(Bloomberg) -- Robert Mercer, the hedge fund titan who financed the nationalist movement that elected President Trump, stepped down from the helm of his investment firm amid intense criticism. But that doesn’t mean he’s finished with politics.
Mercer’s decision to resign as co-chief executive may insulate the $50 billion Renaissance Technologies from political controversy a year after Donald Trump won the White House. Mercer became a lightning rod for activists and drew criticism from at least one former executive at Renaissance.
"His critics are going to be disappointed because at the end of the day Bob is going to continue fighting for what he believes in,” said Brent Bozell, whose conservative Media Research Center is supported by Mercer. “This is a man who could have chosen a long time ago to sail away on his yacht and not worry about a thing."
In his Nov. 2 memo to colleagues that announced his resignation as co-CEO and director, Mercer distanced himself from some incendiary political elements. The hedge fund wizard, who funded Stephen Bannon’s Breitbart News, wrote that he was selling his stake in the website, a mouth-piece for the nationalist movement. Mercer also denounced former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who he had championed, and defended his own character as well.
“Of the many mischaracterizations made of me by the press, the most repugnant to me have been the intimations that I am a white supremacist or a member of some other noxious group," Mercer, 71, wrote. "Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, creed, or anything of that sort is abhorrent to me."
Mercer, who also mentioned his “great respect” for Bannon in the memo, didn’t break entirely with the movement that his bounty helped finance. He and his daughter, Rebekah, an early adviser to Trump, rank among the nation’s most powerful Republican donors. Mercer is limiting his duties to research at the firm partly to allow him to increase his political involvement unencumbered by his business responsibilities, said a person familiar with the matter.
“Bob has become an extremely controversial figure, and that is probably not what you want in your CEO,” said Nick Patterson, a former Renaissance executive who first recruited Mercer to join the hedge fund. “There are people who might not want a guy with Bob’s views to be their boss.”
In recent months, Mercer attracted criticism from both inside and outside the firm. One of his employees, David Magerman, who joined Renaissance around the same time as Mercer, sued the executive earlier this year.
Magerman claims he was fired for calling Mercer racist and publicly criticizing his support of Trump. Mercer’s politics have "tainted" the hedge fund, while internal policies that prohibit "politely" speaking out against the company in public are "unfair and untenable," Magerman said in the complaint, originally filed on May 5 in Philadelphia. Magerman later dropped the suit, but refiled an amended complaint in September. Renaissance earlier declined to comment.
Last month, Sleeping Giants, an anonymous group that is opposed to racist news sites, sent letters to universities and pension funds urging them to pull their money from Renaissance because of Mercer’s stake in Breitbart.
While some investors have privately denounced Mercer’s politics, they continue to be drawn by double-digit returns in the firm’s three public hedge funds. Renaissance saw a net $1 billion of inflows this month, a person familiar with the firm.
“They have done a very good job for us, and it is a strategy that is not very common,” Steve Yoakum, executive director of Missouri’s teachers retirement fund, told ThinkProgress.org in response to questions about its Renaissance investment. “They have really given us exemplary returns since we started.”
In 1993 Mercer, a computer scientist, joined Renaissance, which has produced the most profits of any firm in the industry. Peter Brown, 62, will continue as CEO, the role he and Mercer took in 2010 after the company’s founder James Simons retired.
“I am 71 years old, the same age that Jim Simons was when he retired,” Mercer wrote.
Like Simons, Brown also contributes to Democratic Party candidates, and his wife ran the Food and Drug Administration under President Barack Obama.
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