March 10–In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, billionaire hedge fund operator Kenneth Griffin, CEO of Chicago-based Citadel, says that he is opposed to building a downtown casino, is critical of corporate leaders who have “groveled” for tax breaks and says that he’s “terrified” the country is headed in the wrong direction.”I spend way too much of my time thinking about politics these days because government is way too involved in financial markets these days,” he said in a rare interview. He later added. “Part of my sensitivity to these issues is that I now live in the middle of a hyper-regulated industry, where not only is government affecting how capital markets work, or how banks work, but (the government) is punishing savers.”
The 43-year-old hedge fund manager said he has invested more time than ever before on politics since the financial crisis of 2008 nearly crippled Citadel. The firm’s two flagship funds have since recovered, surpassing their so-called highwater marks this year.
Forbes magazine recently ranked Griffin Chicago’s second-wealthiest citizen, behind only Tribune Co. chairman Sam Zell. Griffin’s interests are vast, from collecting art to improving the city’s public education system. Over time, he has accelerated his political contributions, giving predominantly to Republicans. It’s a subject he rarely discusses publicly.
“I think (the ultra-wealthy) actually have an insufficient influence,” Griffin said in an interview at Citadel’s downtown office. “Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet.”
In the 2012 election cycle, Griffin has given $150,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, and more than $560,000 to the Republican Governors Association. In recent years, Griffin and his wife Anne have given $800,000 to American Crossroads, founded by Republican strategists Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove.
The Griffins also have given approximately $1.5 million over time to David and Charles Koch’s conservative causes, which operate under the umbrella Americans for Prosperity. Structured as a nonprofit, its donors are not disclosed, making it a lightning rod for advocates of campaign finance reform.
Despite his support of the Kochs, who are lifelong libertarians, Griffin said he understood the need to regulate some companies, such as polluters.
“When a company creates a product that directly or indirectly adversely impacts the health of people, that product must be regulated,” he said. “The process by which it’s created must be regulated. No company has the right to injure people. No company.”
That fits with his opposition to gambling. Griffin said he has written Gov. Pat Quinn and spoken to both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Mayor Richard Daley about his opposition to a Chicago casino.
“There is no great city in America that has a casino (downtown),” Griffin said. “And there’s a reason for it. Casinos do not represent the values of a great city.”
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