As Wall Street reels, a common discussion thread is the horror if Bush had pushed through his plan to privatize Social Security. And those of us in government and the few private sector folks with defined benefit retirement plans are still feeling good. But all this chaos is reminding me of a theme I found in my last major research project for the San Francisco Examiner back in 2005. The meat of my findings – as I pored over then-newly released records of management fees paid to private equity managers by the California Public Employees Retirement System – never made print. And the findings were troubling. I found a clear correlation between political contributions to elected officials with seat or appointments to the board and business those contributors got from CalPERS. This is big, serious business.
I know that my analysis of the data was highly interpretive – there was no smoking gun, only troubling trends. However, as an active networker, I know the benefits of face time and exposure. Handshakes at fundraisers tend to help handshakes after a vote on equity management and management fees. To help ensure the long-term future of public retirement plans, I highly favor a ban on donations by equity managers doing business with the public pensions, or radical reform in how the boards are constituted.