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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Private equity's loudest political antagonists were back at it over the weekend, wrongly arguing that Taylor Swift's contract dispute is illustrative of the industry's rapaciousness.

What happened: While Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez each tweeted that private equity must be "reined in," they'll need to publicly wrestle at some point with how private equity is fueled by public pension systems that they otherwise support.

How it works: U.S. public pensions are the single largest investor in U.S. private equity funds, according to the most recently-available data, having hundreds of billions of dollars of exposure.

  • They've also increased their participation in direct private equity deals, often via co-investments with portfolio managers, with PitchBook reporting that 2018 saw a record number of domestic PE deals with public pension participation.

Why it matters: Any new regulation on U.S. private equity could have downstream impact on U.S. public pensions, many of which already have long-term challenges in meeting their member obligations.

  • Some changes, such as around the tax treatment of carried interest, would have a relatively small impact, if any.
  • Some changes, like Warren's plan to make PE funds liable for leveraged financing, would significantly impact public pension returns and allocation plans.

Yes, but: A popular progressive argument is that public pensions shouldn't invest in fee-heavy private equity at all, instead putting that money into public equity index funds.

  • There is some data to back this up, but it tends to ignore the value of diversification for public pensions with ongoing obligations, and imply that the past decade's bull run for public equities is normal.

The bottom line: Private equity and public pensions are tightly interconnected. To see the change they want, Warren and AOC may ultimately need to focus less on Taylor and Twitter, and more on the public pension leaders who represent part of their base.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

4 hours ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.

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