Billionaire Obama Bundler Profits from Private Equity

President relies on bundler worth $1.1 billion despite attacks on industry

Hamilton James / AP
August 3, 2012

A recent addition to President Obama’s list of campaign bundlers is the billionaire president of one of the largest private equity firms in the world.

Hamilton "Tony" James is president and chief operating officer of the Blackstone Group, an international private equity firm currently managing $50 billion in assets.

James recently pledged to raise at least $500,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign, which has waged a relentlessly negative attack on Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital, a private equity firm.

On the very day the campaign initiated its attack on private equity in May, the president raised more than two million dollars at a fundraising event that James hosted.

White House visitor logs indicate that James has made at least two trips to the White House since Obama took office.

In addition to his bundling activity, James has personally donated, along with his wife Amabel, at least $217,600 to Democratic candidates and committees since 2007, including more than $12,000 to Obama.

James was one of several dozen ultra-wealthy Democratic donors in attendance at a Manhattan confab hosted by Obama campaign manager Jim Messina in February to discuss fundraising for the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action.

His considerable financial support for the president notwithstanding, James has expressed concern over the Obama campaign’s efforts to "villainize" private equity. "It’s not right," he said on CNBC. "You cannot have a healthy economy without a robust private equity industry."

A host of prominent Obama supporters have joined James in voicing this concern. Fellow campaign bundler and Newark Mayor Cory Booker called the attacks "nauseating."

James’ boss, Blackstone chairman and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, is a top fundraiser for Mitt Romney. Another Blackstone executive, Paul "Chip" Schorr, who has also donated to Romney, was vilified by the Obama campaign for "betting against America."

The campaign’s "Truth Team" website attacked the "less-than-reputable" Schorr for his role in a 2007 deal that may have resulted in several U.S. companies outsourcing work to India, as well as a 2006 buyout of a Colorado firm that allegedly resulted in hundreds of layoffs.

The Obama campaign has made similar allegations about Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital. James has said this criticism of private equity was misguided.

"It’s very easy to pick one or two for the benefit of hindsight that don’t work out and create an ugly picture," he told Bloomberg. "The truth is private equity creates jobs."

James is one of the wealthiest members of Obama’s bundler list, which includes dozens of multi-millionaires. Forbes estimated his net worth at $1.1 billion in 2010. The previous year, he ranked 366th on the Forbes list of richest Americans.

Between 2010 and 2011, James received more than $106 million in total compensation from Blackstone, where he has worked since November 2002. When the economy was in the midst of a crippling recession in 2009, he received a $20 million bonus.

Though James is known for his frugal lifestyle—he takes public transportation and buys his all dress shirts at Costco—he recently purchased a Manhattan penthouse apartment for $25 million.

James’ extensive career in finance dates back to 1975, when he joined the investment firm Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ) as a banking associate. He went on to lead the firm’s Global Mergers & Acquisitions department before serving as DLJ chairman from 1995 to 2000, when he left to become chairman of global investment banking and private equity at Credit Suisse First Boston.

President George W. Bush tapped Hamilton to serve on the President’s Export Council in September 2005. The two men were classmates at Harvard Business School.