It didn’t take long for TPM readers to identify the two likeminded conservatives with whom Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) shared two pricey $350 bottles of Pinot Noir Wednesday night.
The two names repeatedly flooded into TPM’s e-mail since our story on Ryan’s big spending night first ran Friday, and we spent the next 24 hours trying to reach the pair to confirm their identities and get their side of the story.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: Hey Big Spenders: What Else Could Wealthy Candidates Buy With All That Campaign Cash?]The three men were spotted ordering the $700 worth of wine at Bistro Bis on Capitol Hill by an associate professor of business at Rutgers University named Susan Feinberg. After dining in the same restaurant with her husband, Feinberg confronted Ryan and his pals about the high-end wine. The exchange became contentious. Ryan professed not to know the price of the wine, and one of his buddies responded to Feinberg’s chastisement by loudly saying, “Fuck her,” Feinberg told TPM.
When TPM asked Ryan who he was dining with Wednesday night, he declined to identify them, saying only that they were economists, not lobbyists. But TPM has confirmed that the two other men with Ryan were Cliff Asness and John Cochrane. Both men have doctorate degrees in economics and are well-known in the conservative media world as die-hard proponents of the free market’s ability to right itself without government bailouts when the crisis hit in late 2008.
Asness, who ordered the wine and who, according to Feinberg was the one who said “Fuck her,” is better known as a high-profile hedge fund manager. Asness founded and runs AQR Capital, which manages an estimated $26 billion in a variety of traditional products and hedge funds, and his life story has been the subject of numerous books and articles about the rise and fall of Wall Street. He’s also grabbed headlines for being one of the most voluble opponents of President Obama’s economic policies.
ABC’s Jake Tapper ran an illuminating piece on Asness in May of 2009, describing him as having “a name and occupation straight out of Dickens” after he wrote an angry open letter to Obama — “Unafraid in Greenwich, Connecticut” — in which he blasted the President’s attacks on hedge fund owners refusing to go along with his administration’s plans for Chrysler.
“Who came up with the title for the letter?” Tapper asked parenthetically in his piece. “Axelrod? Perhaps ‘Bold and on My Yacht’ was too subtle.”
Cochrane, the other, more tempered dinner companion, is the AQR Capital Management Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago, an apparent tip of the hat to the contributions Asness’ AQR Capital Management has made to the Booth School of Business there.
When contacted by TPM about his dinner with Ryan, Cochrane tried to get off the phone as quickly as possible.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Thank you. Bye,” is all he said.
Calls to AQR Capital Friday went straight to voicemail.
New York Times‘ Joe Nocera, a personal friend, calls Asness “biting, funny, articulate, angry — and almost as opinionated as I am.”
In May 2009, Asness served as a guest host on CNBC’s Squawk Box and defended the $450 million in bonuses AIG executives received, arguing that President Obama and the Congress are responsible for the economic crisis and should pay the execs the bonuses themselves.
Before launching AQR Capital in 1997, Asness worked for Goldman Sachs, the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history, as the director of quantitative research for its Asset Management Division.
By the end of 2008, the firm was at the epicenter of the global financial crisis and received a $12.9 billion government bailout ($10 billion of which it paid back the next year). Amid the crisis, Goldman Sachs was under fire for doling out billions in bonuses.
“Cliff and his team at Goldman were responsible for building quantitative models to add value in global equity, fixed income and currency markets for Goldman clients and partner,” states the bio on his firm’s website.
Asness graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and went on to earn his Ph.D from the University of Chicago.
As TPM reported Friday, Ryan says he decided to pay for one of the bottles of wine after being confronted by Feinberg out of an abundance of caution. Ryan’s office provided TPM with a copy of his credit card receipt. Congressional ethics rules bar congressman from receiving gifts from lobbyists and gifts of over $100 from anyone.
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