Today a new report from Ohio Hedge Clippers – a coalition of policy, labor and grassroots organizing groups — shows the role billionaire hedge fund managers have played in the loss of thousands of Ohio jobs.
In 2009, in the midst of government bailout talks with the Big Three automakers, hedge funds purchased the outstanding debt of auto parts manufacturer Delphi — currently struggling in bankruptcy — for pennies on the dollar. These “vulture capitalists” (so-called because they prey on firms that are near death, seeking profits by slashing costs) were later able to convert their investment into a controlling share of the company’s stock.
The new controlling faction terminated health insurance for many Delphi retirees and threatened to shut down the company if it didn’t get a piece of the government bailout. The hedge funds held the taxpayers, auto industry, and Delphi workers hostage to its steep, anti-worker demands. According to today’s report:
Singer and the other hedge fund vultures wanted more public subsidies for the company and reductions of its obligations to workers like collective bargaining agreements, union wages, health care, and defined benefit pensions.
Because of their considerable leverage (Delphi is a critical supplier to US automakers), they were able to reject a deal to keep 15 of their 29 US facilities open and unionized. Today, one vulture brags that “virtually none” of the workers in Delphi’s remaining 4 US facilities are unionized; thousands more lost their jobs. Taxpayers ultimately contributed $12.9 billion in bailout funds, including $5.6 billion to assume responsibility for much of the Delphi pension obligations. The company has reincorporated abroad to avoid US taxes.
As they took aim at US workers, the hedge funds walked away with a huge profit. After taking the company public in 2011, one fund made $390 million, another $1.3 billion. The biggest payday went to Paulson & Company, whose shares grew by $2.6 billion.
The report warns that many of the same hedge funds are behind the pending merger of Dow and DuPont, which has already led to 10,000 layoffs and promises $3 billion more in “savings.” At risk are the combined 13 Dow and DuPont Ohio facilities and the more 2,000 employees who work there.
Vulture capitalists are increasingly playing an outsized role in politics. Since Citizens United opened the door to nearly unlimited funding for Super PACs, hedge fund managers have dumped billions into efforts to select our next President and Congress.
In fact, 4 of the 5 largest contributors to Fighting for Ohio, one of the two main Super PACs supporting Rob Portman, are hedge fund managers (see table):
At the top of the list is Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies, who in addition to supporting Portman has recently put his considerable wealth fully behind Donald Trump’s presidential bid. And the CEO of Paulson & Company — the largest beneficiary of the Delphi takeover — was recently named by Trump as one of his chief economic advisers.
Why do fund managers spend so much on politics? No doubt they seek to preserve their favorable tax treatment of their investment earnings that subjects them to a tax rate lower than that paid by most working Ohioans. Rules allowing companies like Delphi to move their profits overseas to avoid paying US taxes are also popular with vultures seeking to make a buck.
Trump may talk tough about hedge funds, but they make up a large part of his economic team. And Portman, who has made an issue of the pension mess at Delphi, should look no further than the backers of his Super PAC for an explanation.