Tuesday, August 08, 2017
Former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer and Forbes’ columnist Edward “Ted” Siedle – who in 2013 wrote the scathing report, “RI Pension Reform – Wall Street’s License to Steal,” told GoLocalProv that he is giving strong consideration to running for Rhode Island Attorney General in 2018.
Could he win?
“The teachers union members and other unions who are in the state pension system may very well give him some support,” said former Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet. “That would not be enough, however, to overcome the credentials that [former U.S Attorney] Peter Neronha, who is considering a run, has. One impact, however, a Siedle-threatened candidacy may have is to make the efficacy of a [pension] investigation a campaign issue for candidates.”
Siedle, who is now in-line to receive the biggest whistleblower award in SEC history for his involvement in a JP Morgan case, said that his platform would be initiating a SEC investigation into Rhode Island’s pension fund which he says has lost the state close to $1 billion.
Former Director of Administration Gary Sasse, who was a strategist on Republican Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign and most recently on a host-committee for a fundraiser for Republican Bob Flanders, said that he does not see a Siedle candidacy as a union versus non-union issue.
“Whether one agrees or disagrees — there’s not a question that [Siedle’s 2013] report is of public service and raises important questions that heretofore have not been discussed,” said Sasse. “He helped shine a light on the relationship between state pension funds and Wall Street — that’s a public service. Sunshine is good.”
Changing of the Guard
Rhode Island has most recently had two, two-term Attorney Generals – who are term-limited – since 2003, Democrats Patrick Lynch and Peter Kilmartin. While no one was formally declared their candidacy yet for 2018, Neronha is strongly considered to be running.
“I am deeply interested in people running for office who know what they might want to accomplish in the office. But I also am worried about people who need to learn how a major governmental position functions,” said former State Representative Ray Rickman. “Smart people can figure that out and Siedle is a smart man.”
Darrell West, a former Brown University Taubman Center Director and now Vice-President and Director of Governance Studies at the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution, warned that Siedle’s lack of local relationships could be a setback, however.
“It is hard to run for a major office when coming from out-of-state. Opponents will scream carpetbagger and claim the person has no real loyalty to Rhode Island,” said West. “State voters expect candidates to know every nook and cranny of the state and have deep local allegiances. Someone who has not spent at least a few years cultivating people in the state probably would face a difficult time.”
“There have been celebrities who have come from out-of-state and been successful. For example, Hillary Clinton did not live in New York before she ran for the Senate,” added West. “But she was a First Lady and had an extraordinary fundraising network that helped her be successful.”
Siedle, who is slated to be receiving north of $50 million dollars in his SEC whistleblower award, said in his recent interview with GoLocal he would be attempting to “uncover the largest financial crime in state history” – and have other states come calling.
“We welcome the opportunity to figure out why Wall Street and the 1% continuously benefit while at the same time workers’ pensions were slashed,” said Bill Deware, with the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America. “Why even use Wall Street ‘banks’ to house our tax money? Nothing would clean up RI better than getting our money out of Wall Street hands.”
“Perhaps Edward Siedle would be open to exploring the idea of a state bank (with proper oversight) and how that might help our state save money and lessen the corruption that comes with handing over tax money to private venture capitalists,” added Deware.
In his recent interview with GoLocal, Siedle stressed it was not the unions who brought him to Rhode Island to support their agenda, but rather his initial speculations on Forbes — about the lack of transparency in hedge fund fees, after cost-of-living-adjustments were slashed during the state’s historic pension reform — that garnered the attention of retirees.
“He’s an attorney, and I have learned in politics anything can become realistic,'” said Michael Downey with AFSCME, who hired Siedle to do his first investigation, of the prospect of him running. “I don’t know if he can clean up our state but I do know he has the experience and expertise to save employees and taxpayers money in our pension system.”
“It appears Ted has everything he needs to run on the volatile issue of pensions, and appears he has the money for a political campaign,” said Downey.
Diane Bucci with the Rhode Island Retired Teachers Association — who in 2015 hired Siedle — also weighed in on the possibility.
“Over 50,000 members of the ERSRI know fiduciary duties were at best neglected if not criminally ignored, in the management of the pension fund,” said Bucci. “RIRTA sent a letter to AG Kilmartin in 2015 asking him to look into the possible criminal mismanagement of the pension fund. We were told in two letters of response that ‘the AG has no stand-alone investigating staff’ and ‘has limited investigatory power.’ Ted Siedle choosing to run on a platform of calling in the SEC would very likely be successful and have an impact on state pension funds across the country.”
Also bullish on a Siedle run? Former U.S. Senator and Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.
“I think he could do it,” said Chafee. “He’s proven to be trustworthy with his warnings about hedge fund investments, and he is a fighter for the people.”