, the GM parts maker, and closed down 29 unionized plants here in the US and moved almost all the jobs to China. Accoroding to Palast, the Romneys made millions from this process, partly courtesy the US taxpayer, and the fund managers, big Romney backers, made billions with a b.

The description of the Romneys' role comes toward the end. Singer is Paul Singer, the head of the hedge fund in question, which is Elliott below:

In their 2011 and 2012 Federal Financial Disclosure filing, Ann Romney’s trust lists “more than $1 million” invested with Elliott. This is the description for all of her big investments—the minimal disclosure required by law. (Had Romney kept the holding in his own name, he would have had to reveal if his investment with Singer had made more than $50 million.)

It is reasonable to assume that Singer treated the Romneys the same as his other investors, with a third of their portfolio invested in Delphi by the time of the 2011 initial public offering. This means that with an investment of at least $1 million, their smallest possible gain when Delphi went public would have been $10.2 million, plus another $10.2 million for each million handed to Singer—all gains made possible by the auto bailout.

But that’s just the beginning. Since the November 2011 IPO, Delphi’s stock has roared upward, boosting the Romneys’ Delphi windfall from $10.2 million to $15.3 million for each million they invested with Singer...

...The Romneys might insist that the funds were given to Singer, Mitt’s key donor, only through Ann’s blind trust. But as Mitt Romney said some years ago of Ted Kennedy, “The blind trust is an age-old ruse, if you will. Which is to say, you can always tell a blind trust what it can and cannot do.” Romney, who reminds us often that he was CEO of a hedge fund, can certainly read Elliott Management’s SEC statements, and he knows Ann’s trust is invested heavily in a fund whose No. 1 stake is with Delphi.

Romney will dodge his way around all this, in all likelihood, but it's a devastating story, and not only for the Romney angle; also just the window it opens onto how these things work, about which I remain so terribly naive. For example, once Singer got Delphi, he and his partners--and Palast gets much of this from Steve Rattner's book on the bailout, so this is a money guy's interpretation, not a leftie journalist's--they demanded $350 million from the US treasury (you and me) and from GM or they were going to shut Delphi down completely. Palast:

Rattner could not believe that Delphi’s management—now effectively under the hedge funders’ control—would “want to be perceived as holding GM hostage at such a precarious economic moment.” One Wall Street Journal analyst suggested that Singer was treating Delphi “like a third world country.” Rattner likened the subsidies demanded by Delphi’s debt holders to “extortion demands by the Barbary pirates.”

That's Mitt Romney's world. It just seems crazy and completely amoral to me. Yes, I know hedge funds help companies sometimes. I say there's something to be said for the old days of quaint inefficiencies, and letting businesses succeed or fail based on the quality of what they made, not how remuneratively they could be flipped.