What Is Robert Mercer Worried About?

In a different era, this would have been considered business news:

Robert Mercer, co-chief executive of Renaissance Technologies LLC, is resigning from his role at the giant hedge fund, according to a letter sent Thursday by Mr. Mercer to the firm’s investors.

But in post-Citizens United America, the resignation of one of the biggest donors to conservative politics becomes a top political news item. That would have been the case even if Mercer hadn’t loaded his letter to Renaissance employees with political intrigue.

The press has also intimated that my politics marches in lockstep with Steve Bannon’s. I have great respect for Mr. Bannon, and from time to time I do discuss politics with him. However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically. Those decisions do not always align with Mr. Bannon’s.

Without individuals thinking for themselves, society as a whole will struggle to distinguish the signal of truth from the correlated noise of conformity. I supported Milo Yiannopoulos in the hope and expectation that his expression of views contrary to the social mainstream and his spotlighting of the hypocrisy of those who would close down free speech in the name of political correctness would promote the type of open debate and freedom of thought that is being throttled on many American college campuses today. But in my opinion, actions of and statements by Mr. Yiannopoulos have caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I had hoped to facilitate. I was mistaken to have supported him, and for several weeks have been in the process of severing all ties with him.

For personal reasons, I have also decided to sell my stake in Breitbart News to my daughters.

So what brought all of that on?

Outlets like the Wall Street Journal point to the unwanted attention that Mercer’s political activity was bringing to the company. But when Mercer writes that he’s been working on severing ties with Milo Yiannopoulos for several weeks, it fuels speculation that perhaps the Buzzfeed article by Joseph Bernstein linking the hedge fund billionaire to white supremacists might have triggered this move. The truth is, none of that material was particularly new for those who had read exposes about the Mercers by Jane Mayer and Zachary Mider, not to mention the entire chapter Joshua Green devoted to him in his book about Steve Bannon.

There are a couple of other things that might be cause for concern to Mercer and his connection to Renaissance. David Magerman is suing him for wrongful termination after he went public about Mercer’s racism. Then there is this from McClatchy from back in May:

The Internal Revenue Service is demanding a whopping $7 billion or more in back taxes from the world’s most profitable hedge fund, whose boss’s wealth and cyber savvy helped Donald Trump pole-vault into the White House.

Suddenly, the government’s seven-year pursuit of Renaissance Technologies LLC is blanketed in political intrigue, now that the hedge fund’s reclusive, anti-establishment co-chief executive, Robert Mercer, has morphed into a political force who might be owed a big presidential favor.

That article goes on to suggest that one of the reasons Mercer might have backed Trump was in the hope that he would replace IRS Commissioner Koskinen, an Obama administration holdover whose five-year term expires in November. Could it be that the president has too much on his plate right now to pay back one of his most important donors?

Finally, there is speculation that perhaps Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining firm in which Mercer owns a controlling interest, might be implicated in Mueller’s investigation of collusion with the Russians.

Or heck, maybe Mercer’s decision to resign was simply motivated by a desire to spend more time with his owls, machine guns, family.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.