Wall Street titans are financing a direct challenge to firebrand progressive lawmaker Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the New York primary on June 23.
Disclosures show that over four dozen finance industry professionals, including several prominent private equity executives and investment bankers, made early donations to Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former CNBC contributor who is challenging Ocasio-Cortez. Caruso-Cabrera was a registered Republican until a few years ago and authored a 2010 book advocating for several conservative positions, including an end to Medicare and Social Security, which she called “pyramid schemes.”
The donors include Glenn Hutchins, the billionaire co-founder of Silver Lake Partners; James Passin of Firebird Capital; Bruce Schnitzer of Wand Partners; Jeffrey Rosen of Lazard; and Bradley Seaman, managing partner of Parallel49 Equity. The chief executives of Goldman Sachs and Virtu Financial, as well as the former chief executive of PNC Bank, James Rohr, are also among the Caruso-Cabera donors.
“I met Michelle when she was a business reporter and she is bright and understands the financial markets well,” said Doug Cifu, the chief executive of Virtu Financial, one of the donors who gave $2,800 to Caruso-Cabrera. “Her opponent,” Cifu added, “does not in my view.”
The Caruso-Cabrera campaign announced last week that it had collected nearly $1 million in fundraising over the first quarter of this year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is funded by anonymous corporate donations and has spent tens of millions of dollars electing congressional Republicans, also said recently that it would mobilize business interests in support of Caruso-Cabrera.
In her first year in office, Ocasio-Cortez has used her perch in Congress to eviscerate leading figures on Wall Street. During congressional hearings last April, she pushed JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon over whether bankers should have been criminally prosecuted over the 2008 financial crisis.
“I wasn’t sent here to safeguard and protect profit, I was sent here to safeguard and protect people,” said Ocasio-Cortez in November during a hearing over the conduct of the private equity industry and its role in downsizing companies.
Ocasio-Cortez has served as a lightning rod in the Democratic Party, attracting criticism from more business-friendly elements of the establishment over her outspoken support for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and her advocacy for policies such as Medicare for All.
The lurch towards that left has provoked some traditionally Republican interests, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to use the New York primary this summer as an opportunity to push back on the ideological shift represented by Ocasio-Cortez.
Kenneth Langone, a billionaire investor and major donor to GOP causes, donated the legal maximum to Caurso-Cabrera.
Steve Holzman, the head of the hedge fund Vantis Capital and a previous donor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, donated to Caruso-Cabrera. Lobbyist Ron Christie, a former aide to Dick Cheney, also gave to the challenger’s campaign.
Other donors include Facundo Bacardi, an heir to the Bacardi fortune; Thaddeus Arroyo, a leading executive at AT&T; and Jeff Kwatinetz, an entertainment industry promoter who has represented Korn and Limp Bizkit in the past.
Ocasio-Cortez released her fundraising numbers, showing that she has brought in over $8 million this election cycle, with $3.5 million in cash on hand.
Caruso-Cabrera does not have a policy page outlining her beliefs or positions on her campaign website. In recent radio interviews, she has positioned herself as a stalwart of the moderate faction of the Democratic Party, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Joe Biden. “I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-same sex marriage, I’m very pro-immigrant, I am centrist for sure,” Caruso-Cabrera said on New York’s AM 970.
But the candidate’s beliefs are explained in detail in a book she authored in 2010 titled, “You Know I’m Right: More Prosperity, Less Government,” which included a forward by Larry Kudlow, who now serves as President Donald Trump’s director of the National Economic Council.
In the book, Caruso-Cabrera calls Medicare and Social Security “the country’s biggest pyramid schemes,” and wrote that she would end both programs in favor of a privatized voucher system. Medicare, Caruso-Cabrera wrote, “is another pay-as-you-go Ponzi scheme” that should be replaced with a health savings account that gives “seniors $1,000 or $2,000 a year to start.” Social Security, she notes, should be replaced with a private account system, in which Americans are incentivized to invest in the stock market.
Caruso-Cabrera devotes an entire chapter to the many policy successes of the Reagan administration, and writes that she favors tax cuts and deregulation, including eliminating entire federal agencies such as the Labor Department.
Some of the most strident language in the book is reserved for the Obama administration’s attempts to crack down on wealthy individuals who had taken advantage of offshore tax havens. The push to force Switzerland to hand over the names of U.S. nationals using secret bank accounts to dodge taxes, she wrote, put America on a “dangerous path” that would enable foreign dictatorships to similarly seize wealth kept abroad.
“Freedom and democracy are best secured when banking secrecy and tax havens exist,” Caruso-Cabrera wrote.
Update: April 15, 2020, 8:50 p.m.
The Caruso-Cabrera campaign sent a statement following publication. “MCC has said from the very beginning she got into this race to bring jobs and opportunity back to the working people of the Bronx and Queens. When she’s elected, her office will be ‘open for business.’ Now, more than ever we need jobs,” said spokesperson Katy Delgado.
Update: April 16, 2020
This story has been updated to reflect new financial disclosures by the Caruso-Cabrera and Ocasio-Cortez campaigns.
Correction: April 20, 2020
This story has been updated to reflect that James Rohr is the former, not the current, chief executive of PNC Bank.