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Private Equity Execs Donate to Defend Senate Dems

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A committee set up to support vulnerable Senate Democrats received funding from private equity executives and their spouses.

Private Equity Execs Donate to Defend Senate Dems
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) talks with committee member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A fundraising committee that was set up last June to support vulnerable Senate Democrats facing 2024 re-election races filed its first donor disclosure with the Federal Election Commission today. Its donors include several finance industry executives and attorneys, according to the filing. 

The Liftoff Fund, a joint fundraising committee, raises money for the campaigns of Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Each of these incumbent Democrats are facing re-election contests that are rated “toss-up” or “lean Democrat” by the Cook Political Report. The fund also raises money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which supports the incumbents’ campaigns, and the leadership PAC of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who is not up for reelection this cycle. Kelly’s leadership PAC is called Liftoff PAC.

With Democrats holding a one-vote majority in the Senate, the outcome of the races of the Liftoff Fund’s beneficiaries will likely determine which party controls the upper chamber in the next Congress. 

Tied for the largest donor to the fund was Michael Michelson, who described his occupation to the FEC as partner at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), one of the largest private equity firms in the world. Michelson is a board of directors member at medical technology company Zimmer Biomet and hospital company HCA Healthcare. Michelson donated $100,000 to the Liftoff Fund at the end of December. 

Eric Wedel, the global co-chair of Finance and Capital Markets at law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, donated $10,000 to the Liftoff Fund in November. Wedel’s bio says he “represents top-tier private equity sponsors and their portfolio companies in acquisition financings,” including KKR, Bain Capital, Warburg Pincus, and others. 

David Billings, the general counsel and executive vice president of Affiliated Managers Group, donated $10,000 in November. Affiliated Managers Group is an investment firm that partners with hedge funds and private equity groups. Billings described his occupation to the FEC as a partner with the firm Akin Gump. An Affiliated Managers Group press release from 2014 states that Billings previously worked at Akin Gump’s London office, where he “headed the investment funds practice group, focusing principally on the representation of private investment funds and their sponsors.”

The co-managing partner of venture capital firm Elevation Capital, Ravi Adusumalli, donated $10,000. William Lese, managing partner with energy technology investor Braemar Energy Ventures, donated $2,500 in November. 

Another major donor to the Liftoff Fund was Cheryl Najafi, an author and fashion designer, who donated $100,000 in December. Najafi is married to billionaire private equity manager Jahm Najafi. The Najafi Companies’ current private equity investments include the Phoenix Suns, McLaren Racing, StubHub, and brand studio Beach House Group. 

None of the senators affiliated with The Liftoff Fund are co-sponsors this session of the Ending the Carried Interest Loophole Act, a Democratic proposal that would revise the tax code so that private equity and hedge fund managers could no longer defer their carried interest in investments and pay lower capital gains tax rates when the investment profits are realized. Instead, the bill would require them to recognize a deemed compensation annually and pay taxes at ordinary rates. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the bill would raise $63.1 billion over 10 years, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). 

Baldwin has in the past sponsored a narrower bill to close the carried interest loophole, the Carried Interest Fairness Act, which Baldwin says the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates would raise $15.6 billion in revenue over ten years. Brown was a co-sponsor of that bill. 

The Liftoff Fund disbursed $130,750 to the DSCC last year and $33,160 to each of the senators’ campaign committees. 

Campaign money from investors has been leaning more heavily toward Democrats in recent years. Since the 2018 election cycle, donations by the securities & investment industry, as categorized by OpenSecrets, have favored Democratic federal candidates over Republicans. Donations from executives in the industry leapt to more than $800 million in the 2022 cycle, after Democrats had retaken control of Congress.

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