Why are Democratic senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Max Baucus of Montana pressuring the Commerce Department to take action against China for currency manipulation? Officially, the Senators are concerned with the plight of U.S. manufacturers.
But inside Washington, this official line is viewed skeptically.
Neither Schumer nor Baucus are exactly known as the biggest supporters of US manufacturing. Rather, both have deep ties to Wall Street and hedge funds.
But money trails and whispers from K Street suggest this currency spat may have less to do with American factories and more to do with politically connected hedge funds engaged in currency speculation...
Both men raise more money from the "securities and investment" industry than from any other, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — and Schumer is the industry's top recipient. Schumer is also, by far, the top recipient of hedge fund money, having raised as much in the past two years as the top three Republicans combined.
Schumer's hedge fund ties are deep. When Democrats took over Congress in 2007, Schumer called the biggest hedge-fund managers to a New York dinner and told them, according to the New York Times, "If you want Washington to work with you, you had better work better with one another." Hedge funds launched political action committees, and the industry multiplied its political giving by four. Hedge fund lobbying spending exploded, too, and they hired away his top banking staffer as their lobbyist (she now raises funds for Schumer).
Currency exchange rates are a major playground for hedge funds. George Soros, for instance, has multiplied his hedge funds' value a hundred-fold through currency speculation. One K Street lobbyist told me he's received phone calls this week from a hedge-fund client desperate to learn if and when Schumer and Baucus's fight to un-peg the yuan might go through Congress.
So the question is this: Which hedge funds are betting on the yuan rising versus the dollar (or possibly even falling)? And is anyone at that fund keeping in touch with Schumer?