Forum Topic - The President.

Top White House Adviser Betrays Obama’s Fight Against Evil Private Equity Firms

Just kidding, it’s Obama’s best friend's firm, and everybody is doing it

BY: Brent Scher
September 3, 2014 2:50 pm

President Barack Obama’s relationship with private equity continues to grow as one of his top aides is leaving the White House to join a new private equity firm founded in Chicago by a man described as Obama’s “first friend.”

Marty Nesbitt, one of Obama’s closest friends from Chicago, has hired Jon Samuels, Obama’s deputy assistant for legislative affairs on Capitol Hill, to join private equity firm Vistria Group.

Nesbitt’s new venture comes after the sale of an airport parking company he cofounded with Penny Pritzker, the Hyatt hotels heiress who was recently made secretary of commerce by Obama.

Nesbitt founded the Vistria Group last year with Kip Kirkpatrick, another longtime Illinois Democrat.

Samuels is not the first from the Obama administration to join Vistria. The company hired Tony Miller from the administration; Miller was a private equity veteran, managing firms with over $15 billion in capital before joining the administration as Obama’s deputy secretary of education.

Samuels doesn’t come to Vistria with the same experience. His entire professional career has been in politics, and it is unclear exactly what Samuels will do at the private equity firm, given his lack of financial expertise.

He was hired out of college to work for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) and went on to work in the office of House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D., S.C.) before joining the Obama team in 2008.

After spending Obama’s first term on the congressional affairs team, Samuels became the chief liaison for the White House to the Republican-controlled House.

“I connect the policy, political, and procedural dots to further the president’s policy goals,” Samuelssaid of his duties. His colleagues agreed, with one saying that Samuels “is the face of the new way things get done in Washington.”

Despite Samuels’ best efforts, the 113th Congress has passed a historically low number of bills, and is on pace to be the least productive in history.

After the Obama campaign’s push against private equity during the election campaign against Mitt Romney, including calling Romney’s company a “vampire,” some may find it surprising that a member of the Obama inner circle is joining the industry.
However, Obama’s relationship with private equity is nothing new.

Obama had no problem taking money from the private equity industry when his political career was budding in Illinois. A former colleague in the state’s senate said that Obama “had many friends in the private equity business when he was a legislator.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner became president and managing director of private equity firm Warburg Pincus less than a year after Obama won reelection.

Three of his biggest donors, including Somali-pirate-defending rapper Prakazrel Michel of the Fugees, came together after the 2012 election and formed another $1 billion private equity firm.

Another of Obama’s closest friends and frequent golf partners is Robert Wolf, who was top banker at UBS before recently founding consulting company 32 Advisors.

32 Advisors also employs former White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, who now “hosts a weekly conference call with roughly a dozen hedge funds and private equity firms to opine on the topic of the day.

The last time Obama golfed with Wolf, they were joined by Glenn Hutchins, the cofounder of private equity firm Silver Lake. Silver Lake happens to be the firm that Vistria’s Tony Miller was with before joining the Obama administration.

Wolf gathered together hundreds from Wall Street to meet with Obama over Labor Day weekend for a $32,000-per-person fundraiser.

Obama raised money from the private equity industry during the 2012 campaign even as he attacked Romney’s business career. Obama also took in more from private equity donors in 2008 than any other candidate.