Billionaire Romney Supporter: Wealthy Have “Insufficient Influence”

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March 11, 2012; Source: Chicago Tribune

Earlier this week, Mitt Romney supporter Kenneth Griffin, a billionaire hedge fund mogul, spoke to the Chicago Tribune, offering his take on politics. Here is the amazing part of the Griffin interview: The Tribune asked whether he thought that the ultra-wealthy “have an inordinate or inappropriate amount of influence on the political process.” Griffin responded, “I think they actually have an insufficient influence. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet.” He contrasts that system with what he sees as a United States that is “drifting toward a direction that has been the failed experiment of the last century,” citing the Soviet Union and the state-controlled system of China as examples.

Insufficient or not, Griffin is clearly attempting to have some influence on the political process. In just the 2012 election cycle alone, Griffin and his wife, Anne, who is also a hedge fund chief, have given $150,000 to the Romney-supporting Restore Our Future super PAC, $560,000 to the Republican Governors Association, and $300,000 to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads (on top of $500,000 to Crossroads in the 2010 election cycle). The Griffins are also big time donors, to the tune of $1.5 million, to Americans for Prosperity, which is associated with the Koch brothers, who Griffin says he appreciates as “huge advocates for free markets.” Nonprofits that utilize government programs to deliver some of their services might have a spot of worry with Griffin’s contention that “government being involved in picking winners and losers invariably leads to a loss of economic freedom and encourages corruption.”

What can rich people do for the nation if they have limited or even insufficient influence? Griffin cites his colleagues at the hedge fund, “a group of people who are really invested in the community,” who “have put more than $100 million into institutions, whether it’s education, the arts, [or] programs to combat poverty…” Where has Griffin put his money? Between 2005 and 200, the largest grants of the Citadel Group Foundation, largely capitalized by Griffin’s annual donations of several hundreds of thousands of dollars, don’t reflect a huge level of poverty reduction:

  • $216,900 for Champion Charities, founded by San Francisco 49er Ronnie Lott, currently supporting the University of California at San Francisco’s brain tumor research;
  • $311,200 to the Chicago Public Library Foundation;
  • $708,640 to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra;
  • $240,000 to the Latin School of Chicago; and
  • $393,200 for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Citadel’s only big grant recipient with a social emphasis is a re-grantmaking entity, the Robin Hood Foundation, which received $350,000 from Griffin’s corporate foundation in 2005 and 2006.

The ultra-wealthy don’t have enough influence in politics and society, according to Griffin. Philanthropic grant support from his pocket goes to the kinds of charities that the wealthy patronize. This is the portrait of Romney’s wealthy supporter. What might nonprofits learn from Griffin about what might be in store for them under a Romney administration?—Rick Cohen

  • Alie

    I feel that this is perhaps an unfair characterization of the wealthy – and maybe too of Romney supporters. Regardless of whether or not the wealthy have an appropriate amount of influence in the political discourse, wealthy philanthropists are a major driver within the nonprofit sector. I think this article’s bias does them an injustice.

  • rick cohen

    That’s exactly the discussion we wanted to provoke. The commentary we saw about Griffin focused on his “insufficient” comment (our original draft didn’t lead with that, by the way). We wanted a fuller picture of his political and philanthropic thinking and expenditures. Wealthy philanthropists are a driving force behind a large piece of philanthropy. The issue is, where are they driving and why? Thanks for your comment.