Rattner’s rabbi

By Felix Salmon
December 8, 2010
account of the feud between Andrew Cuomo and Steve Rattner, there's a startling kicker:

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At the bottom of the NYT‘s long and fascinating account of the feud between Andrew Cuomo and Steve Rattner, there’s a startling kicker:

After earning millions from managing Mr. Bloomberg’s fortune, Mr. Rattner now advises the billionaire mayor without pay, as the terms of his S.E.C. settlement require, reducing a onetime Wall Street titan to a volunteer.

This is news, I think, and fascinating, to boot. In its press release, the SEC said only that Rattner had “consented to the entry of a Commission order that will bar him from associating with any investment adviser or broker-dealer with the right to reapply after two years”; when Dan Primack called Bloomberg for comment, he was told that “Mr Rattner is a friend whose advice the Mayor has and will continue to rely on.”

Why is Rattner working without pay for Bloomberg? A few possibilities present themselves:

  • Bloomberg is somehow paying Rattner under the table, or in kind, or with some kind of nod-and-a-wink understanding that Rattner will somehow be able to invoice for services rendered at some point in the future, a bit like Mike Milken managing to charge $50 million in M&A advisory fees even after he was barred from the securities industry for life.
  • Rattner is hopeful that he’ll be able to charge for his investment-advisory services once he’s able to reapply in two years; obviously it’s worth staying in charge of Bloomberg’s multi-billion-dollar portfolio for a couple of years unpaid if you get to start charging for managing it in the foreseeable future.
  • Rattner loves the idea that he’s found a loophole in the SEC agreement he made, and can continue to manage Bloomberg’s money for him even though it would seem that the SEC agreement prevented him from doing that.

I suspect that the real reason, though, is hinted at a bit earlier in the NYT story, when it says that Bloomberg is Rattner’s “most coveted and prestigious client,” and that Rattner’s relationship with the mayor “has conferred credibility and stature on Mr. Rattner despite the legal pall that hangs over him.” Rattner needs a rabbi to protect him, and Bloomberg is the best possible rabbi he could have, with the possible exception of Barack Obama himself.

Earlier in the piece, there’s this:

The attorney general was known to be especially galled that in February 2009, in the midst of the investigation, Mr. Rattner had accepted the high-level post in the White House, overseeing a task force reorganizing the American automobile industry, and later announced he would write a book about the experience.

Cuomo clearly thinks that Rattner was hoping to protect himself with Obama’s coattails, and generally bolster his reputation as much as possible through public service. When that didn’t work, Rattner turned from Obama to Bloomberg for protection. I wonder how much that’s worth to him—how much Rattner would be prepared to pay in order to retain his connection to Bloomberg.

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