House ethics probe into Grayson's hedge-fund moonlighting

How often do investors get advice from hedge-fund managers to seek out “blood in the streets” before investing in hot spots? Probably as often as they have to call the manager Congressman. The House ethics committee has opened an investigation into Alan Grayson, the Florida Democrat seeking the nomination for the state’s open US Senate seat, for mixing public service with private enrichment, the New York Times’ Eric Lipton reported late yesterday:

This highly unusual dual role — a sitting House lawmaker running a hedge fund, which until recently had operations in the Cayman Islands — has led to an investigation of Mr. Grayson by the House Committee on Ethics.

The inquiry has become public, but emails and marketing documents obtained by The New York Times show the extent to which Mr. Grayson’s roles as a hedge fund manager and a member of Congress were intertwined, and how he promoted his international travels, some with congressional delegations, to solicit business.

Interviews and the documents show that Mr. Grayson told potential investors in his hedge fund that they should contribute money to the fund to capitalize on the unrest he observed around the world, and to take particular advantage when there was “blood in the streets.”

The emails also show how Mr. Grayson’s work for the hedge fund — which had $16.4 million in assets as of October and only four investors since it was established — at times interfered with his other duties. In August 2015, after Mr. Grayson introduced legislation calling for larger annual increases in Social Security benefits, he signed off on a plan to highlight the proposal at an event in Tampa, Fla., emails obtained by The Times show. But the plan was scuttled, two former aides said, when economic turmoil in China sent stock markets tumbling globally and Mr. Grayson had to turn his attention to the fund.

This is a curious streak of progressive populist, no? Grayson loves to rail on about Wall Street and capitalists, all while running a hedge fund based in part in the Cayman Islands. Four years ago, Democrats tore into Mitt Romney for having a portion of his investments in the Caymans, a tax haven commonly used by wealthy Americans.

This goes beyond hypocrisy, however. Lipton reports that Grayson had campaign staff doing double duty for both his endeavors. His former spokesman was a vice president in the fund while acting as treasurer for the 2012 campaign. His campaign finance director got paid for finding investors at the same time.

Other Grayson political aides tried to get him to dump the side job months ago. Lipton gained access to an e-mail exchange between Grayson and his former Senate campaign manager Doug Dodson in which Grayson was urged to get out before the story blew up. Grayson refused, telling Dodson that it would make him look guilty. “I don’t see how closing the account would change anything,” Grayson wrote on June 30th, 2015. “The media would take that as an admission of wrongdoing.”

That brings us to a very curious point in Lipton’s tale. Dodson wrote earlier on that same day that “the reporters want to write this story badly it is pretty obvious.” This did get reported by the Washington Free Beacon and Saint Petersblog (as well as Daily Kos) within a week to ten days of that e-mail chain. Two months previous to that, Tampa Bay Times reporter Adam Smith had asked about it, and wound up getting a rather bizarre response from the sitting Congressman, which is when I first wrote about the hedge-fund angle:

“This is even worse than Grayson’s girlfriend might run for congress 18 months from now,” referring to a recent Politico story attributed to no named sources. “This is a whole nother level of bull—-….Are are you some kind of sh—–g robot? You go around sh—-g on on people?”

Grayson said he is “probably going to run” for the U.S. Senate and will make a final decision within 60 days. Every time “some bull—- artist calls you up and tries to stick a knife in my gut” makes him more inclined to run, he added.

The “sh—–g robot” meme lived for a few days on Twitter, but other than local and conservative media, the story didn’t go far. In fact, despite the obviously colorful “sh—–g robot” hook, this is the first story that the New York Times has run on Grayson’s hedge fund. That seems odd, considering the NYT’s self-concept as the Paper of Record for both politics and the investment community. Even odder is the fact that it took so long for the House ethics committee to take up the case, and for the investigation to become public. Had someone like Darrell Issa run a hedge fund out of the Cayman Islands, I suspect the media interest in this case would have been significantly more pressing.