How One Hedge Fund Millionaire Is Trying To Buy A Seat In Congress

Robert Mercer, the millionaire hedge-fund manager has been a consistent funder of right wing causes. In recent years, the co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies has bankrolled an Islamaphobic effort to stop a Muslim Community Center in New York City, given $1 million each to the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future super PAC and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, and spent $200,000 on ads against Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), an advocate for more regulation of hedge funds. Now, public disclosure forms reveal he is the main benefactor for a new super PAC helping to elect New York Republican House candidate Randy Altschuler.

Prosperity First Inc. registered in April as a super PAC and reported on its July quarterly report that it had raised $635,500 in its first three months in operation. Of that, a whopping $500,000 came from Mercer. Until this weekend, it was unclear what Prosperity First would do with the money. Friday, the group reported its first $273,472 independent expenditure — an ad supporting Altschuler. This expenditure — the vast majority of which was funded by Mercer — is in addition to a pair of $2,500 contributions directly from the hedge-fund millionaire to Altschuler’s official campaign. In the post-Citizens United world, wealthy donors like Mercer can legally circumvent the legal limits and attempt to buy elections for their favorite candidates.

Why would Mercer spend so much to elect this candidate? After narrowly losing in 2010, Altschuler is again challenging Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY). One key difference between the two candidates is their view on Wall Street regulation: Bishop voted for the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 (commonly known as Dodd-Frank), while Altschuler blasted the law as a “flawed piece of legislation” that would “kill jobs and shrink tax revenues for New York State.” Renaissance Technologies did not much like the bill’s regulations for hedge funds — the company has spent over $1 million since the start of 2010 on federal lobbying including a significant focus on Dodd-Frank’s hedge-fund provisions.

Altschuler promises that if elected, he would “roll out the red carpet” for businesses like Renaissance Technologies, instead of “red tape.” He says he will make the elimination of what he calls “job-killing government regulations” a priority. Altschuler’s let-business-do-whatever-it-wants approach would probably be good for the bottom line for hedge-fund millionaires like Mercer — though they would likely not be so good for consumers anxious to avoid a repeat of the 2008 financial sector meltdown. For a person who earns $125 million in one year, the Supreme Court’s effective elimination of campaign finance limits may have made buying a House seat — or several — a legal and doable proposition.