Congress vs. Hedge Funds


This Bloomberg story that covered how James Simons, the highest-paid hedge-fund manager in the U.S. last year (and one of the Forbes 500 richest Americans), could pay enough in Medicare taxes to provide health insurance for about 4,800 senior citizens is a good story about a policy fight that is about to be engaged. Rep. Sander Levin has proposed requiring that the earnings of such executives to be classified as compensation and subject them to the 2.9 percent Medicare tax.

But as a policy story, there was more I wanted to know, not the least of which was an understanding of the chances of Levin’s proposal becoming law. Seems like a story about an upcoming legislative battle that doesn’t mention the power of money and its influence is something like writing a novel without describing the scenery. The web of money, power and influence is at the very heart of the bloodstream in Washington, and it give a sense of perspective to everything that happens, or doesn’t here. (I’m not suggesting that money always gets it’s way…it’s never as simple as that.)

Sunlight’s job is, in part, to help digging into this easier. And it’s getting there, in part because of the numeous databases that we have helped to faciliate and in the case in point, thanks to a newly-improved search engine on the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website. You’ll find it right at the top left-hand side of the home page, marked out in red.

In the old days — not that long ago — that search engine used to turn up loads of information, but now it’s much more useful. Now that’s changed. A search for "hedge funds", for example, brings up links to a brand-new profile on the industry, showing the top donors and recipients; two stories from the Center’s Capital Eye newsletter investigating the rising political clout of hedge funds (and the money behind it); and a rundown of how much the funds have given to leading presidential candidates.

There’s even a link to CRP’s database of congressional travel showing trips members of Congress have taken hosted by the Managed Fund Association, which represents hedge funds in Washington. Look around and draw your own conclusions about how far Levin’s proposal will go.

The OpenSecrets search engine took 0.11 seconds to find all those links. Clearly, it also takes time to click on a few and get the broader picture. But the information is there — in one place and instantly available — even though this research (and the databases behind them) may have taken years to compile.

It’s a godsend to any time-harried journalist or citizen who’s exploring power and influence in Washington. Getting these facts can enrich a narrative from a quick sketch of party-line quotes into a much fuller portrait of what’s really going on behind the quotes and beneath the surface. And that, after all, is what reporting is supposed to be all about.