Meet the fossil-fuel loving hedge fund billionaire behind Hillary's surge

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to workers inside the employee dining room at Harrah's Las Vegas on February 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

There it is! The memorized 25-second speech! There it is, everybody!

-- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, when Sen. Marco Rubio kept repeating himself in a GOP presidential debate earlier this month.

Hillary Clinton hasn't exactly been a lion in winter during her slow march toward the Democratic nomination. To be sure, her narrow win Saturday in Nevada seems to shore up her chances of defeating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and winning the Democratic presidential nomination that will be doled out right here in Philadelphia in July; polls do show that so far she's holding onto enough black and Latino support to probably get wins in South Carolina and some other early Southern primary states. Still, the Sanders campaign has had the Clinton-juggernaut-that-wasn't running a bit scared.

The self-proclaimed "democratic socialist" nearly won in Iowa, short just a handful of votes and maybe a coin flip or two. Sanders then trounced Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire before Saturday's hard-fought Clinton win in Nevada. The Vermonter is walloping the former secretary of state among most voters under 30. Shocking numbers of Democrats, in exit polls, have questioned Clinton's honesty and integrity. What's most surprising is that the Clinton brain trust has abandoned its natural instinct to hide its anxieties from the world.

The New York Times reported last week that Clinton's top fundraisers and strategists had an emergency meeting to discuss ways to retool the campaign. What struck me about the piece was not so much the "who" or the "what" as the "where."

Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager briefed some of her most loyal and active fund-raisers this morning about the upcoming Nevada caucuses and responded to frustrations among some of her donors that the campaign needed to do a better job of demonstrating its successful mobilization of grassroots activists and small donors.

Robby Mook, the Clinton campaign manager, sat at the head of a conference table in the New York office of Clinton donor and Wall Street investor Marc Lasry, according to accounts from people in the room.

There it is! There it is, everybody! Even with Clinton bleeding support from the Democrats' liberal base under Sanders' attacks about her all-too-cozy ties with Wall Street, her campaign retreated to the refuge of a hedge fund billionaire when it was at its low point. Just like Marco Rubio got stuck on his scripted talking points in that GOP debate because he didn't know what else to do, Hillary Clinton returns to the financial district and her alliance with billionaire donors because she doesn't know where else to go. At this point it should be fairly obvious that close relationships with hedge-funders and other powerful corporations is not a bug infecting the Clinton campaign. It's a feature.

But just who exactly is Clinton donor and Wall Street investor Marc Lasry?

The mid-50-something Lasry is certainly on one level an American success story -- born in Morocco, he and his family took the proverbial Marrakesh Express to the United States when he was just seven; he earned a law degree and specialized in bankruptcies during the Reagan era before moving into hedge funds that would focus on distressed companies in the 1990s. Today he's considered one of the top hedge-fund managers around -- reportedly earning $280 million in one year, 2013, according to Forbes.

"Obviously, what we make is absolutely obscene," Lasry told a 2007 forum on hedge funds. "I think it's too much. I'm not saying it's wrong ... (but) trust me, the dollars are still obscene."

Unlike many of his peers on Wall Street, Lasry considers himself a liberal Democrat, and he says he opposes the so-called carried interest loophole that allows some billionaire traders to pay a lower federal income tax rate than their secretaries. But Lasry is also a leader of the Street's "hurt feelings" crowd who had the nerve to complain a few years back when President Obama and a few other, mostly Democratic pols uttered mild criticisms over the fact that financial speculation crashed much of the world economy in 2008.

Reported Politico in its 2013 piece, "Lament of the Plutocrats":

Shortly after the [2012] election, in a bid for rapprochement, the hedge fund executive Marc Lasry—a major [Democratc] party donor—tried to stage an intervention. In November, after  [top Obama aide Valerie] Jarrett showed interest in trying to reboot relations, he led a mission of Wall Street executives to Washington, where they met with her and other senior White House economic advisers in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. In addition to Lasry, the meeting included Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, Fortress Investment Group co-chairman Wes Edens and Morgan Stanley President Gary Fleming, among others. In a conversation that was described as cordial, the two sides batted around ideas on reaching a budget deal. “The tone from them was, ‘Let’s hear what you guys have to say. Let’s get your views and start a dialogue,’” says one Wall Street attendee at the meeting.

Reports on the meeting’s outcome are mixed. Some attendees told us the bankers came away convinced that nothing would change. Others believed the conference marked a change in White House tone, at least.

It probably didn't hurt the introductions that Lasry's own son had worked as an aide to Jarrett, who's probably closer to President Obama than anyone in Washington outside of his own family. [Or that Lasry raised a reported $500,000 for Obama's re-election, and became a backer of the future Obama library.] His daughter, meanwhile, had worked for then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, before Emanuel became Obama's chief of staff and then mayor of Chicago.

It just looks like one big incestuous world, Wall Street and Washington, and the ties flow in both directions. In 2006, when Hillary Clinton was New York's junior U.S. senator and plotting her first presidential campaign, Masry hired Chelsea Clinton to work at his company, Avenue Capital Group, despite her lack of prior hedge fund experience. (That same year, when Hillary Clinton was running for re-election to the Senate, she was flown round-trip to a political event in Connecticut on Avenue Capital's private jet and her campaign was billed $408.)

At the same time, Chelsea Clinton's future husband, Marc Mezvinsky, was working for the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, which in turn was reportedly a large investor in Lasry's hedge fund. This same nexus -- Marc  Lasry, Goldman Sachs, and the Clinton family -- surfaces again and again, whether in large donations to the Clinton Foundation or the $675,000 in paid Hillary Clinton speeches to Goldman Sachs that have become such an issue in the Democratic primaries this winter.

Nowhere is that nexus more apparent than in the hedge fund called Eaglevale Partners that was co-founded by Hillary Clinton's son-in-law Mezvinsky, and where, according to a March 2015 report in the New York Times, "Tens of millions of dollars raised by Eaglevale can be attributed to investors with some relationship or link to the Clintons."

Not surprisingly, that list includes Marc Lasry, who told the Times that he invested $1 milliion in the Mezvinsky fund and urged a close relative to also invest, adding: ''I gave them [Eaglevale] money because I thought they would make me money.'' Other early investors in Eaglevale include Goldman's major partners including the firm's controversial CEO, Lloyd Blankfein.

In 2015, when Clinton announced her long-expected second bid for the White House, Lasry promised to raise $270,000 for her as a bundler in the very first week of her campaign. And as his involvement in hosting last week's key meeting suggests, he continues to play an outsized role; presumably if Clinton is elected in November, he will find it easier to get a meeting at the White House than he did during the Obama/Jarrett years, if that's possible.

After a decade in which almost all of America's income gains went to the top 1 Percent -- the folks making "absolutely obscene" amounts of money, in Lasry's own words, the tone deafness of Hillary Clinton wooing the angry liberal base of the Democratic Party while clinging to her Wall Street connections simply boggles the mind. (And they said Nixon had a self-destructive streak!) But there's one other thing that may be the most troubling about the Lasry-Clinton link.

Over the last year or two, as oil and natural gas prices began to plummet and many energy companies found themselves in fiscal hot water, Lasry and his Avenue Capital made a huge bet (that's what hedge fund guys do, right?) on companies tied to fossil fuels -- oil, gas, and coal. According to reports in the financial press, Lasry continued to maintain and build his position even as oil prices continued to plunge to their lowest levels in more than a decade.

“It is now just a question of when the energy turnaround takes place in the next 3-months, 6-months or a year…….crude oil is going to be at $70 to $90 two years from now," Lasry told CNBC last year. Maybe so, but tonight the price of crude oil is just 31.48 a barrel, and that's up from a week or two ago.

Here's the thing: The financial health of Hillary Clinton's most enthusiastic Wall Street backer depends on years of renewed high demand for fossil fuels -- right at the time when the greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels are threatening the fate of the Earth with catastrophic climate change. If Clinton becomes America's 45th president on January 20 next year, she will have a series of monumental decisions on climate -- with the power to regulate power plants that burn coal, possibly from Lasry-backed companies, or to approve new oil pipelines or curb the use of so-called "oil bomb" trains that pass through Philadelphia and so many other major U.S. cities.

And Lasry won't be the only big fossil-fuel fan with more access to a Clinton presidency than you or me -- or the other regular folks whose main connection to carbon pollution is merely breathing it. Just last month, at the height of campaigning in Iowa when the race was neck-and-neck, Clinton dropped everything to come to a fundraiser here in Philadelphia hosted by Franklin Square Capital, yet another Hillary-backing investment firm that's big into fracking and other types of fossil fuel extraction.

These are the stakes in the 2016 election. The prominence of someone like Marc Lasry -- and his friends at Goldman Sachs or his allies at Franklin Square Capital -- should give pause to any primary voter who's not happy with the status quo in our American kleptocracy of billionaires, who wants to rock the system at the voting booth. But the global warming piece adds a whole new dimension. Would a President Hillary Clinton look toward her oil-soaked supporters...or toward Mother Earth?

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