At a black-tie dinner in April, a politically influential hedge fund manager named Paul Singer offered a blistering critique of the “terrible path” he said Washington politicians were charting on economic issues.
Mr. Singer, professorial and soft-spoken, used a gathering of business and government leaders at the conservative Manhattan Institute to lash out at “indiscriminate attacks by political leaders against anything that moves in the world of finance.” Government efforts to “take over and run” the economy through more regulations, he warned, threatened to ruin the United States’ standing as the world leader in finance.
As the head of a $17 billion hedge fund, Mr. Singer, a self-described Barry Goldwater conservative who is 66, is using his financial might to try to change those policies. He has become one of the biggest bankrollers of Republican causes, giving more than $4 million of his money and raising millions more through fund-raisers he hosts for like-minded candidates who often share his distaste for what they view as governmental over-meddling in the financial industry.
The same day in June that the House gave final approval to the sweepingoverhaul of financial regulations,Mr. Singer had a fund-raiser at his Central Park West apartment, netting more than $1 million for seven Republican Senate candidates who had opposed the bill. His hedge fund, Elliott Management, is the biggest source of money to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
With economic problems weighing heavily as the November elections approach, the divide between Republicans and Democrats in their attitudes toward Wall Street and the economy promises to be a recurring point of attack for both parties, and Mr. Singer is using his money to push conservative causes.
He is not new to fund-raising — he raised money for George W. Bush, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and, surprisingly, gay rights initiatives — but his prominence has risen lately with his donations as he and other conservatives tap into a rising tide of anger on Wall Street toward Washington. His largess reflects a recent surge in Wall Street money to Republicans.
Generally Democrats have been favored by Wall Street, getting 70 percent of donations from the securities and investment sector just 18 months ago. But by the time Congress took up the financial regulations legislation this June, Republicans were getting 68 percent of the donations, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.
In the 2010 election cycle, financial industry donors, from brokers to real estate interests, have contributed $180 million to both Republican and Democratic Congressional candidates, the analysis showed.
Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the center, said: “What this says is that Wall Street is awfully angry with Democrats and sees Republicans as a better bet. They’re making an investment in the prospect of a Republican-controlled Congress that they perceive to be more favorable toward their bottom line.”
For Democrats, the November elections will test their ability to focus public attention away from the country’s poor economy and toward the eye-popping sums that Wall Street is raising for Republicans. Already, Democrats are using the issue in a handful of hotly contested races because they believe many voters are even angrier with Wall Street than they are with Washington.
In Washington State, for instance, a spot broadcast this month by Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat seeking re-election, attacks her Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, as “the best friend Wall Street and big banks can buy.”
Ms. Murray — who has taken significant sums from the financial sector herself — is seeking to tie her opponent’s Wall Street contributions to his call for repealing the toughened financial regulations. Her commercial cites two fund-raisers in particular, including a June 30 event hosted by Mr. Singer that earned the Rossi campaign nearly $135,000, with many executives at his Elliott Management fund contributing personal checks.
Republicans maintain that the strategy has fallen flat.
“The Democrats have tried to make this anti-business rhetoric an attack point, but I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s resonated at all,” said Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
In the meantime, Mr. Singer has continued writing checks.
In April, he gave $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, along with smaller donations this election cycle to more than two dozen other conservative campaigns.
At his June fund-raiser, Mr. Singer voiced frustration not only over financial policies in Washington, but also on national security and foreign policy, particularly what he saw as the Obama administration’s inadequate support for Israel, according to a friend at the fund-raiser who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not comfortable speaking publicly about his guarded associate.
But very quietly, Mr. Singer has also given significant sums to personal causes that run counter to the agenda of many conservatives.
With no public disclosure, Mr. Singer has given more than $4.2 million to groups supporting gay rights and same-sex marriage, like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, associates said.
“Several of Paul’s family and friends are gay activists, and he has learned a lot from their work over the years,” said Myron Kaplan, a longtime friend and lawyer for Mr. Singer. “He supports the work of these groups. He also believes the Republican Party is a big tent, and he respects the different perspectives within the party on this issue.”
Mr. Singer plans to hold a fund-raiser next month at his Manhattan apartment in support of the California lawsuit opposing Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. Ken Mehlman, a former top Republican official who said this week that he was gay, will be one of the co-hosts.
Mr. Singer is guarded about his political and business dealings. He declined requests for an interview for this article, as he rarely gives interviews, and he has turned down several invitations to be honored for his philanthropy. He made news this week for trying to keep secret the internal positions of his hedge fund, going to court to try to identify the source of a leak of the firm’s investment newsletter.
Still, his visibility has grown, beginning in 2007 as a fund-raiser for Mr. Giuliani’s presidential campaign. Mr. Singer, who lent the former New York City mayor his jet for the campaign, was drawn into controversy when he was identified as the donor who indirectly contributed $175,000 to a California ballot initiative that Democrats saw as a way of tilting the state’s electoral votes toward Republicans in 2008.
His role at the Manhattan Institute — he became its chairman in 2008 — has also given him more visibility.
The April black-tie event that Mr. Singer hosted netted a record $1.4 million for the institute.
But Mr. Singer, ever the fund-raiser, could not resist another pitch for more money even as dinner was about to be served. “Have no fear,” he told his guests. “We will accept checks or credit cards at the door, jewelry, brightly colored bits of glass.”