PE influence in nation’s capital rising

Private equity professionals have been converging on Washington, D.C., as many have taken positions in President Obama’s administration or to pursue elective office.

Whether they’re able to steer new legislation and regulation in the industry’s direction remains to be seen.

In the most recent example, Bain Capital Managing Director Stephen Pagliuca, a Democrat, announced he’s running for the seat left vacant by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. In a heavily Democratic state with an abundance of sports fans (Pagliuca became a part-owner of the Boston Celtics prior to their 2008 championship season), Pagliuca would appear to have a good chance of winning the senate seat.

In August, Jason Tepperman, an associate with Baker Capital and a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, left to take a position in the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Stability.

In July, Jeffery Goldstein left Hellman & Friedman, where he was a managing director, after Obama appointed him under secretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department. And Steven Rattner, founding partner of the Quadrangle Group, left that firm in February to lead the administration’s auto task force, a position he then gave up in July after overseeing the bankruptcies of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler.

A growing presence in Washington, D.C., can only help the industry as it faces a number of legislative and regulatory issues. While Tepperman, Goldstein and others might not have direct control of policies related to private equity, they could help educate legislators and regulators about the industry.

Among the issues looming is a proposed change in the way carried interest is taxed. Though the issue has taken a back seat to health care, the economy and other issues, Doug Lowenstein, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Private Equity Council, said he expects it to resurface in 2010 or the year after.

Other politically charged issues to weigh heavily on the PE industry include the pay-to-play scandal in New York, proposed rules governing how easy it is for buyout firms to invest in banks, and proposed legislation to require buyout firms with more than $30 million under management to register as investment advisors with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Not everyone in the industry has faith that folks in Washington, D.C., will respond sympathetically to the concerns of buyout professionals.

“People whom I know and respect that are very close advisors to this administration on private equity investing, capital markets, etc., relay to me that this administration is nearly clueless and has no idea what they are doing,” the head of a New York-based mid-market buyout shop wrote in an e-mail. —Bernard Vaughan