Nov 19, 2019 - Politics & Policy

How private equity could disrupt the 2020 election

Illustration of Congressional dome lifting to show a platter of money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

All eyes today are on the House of Representatives, which this morning hosts a hearing that could significantly impact the 2020 presidential election.

Driving the news: No, not impeachment. I'm talking about the House Financial Services hearing on private equity, an industry that yesterday received two fresh lashings from Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The session is titled "America for Sale: An examination of the practice of private funds."

  • Witnesses are PE industry lobbyist Drew Maloney, academic Eileen Applebaum, former Toys 'R' Us employee Giovanna De La Rosa, SBIA president Brett Palmer, and Los Angeles public pension fund trustee Wayne Moore.
  • It begins at 10am EST, and you can find the webcast and the witness' prepared statements here.

What to watch: Retail will be to this hearing what healthcare has been to Democratic presidential debates — an important topic, but also one that might be exhausted to the point of crowding out others. Particularly given the presence of an ex-Toys employee.

  • Also interested in the back-and-forth between Maloney and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, as her reputation for sharp questioning hasn't extended to private equity, where to date she's not seemed to have a firm grasp on how the industry functions (e.g., last month's suggestion that WeWork's valuation drop "fleeced" mom and pop investors).
  • Don't be surprised to see some mention of private-equity-as-landlord, given Warren's argument yesterday that The Blackstone Group has profited "shamelessly" from the 2008 housing crisis.

The bottom line: is that private equity faces a more precarious election season in 2020 than it did in 2012, when Bain Capital founder Mitt Romney was the Republican Party's nominee.

  • Back then, most of the relevant focus was on Romney and Bain specifically, rather than on the industry as a whole, as President Obama never proposed wide-ranging legislative fixes (beyond carried interest tax treatment, which never came to pass). Plus, Romney hadn't been with Bain for more than a decade by that point.
  • Today, Warren and the Democratic Party's left flank seem determined to make private equity a visible punching bag, with concrete plans to cut it open if given the chance by voters.

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