Donald Trump's $64 private equity question

As the race for the White House enters the home stretch, the polls may sometimes show the two candidates neck and neck. As for private equity support, however, one candidate is clearly bringing up the (very distant) rear.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has racked up a grand total of $64 from a single employee at the top five PEI 300 firms – Blackstone, KKR, Warburg Pincus, Advent International and The Carlyle Group.

This could hardly be more different to the last election cycle, during which employees from those firms overwhelmingly backed fellow Republican presidential candidate and former private equity executive Mitt Romney. They had contributed nearly $500,000 as of mid-September 2012 to Romney, according to data collected by opensecrets.org.

Most Clinton supporters Private Equity International has spoken to say she symbolises continuity and stability, which is good for private equity.

“There's a track record on how she would behave,” a partner based in New York says. “Trump has spent his career in the private sector, so it's less clear how he would govern.”

Not everyone has rallied to the Clinton camp, however; some remain conflicted. “I have not made up my mind,” says a managing director who specifies that he votes in a non-swing state. “Maybe I'll vote libertarian. I'm still undecided.”

The same managing director adds that he has not heard a lot of people in the industry coming out in support of Trump. But that's not to say he doesn't have supporters in the world of private capital.

A handful of high-profile figures are in the Trump camp, including his longtime business partner and friend Tom Barrack, who founded Colony Capital; Wilbur Ross, who founded WL Ross; and Saul Fox, who founded Fox Paine. Fox even held a $25,000-per-ticket fundraiser for Trump at his home in Silicon Valley over the summer.

In an interview with PEI's sister publication PERE in April, Barrack said his “enthusiasm for Donald is based on his ability to get things done, consolidate differing constituencies, and administer a multitude of complex business and regulatory issues with grace and ease as he adapts to changing situations”.

Most Trump supporters PEI has spoken to, however, would rather keep it quiet, mainly to avoid upsetting their investors. One partner at an East Coast-based firm asked not to be named in this article as a donor to the campaign, despite the information already being publicly available.

Meanwhile, two partners at other private equity firms said they made up their minds a long time ago that they're going to vote for Trump, but don't want their limited partners to find out.

“My investors wouldn't like that,” says one of them. “But I don't like Hillary's politics. I don't like what she stands for socially. She's not transparent.”

“I'm definitely the exception,” says the other partner. “I can't have a rational discussion with my peers about the elections.” He recognises and acknowledges that from a personal financial standpoint Clinton would be a better candidate, but he says he's seeking a major political and economic change for the nation.

“Private equity loves Hillary Clinton, because I and my peers have done tremendously well under Obama and Bush,” he says, adding that Clinton would perpetuate the status quo. “I'm voting against my self-interest in voting for Donald Trump, but it's been a great run and it's time to give back.”