When parties are bad PR for the rich
Everyone loves a good party. Except, on occasion, the image-conscious superrich.
From Steve Schwarzman to Sean Parker to Steve Cohen, billionaires who host ill-timed or ill-considered parties can quickly feel the PR pain—especially at a time of growing populism and negative attention on the rich.
Cohen's weekend soiree is just the latest in the ongoing series of wealth parties gone wild. According to someone familiar with the matter, Cohen held a party at his 10-bedroom beach estate in the Hamptons on Saturday—just two days after his firm was indicted for insider trading.
It was a small gathering by billionaire standards, only a "few dozen people attended," said Reuters.
(Read more: SAC's Cohen throws a party, despite indictment)
The party was aimed at thanking donors to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, a popular charity among the Hamptons set. On Saturday, the fund held its Super Saturday fundraiser, which included stars like Kelly Ripa and Edie Falco, in Water Mill, N.Y.
A spokesperson for the fund said that while Cohen purchased a VIP table at the event, they are not sure if he attended. They said that any party at Cohen's house "was not connected in any way" to its Super Saturday fundraiser.
The big problem with the party, of course, was timing. Cohen's hedge fund, SAC Capital, had been charged two days earlier by the U.S. Attorney with a "systematic" insider trading scheme from 1999 to 2010. While Cohen may be trying to give the appearance of normalcy to friends, family and co-workers, some PR experts say his party was ill-timed.
"What he should really be doing is keeping a low profile," said Robert Dilenschneider, the founder and CEO of The Dilenschneider Group, a communications firm. "If he can beat the charges, then he can have a party. But not before."
The party follows Cohen's equally defiant purchases over the past year. In November, he bought a Picasso painting for $150 million. And this spring, as his legal battles were heating up, he acquired a $60 million home in the Hamptons.
(Read more: Hamptons home sales hit record)
Dilenschneider said that Cohen's party and purchases could also impact his legal case.
"A judge sitting there reading about the Picasso and real estate and party would be asking 'why is this man doing this when he has such a serious matter in front of him?' " Dilenschneider said. "And for any jury, they can't even think about purchasing a $150 million painting. They would say 'who is this guy?' "
Of course, Cohen is not the first billionaire to experience party backlash. Sean Parker had to do damage control after his wedding in Big Sur resulted in environmental violations. After the incident, Parker made a $2.5 million donation to a conservation group. Parker has said that the violations were not his fault and that he was careful to preserve the forest during the planning and wedding.
(Read more: Most outrageous weddings)
Private equity chief Steve Schwarzman has also learned the downside of conspicuous partying. His 60th birthday party in 2007 attracted widespread media attention. It came amid rising anti-Wall Street sentiment and months before housing prices started to weaken and credit began to tighten leading up to the financial crisis.
The party featured a reconstruction of Schwarzman's living room at the Park Avenue Armory as well as a private concert by Rod Stewart.
—By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank.