A couple of the candidates voters picked in Tuesday’s primary to keep Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation Republican are familiar: They were profiled in this column long before they ran for office, not as politicos, but as successful business people.
“Day One after the election, I’m here blitzing the county, east and west,” said Dan David, a youth-boxing champ turned investigative investor, the GOP’s pick for the new Fourth District in Montgomery County, early Wednesday. No sleeping late on the morning of victory: He was heading to meet with gay business owners. Son of an Assyrian Christian immigrant to blue-collar Flint, Mich., David says he’s a “socially moderate, fiscally responsible Republican.”
John Chrin, in the Eighth District farther north, was tougher to reach that morning. A Wall Street deal-maker and “10th-generation Pennsylvanian” who made so much money in the 2008 financial collapse that he was able to retire to his native Lehigh Valley in his 40s, Chrin gave an Election Night speech in tune with the Trump-era party, slamming Democrats for allowing too much immigration.
David faces Democratic lawyer-turned-English professor Madeleine Dean. He calls himself “a socially moderate and fiscally responsible Republican.” His role uncovering fraud in U.S.-traded, Chinese-run companies — and his manic efforts to demand our divided Congress do something about it — are portrayed in the Magnolia Pictures movie, The China Hustle.
Institutional Investor wrote a long story about his campaign titled “Bourbon-Swilling Short Seller Wants to F— up Congress,” with the verb spelled out. David hated the headline, but liked the profile. When I asked about a scene in the movie when he insults Republicans for not protecting investors, he told me, “I endorse, or not, one issue at a time. My whole platform is, ‘no matter the party, we are in this together.’ Bipartisan solutions are the only policies that last.”
In 2012, I detailed how David and partner Maj Soueidan, an ex-Vanguard advisor, through their Skippack firm, GeoInvesting, went beyond dry reports to visit offices, factories, fields and mines and look up records, all to figure out which of the new, China-based, U.S.-traded companies were lying a little about their assets, and which were lying a lot.
The shock that helped drive David to politics wasn’t just learning that China failed to punish these frauds — but that brokers and officials in the U.S. seemed uninterested in protecting U.S. retirement savers.
Their firm, GeoInvesting, documented that L&L Energy, a Nasdaq-traded company that counts Goldman Sachs and TIAA-CREF college pension fund as investors, and former Bush and Clinton administration officials among its officers, “does not own a coal-mine complex in China’s Yunnan province that it claimed.” David and Soueidan found the real owners, and posted them on video. The stock collapsed to a penny a share. They went on to target bogus assets at energy, drug and food companies. “China is the future,” David says, “but until they have the same liability as U.S. companies, corruption and fraud” will slow its growth.
Last year, I wrote that the future candidate had become “a movie star. That’s David’s bullet head, ox neck, and seen-it-all smile” in The China Hustle, ‘”that Wall Street horror story depicting real-life U.S.-China collusion in selling bad investments to U.S. retirees,” all plugged by pitchmen including rapper Snoop Dogg and ex-Gen. Wesley Clark.
Produced by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) and backed by billionaire Mark Cuban, the movie was compared by Variety to The Big Short, the Michael Lewis blockbuster. The film shows David and others getting the brush-off from Pennsylvania congressmen of both parties. (David says director Jed Rothstein makes it look as if U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) is supportive, but she has “done nothing” to protect the investors.)
“Wherever you can steal money and not go to jail, there’s going to be more stealing,” David concludes. It makes Americans lose faith in government. That’s David’s key issue. Soueidan heads Geoinvesting while David campaigns full time. The ex-boxer knows you might not win every single fight, “but I can’t deal with being outworked.”
Chrin, running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.), is an Easton native. Raised in a trash-hauling and real-estate developer family, he’s a proud Lehigh graduate (with a Columbia University MBA), who labored arranging mergers from his Park Avenue office as he rose to co-head JPMorgan’s financial-services investment-banking group, until opportunity struck in the mortgage crisis of the late 2000s.
For his deal team, the financial crisis in 2009 “was like the Eagles and the Flyers and the Phillies and the Sixers all winning championships at one time,” he told me. Chrin helped his boss, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, take over Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. Chrin helped Wells Fargo & Co. beat Citigroup to control failing Wachovia, and PNC grab Cleveland’s National City Corp. at a fire-sale price.
Fat fees made him rich. Called home for an uncle’s Lehigh Valley funeral, he reflected on what to do with the rest of his life. Chrin quit the bank, and agreed to teach M&A back at Lehigh. I wrote that year how Chrin was already weighing “a run for Congress. He’s a registered Republican and a New Jersey resident, but neither is necessarily permanent.” (His GOP primary opponent ran ads complaining Chrin “isn’t one of us,” and then complained to the Scranton Times that he “just couldn’t keep pace with Mr. Chrin’s personal wealth.”)
Chrin sounds all-in with his party now. David, in a tougher district, is running as a self-made man, who is used to being told what he can’t do, and doing it anyway.
In this campaign season, at least, the Pennsylvania GOP is big enough for both kinds of businessmen.