When Donald Trump announced that Steven Mnuchin would be his presidential campaign’s finance director, the first thing some curious people did was Google the former Goldman Sachs partner to see what kind of background he brings to the job.
Unfortunately for the Trump campaign, the very first search result (before a barrage of news stories pushed it down the page later in the day) was a piece from the Hollywood trade newspaper Variety from last summer detailing Mnuchin’s ignominious departure from the co-chairmanship of Relativity Media, a Hollywood studio, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“Mnuchin has been left in a particularly uncomfortable position,” the paper reported. “The money-man and fellow investors in a Dune Capital fund are said to have lost as much as $80 million — equity that is almost certain to be lost for good, said two sources familiar with the situation. And disgruntled Relativity investors privately are questioning how a bank Mnuchin once headed – OneWest Bank of Pasadena – was allowed by Relativity to drain $50 million from the studio just weeks prior to the July 30 insolvency filing.”
Trump is famously familiar with corporate bankruptcies, having filed for several during his career, so perhaps Mnuchin’s issues with Relativity Media weren’t a big concern to the man who this week became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. However, as reporters looked into Mnuchin’s background, Trump’s decision to choose him to lead his finance team looked even stranger.
Typically, campaign finance chairs are longtime political insiders who have deep contacts within both the party and the business world, and have a demonstrated ability to raise huge sums of money. Most are also significant donors themselves.
Mnuchin has, indeed, given a considerable amount of money to politicians over the years, but most of it has gone to Democrats. While Mnuchin donated $20,000 to the Republican Party during the 2012 election cycle and has given thousands of dollars to support Mitt Romney over the years. On balance, his giving has favored Democrats, including President Barack Obama and likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Yet another wrinkle is that Mnuchin for a time worked for conservative activists’ bête noire George Soros, the billionaire investor who has given millions over the years to many liberal causes. Mnuchin was for a time chief executive of Soros-backed SFM Capital Management, and for Soros Fund Management.
Oh, and there is also the time that Trump sued Mnuchin’s hedge fund, Dune Capital, along with Deutsche Bank and a host of other lenders. It was 2008, and Trump’s suit was filed after a consortium of lenders, including Dune, refused to grant Trump an extension on payments related to a $640 million loan he had taken out.
But bygones appear to be bygones. In an announcement this morning, Trump said, “Steven is a professional at the highest level with an extensive and very successful financial background. He brings unprecedented experience and expertise to a fundraising operation that will benefit the Republican Party and ultimately defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Mnuchin, for his part, said, “It’s a great privilege to be working with Mr. Trump to create a world class finance organization to support the campaign in the General Election.”