Terry McAuliffe embodies crony capitalism – and he's not the least self-conscious about it.
A decade ago, while he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, McAuliffe made $18 million off of a $100,000 investment in a politically connected telecom company called Global Crossing.
More recently, McAuliffe founded the electric car company GreenTech Automotive, which chased after federal and local subsidies and was dubbed a “Visa-for-sale scheme” by one Virginia official – while not really making cars.
But as McAuliffe seeks Virginia’s governorship this fall, one episode of his public-policy profiteering has gotten scarce attention: his continuing partnership interest in a venture capital firm whose core strength is political connections.
McAuliffe has $50,000 to $250,000 “partnership interest” in Paladin Capital, according to his latest personal financial disclosure. In 2008, he reported the same level of investment.
Paladin was founded by longtime Democratic operative Michael Steed. Steed is a former executive director of the Democratic National Committee and was the senior vice president for investments at the union-run life insurer ULLICO. If that resume sounds familiar, it’s because it matches McAuliffe’s career path: McAuliffe was DNC chairman and was suspected of talking Steed into investing millions of ULLICO's money in Global Crossing – an investment that vaporized when the company collapsed.
Paladin is transparent about its political nature. The firm describes its strength as using its “network of experienced former government leaders” for the job of “establishing and enhancing important relationships primarily in the federal market.”
Given the Democratic leanings of the firm, Obama’s election in 2008 and promises of big government in 2009 were good news for Paladin. The firm’s summer 2009 newsletter carried a cover headline proclaiming “Federal Spending Presents Big Opportunities For Paladin Portfolio.” Paladin formed a “Stimulus Committee” to maximize profits from Obama’s signature spending bill.
The newsletter article focused on the stimulus bill’s “$80 billion in direct spending, tax incentives, and research under the aegis of the Department of Energy has the potential to lie directly in the pipelines of Paladin portfolio companies that are involved in renewable energy, smart transmission, and energy storage.”
McAuliffe, as a large Paladin investor, wasn’t merely profiting from the stimulus – he was advocating for it.
“To generate economic growth and ensure that we provide opportunities for all Virginians,” McAuliffe wrote in a February 2009 op-ed, “we need to invest in high-value, high-growth industries for the future, building the infrastructure and work force we need to attract them…. [W]e have a unique opportunity to start moving forward right now, thanks to the economic stimulus program that President Barack Obama has proposed.”
McAuliffe's op-ed focused heavily on the stimulus’s subsidies for green energy and technology, including cars. (Later that year, McAuliffe took the helm at GreenTech Automotive.)
A quick search of a database of federal contracts shows the companies held by Paladin receiving more than 3,000 federal contracts, grants, or purchases, worth $132 million.
But contracts don't tell the whole story of Paladin’s coziness with government.
One Paladin property is a company called Nexidia, which Private Equity Week wrote “provides data-mining software.” When it invested in Nexidia, Paladin got to place a representative on the software company's board. Paladin chose Lt. Gen. Ken Minihan, former director the National Security Agency.
“Among the company's first customers was the NSA,” author James Bamford wrote in "The Shadow Factory," the acclaimed 2009 investigative look at the spy agency.
Paladin is also invested in a company called Intiate Systems. The Chicago Sun-Times reported of Initiate in 2009, “A Chicago company whose software makes sense of the chaos of medical records finds itself in a sweet spot with President Obama's call for health insurance coverage for all Americans and interoperable electronic health records by 2014.”
This formula, turning political connections into profits, is the Terry McAuliffe way. It's how he got rich, and how he would run Virginia.
When asked in 2011 why he placed his GreenTech factory in Mississippi rather than Virginia, McAuliffe said, “We don’t bid on big car plants here and shame on us ... You gotta incentivize. Mississippi gave me 200 free acres, they gave me tax incentives, they gave me the infrastructure to lead into the factory. This is what states do all over the country.”
McAuliffe believes business should be about getting help from politicians and politics should be about helping businessmen. The formula has worked so far – for McAuliffe's bank account.Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.