GOP donor-run hedge fund has seat on Twitter board but can't say anything about tech firm's policies

Key Points
  • Powerful GOP donor Paul Singer leads Elliott Management, an activist firm with a seat on Twitter's board.
  • But there's not a thing he can do about its policy decisions, which are increasingly drawing President Donald Trump's ire. 
  • As part of a March agreement between Elliott and Twitter, Elliott can't share its opinion about, or attempt to influence, the social media platform's policies. 

In this article

Paul Singer
David A. Grogan | CNBC

Powerful GOP donor Paul Singer is founder and co-CEO of a hedge fund with a seat on Twitter's board.

But that doesn't mean Singer can influence the social media giant's policies to be more sympathetic to his party or President Donald Trump – even as the commander in chief rails against Twitter.  

As part of a deal with Twitter earlier this year, the fund, Elliott Management, agreed that it will neither share its opinion on Twitter policy nor try to influence its decisions. 

That's despite Elliott's track record of pushing for large corporate actions, and Singer's own history of making his political and policy views known on issues ranging from the Dodd-Frank bank reform bill to taxation. 

Twitter has begun to take a more active role in political discourse, stamping warning signs on content it deems inflammatory, dangerous or wrong. The company recently turned heads when it applied the standards to some of Trump's tweets.

Last week, it slapped warning labels on two of the president's tweets that made misleading claims about mail-in voting. It later hid a post from Trump that it said glorifies violence, when he tweeted, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," after protests and riots broke out in Minneapolis following George Floyd's death. Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a police officer held his knee to his neck for more than eight minutes. 

Trump, in turn, has threatened the social media giant and other tech firms with an executive order he says would crackdown on censorship. Opponents say the move threatens the First Amendment. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has shown no indications of plans to back down to Trump's threats, tweeting on Monday a demand for "police reform now," following a weekend of protests and riots in the wake of Floyd's death.


Elliott Management and private equity firm Silver Lake Capital, which both have representatives on Twitter's board, have been silent on the company's recent policy moves. The funds won the seats after Elliott, which had a roughly 4% stake in Twitter as of March, threatened to wage a proxy fight against the company and push for the removal of Dorsey

Legally, neither Elliott nor Silver Lake can say a thing.

To stave off a likely brutal fight between Elliott and Twitter, the two struck a deal in March that added Elliott partner Jesse Cohn and Silver Lake co-CEO Egon Durban to the Twitter board.  The board agreed to the creation of a subcommittee to review the company's leadership structure − including its succession plan − and publicly disclose the results of that review by the end of the year. Twitter on Tuesday appointed former Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette as the company's new chairman of the board. 

The deal also included a $1 billion investment in Twitter from Silver Lake, which the social media company said would fund a $2 billion share repurchase program. 

And − according to documents Twitter filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission − it ensured that Silver Lake and Elliott will not "comment on nor influence, nor attempt to influence, directly or indirectly" any company policy, rules, or enforcement decisions "with respect to the independence or impartiality of decisions related to content moderation on the Twitter platform or access to Twitter user data."

That stipulation was pushed for by Twitter, a person familiar with the situation told CNBC. It was also supported by Elliott, which did not want added speculation about the firm's influence on Twitter's policies, another person said. 

The deal for Twitter means two fewer voices to listen to, as the political landscape grows more heated five months out from the presidential election. It also gives Twitter assurances to offer its employees that its executives are making their decisions without pressure from its new investors.

That safeguard comes as Facebook employees hold virtual walkouts in protest over Facebook's decisions to let Trump's controversial stay on the social media website. 

For Elliott and Silver Lake, the effect is hazier. Financially, it's not clear that there will be any impact from the policy dispute on Twitter's bottom line, which is usually the primary focus of investors like Elliott and Silver Lake. 

Still, Singer, the billionaire founder of Elliott, is not known for staying quiet.

Singer has poured millions into supporting the Republican Party. He was, at one point, a staunch Trump opponent, financing a conservative website that hired Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on the president when he was still a candidate.

Since Trump has become president, though, Singer has continued to fund the GOP. In a speech last year at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the free market think tank he chairs, he attacked policies pushed by the Democratic presidential candidates as "left-wing statism lubricated by showers of free stuff promised by politicians who believe that money comes from a printing press rather than the productive efforts of business people and workers."

The political views of Jesse Cohn, the Elliott representative on Twitter's board are less well known. Cohn worked in the mergers and acquisitions group at Morgan Stanley and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. He is also a board member of eBay.

Elliott and Silver Lake declined to comment. Twitter didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.