N.J. considers $100M investment with firm of GOP donor

TRENTON - The New Jersey board that oversees the management of the state's $80 billion public employee pension system is considering investing $100 million with a firm whose chairman has donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association since 2013.

Gov. Christie chaired the association last year and helped raise record sums for GOP gubernatorial candidates across the country.

In 2013, the RGA contributed to Christie's own reelection in New Jersey.

The council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposal to invest $100 million in pension funds with a fund managed by the private-equity firm KSL Capital Partners.

The firm's chairman and cofounder, Michael Shannon, and his wife, donated $2 million to the Christie-led RGA last year, according to records filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

In 2013, the Shannons donated $500,000 to the group.

The donations were first reported Tuesday by the International Business Times.

The IRS records list Michael Shannon's job as managing director of KSL Capital.

The proposed investment wouldn't appear to violate State Investment Council policy, which prohibits the state from contracting with a firm whose investment managers have donated to New Jersey political parties and campaigns in the preceding two years.

A spokeswoman for KSL Capital said Shannon and his wife, Mary Sue, were "longtime supporters" of Republican causes and have supported the RGA since 2011. They were introduced to the RGA by their "longtime friend" Fred Malek, the organization's finance chairman, said the spokeswoman.

"The Shannons' contributions to the RGA have never been solicited by Gov. Christie nor anyone acting on his behalf," the spokeswoman, Julie Messing-Paea, said in an e-mail.

"Further, the Shannons' contributions to the RGA were specifically restricted to avoid any political contributions to, or independent expenditures in support of, any candidates for state office."

Christie has said he plays no role in decisions on how to invest state pension funds.

Treasury Department spokesman Christopher Santarelli said the state Division of Investment would present a memo to the council Wednesday "on the benefits of the proposed investment."

He added that "donations by investment management professionals to the RGA are not required for disclosure or impermissible under" council regulations.

However, a recent bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature would ban such arrangements by expanding the state's current regulations to donations made to national political parties and committees such as the RGA.

Michael Shannon, who lives in Milwaukee and is a board member of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, has contributed to the gubernatorial campaigns of Scott Walker, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Walker, who won reelection last year, is considered a potential rival to Christie for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

New Jersey's pension investments came under scrutiny last year when news reports showed that the state had invested $15 million with a firm tied to Charlie Baker, then a Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate who had previously donated to the New Jersey GOP.

Baker was elected governor in November. Treasury's chief auditor released a report in January saying the donation didn't violate state policy.


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