Sep 23, 2023 - Economy

The lawyer sending nastygrams for Ray Dalio and Ken Griffin

Illustration of a ballpoint pen with a red "X"  in place of the ballpoint

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A forthcoming book has the potential to decimate the business of Bridgewater, one of the world's largest and most successful hedge funds, and cause "many billions of dollars in damages." Or so claimed letters sent by Bridgewater's lawyer to the book's publisher earlier this year.

Why it matters: Bridgewater's lawyer, Tom Clare, represented Dominion Voting Systems in its $787.5 million victory over Fox News. He fought publication of "Empire of Pain," Patrick Radden Keefe's book about the Sackler family's involvement in the opioid crisis, and represented Adam Neumann in his fight against his portrayal by HBO.

  • Now he's showing up representing not only Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio but also Citadel's Ken Griffin, who's portrayed in a movie out this weekend.

How it works: Bridgewater made the decision to respond to fact-checking queries with an aggressive fusillade of official letters signed not only by Clare but also by John Quinn of Quinn Emanuel and Orin Snyder of Gibson Dunn.

  • Those letters, sent not to the fact-checker, but to the publishing house, claimed the book "is riddled with half-truths, distortions, and outright lies," all of which have the potential to damage the hedge fund.

The big picture: "The Fund: Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates, and the Unraveling of a Wall Street Legend" will be published in the U.S. on November 7. The author is Rob Copeland, a New York Times reporter who formerly covered hedge funds in general, and Bridgewater in particular, at the Wall Street Journal.

  • For the record: "St. Martin's Press/Macmillan does not comment on threatened litigation," said a spokesperson in a statement.

The intrigue: Per one of the letters obtained by Axios, Bridgewater refused to cooperate "in good faith" with Copeland's fact-checker, taking issue with the fact that, as is standard in the publishing industry, the fact-checker was hired by the author rather than the publisher.

  • Instead, Bridgewater claimed the book was making devastating claims about the hedge fund.

What they're saying: "Mr. Copeland falsely portrays Bridgewater and Mr. Dalio as fraudulent," say Clare's letters.

  • "The fact-check materials continue to insinuate that Bridgewater is a Ponzi scheme."
  • "Mr. Copeland strains to paint a false portrait of an asset manager whose trading strategy is ad hoc and informed by inside information."
  • The book's contents "grossly distort the very core of Bridgewater's business — even falsely insinuating, in places, serious criminal impropriety."

Reality check: Bridgewater isn't a Ponzi, and, according to two sources familiar with its contents, the book doesn't insinuate any such thing.

  • The book does, however, cover the fabled "secret sauce" behind Bridgewater's investment returns, per one source.
  • According to the source, the book suggests that, Bridgewater's large and lavishly remunerated staff notwithstanding, the firm's big investment decisions ultimately came from just Dalio himself.

Between the lines: Bridgewater's letters claim the book could cause "very serious financial and reputational harm," as well as "significant damage to Bridgewater, its employees, and its clients."

  • The most likely way that could happen would be if Bridgewater's investors, after reading the book, pulled much of their $125 billion or so in assets under management.

My thought bubble: There's a small chance that true revelations in the book might cause some investors to exit the fund. There's close to zero chance that the heavily lawyered book by a respected reporter contains outright lies and falsehoods and that those allegations would cause an investor exodus.

  • The most likely scenario, however, is that the publication of the book has no effect on Bridgewater's assets at all.

Meanwhile: Citadel's Ken Griffin also hired Clare, in advance of the release this week of "Dumb Money," a film about the meme-stock craziness of early 2021.

  • In a letter dated August 17, Clare, this time joined by Bill Burck of Quinn Emanuel — wrote that Sony Pictures could face "substantial legal penalty" for defamation, as well as extra damages in the event the movie "damages Citadel Securities — a business that last year generated $7.5 billion."

The big picture: In the movie, Griffin, played by Nick Offerman, comes across as a largely amiable billionaire, albeit one who got rich from the order flow of "dumb money" retail investors. (That bit is entirely true.)

What they're saying: Clare tells Axios that his letter resulted in Sony changing the movie.

  • "The original script contained numerous fabrications," he says. "Thanks to our letter, Sony corrected them."
  • "We are glad our letter gave Sony the chance to correct some of its mistakes before the film was released."

The other side: The filmmakers categorically deny that Griffin or his lawyers caused any changes at all to the final cut.

  • "Anyone who sees this movie will know instantly: Ken Griffin had no role in shaping it," say executive producers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo in a statement to Axios.
  • "He doesn't want you to see this film. Which is why you should."

The bottom line: When you're a powerful billionaire, it's easy to hire aggressive lawyers whenever you're upset at how you might be portrayed.

  • The risk, however, is that the lawyers' nastygrams will precipitate news stories like the one you're reading now and create a Streisand effect, whereby even more people become aware of the portrayal in question — or even think it's much worse than it actually is.
  • Maybe that's why Griffin is on something of a media spree at the moment, doing everything from subpoenaing journalists to setting up charities.

Read more... "Dumb money:" A meme stock morality tale

Update: After this article was published, Zia Ahmed, the global head of communications at Citadel, emailed Axios to say that "Despite the author's conjectures to the contrary, the vast majority of Ken's annual income and net worth is driven by his ownership of the most successful hedge fund firm of all time, Citadel, and the activities of Citadel Securities unrelated to the handling of retail equity order flow."

Go deeper