Hedge Funds Launch Effort to Boost Image as D.C. Scrutiny Mounts
(Bloomberg) -- Hedge funds have long stayed out of the political fray. Now, as lawmakers and regulators increasingly put the firms in their sights, the secretive industry is reversing course.
The main hedge fund lobbying group -- which represents 135 funds including Citadel, Elliott Management Corp. and Renaissance Technologies -- is launching a multi-million dollar campaign Thursday to better explain to Washington what its members actually do.
Dubbed “Investing in Opportunity,” the effort will feature online advertisements, videos and a new website that highlights the private partnerships’ work for charitable foundations and other non-profits in every U.S. state and congressional district.
The shift is an acknowledgment by the money managers that remaining in the shadows isn’t a sustainable strategy. Hedge funds are facing renewed scrutiny in the wake of the 2020 election when Democrats took control in Washington, giving power to progressive critics like Senator Elizabeth Warren. The wild price swings of “meme stocks” like GameStop Corp., and the collapse of Bill Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management have also underscored the risk the industry faces on Capitol Hill. President Joe Biden’s council of financial regulators has signaled a sharpened focus on the funds, as well.
“The bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach doesn’t work today,” said Bryan Corbett, president of the Managed Funds Association trade group. “We haven’t done a great job demonstrating our impact beyond Wall Street, and through this campaign we’re looking to start telling this story in a sustained way.”
Some of MFA’s members have already had time in the political penalty box this year. Citadel’s Ken Griffin was a star witness at a congressional hearing in February on the GameStop debacle, drawing pointed questions about his firm’s market power. Melvin Capital Management’s Gabe Plotkin was also featured, after his fund suffered major losses on the trade.
And while hedge funds have taken pains to point out that Archegos didn’t manage outside money and is technically classified as a family office, few members of Congress see the distinction. The firm’s blow-up triggered billions of dollars in losses for Hwang’s big bank trading partners, and is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department.
The MFA’s push was in the works before the GameStop and Archegos fury. Still, Corbett, a former Carlyle Group Inc. partner and White House economic aide to George W. Bush, said the episodes show the industry needs to be more involved in the policy process.
Though he wouldn’t discuss the price tag for the project, Corbett said it was a “significant seven figure number.” Corbett took the helm of the MFA in January 2020 and has since replaced the organization’s lobbying and public relations teams, as well as added a market research division.
The association plans to use data to help show that hedge funds are not just vehicles for rich people to make more money. Its research, for example, found that pensions, charitable foundations and endowments have almost $1.4 trillion invested with them.
“Most people would be surprised to learn that it’s millions of American workers – like teachers and firefighters – who benefit from hedge fund investments,” said Corbett. “This often gets lost in the conversation about our industry.”
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