Bill Ackman, founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management
Photograph by Chris Goodney — Bloomberg

A longshot political wager

By Chris Matthews
February 12, 2016

If your hedge fund just lost 20.5% net of fees in one year, it might make sense to keep your advice to yourself.

But Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Asset Managment, has never been one to shy from the spotlight or to voice unpopular opinions. That trait was laid bare on Thursday, when the billionaire investor argued in the pages of the Financial Times that former New York Mayor and CEO of Bloomberg, L.P., Michael Bloomberg is the man for the job of President of the United States.

“Today America is burning,” Ackman writes, before describing the myriad problems the country faces, like high debt, deteriorating infrastructure, and a weak economy. He continues:

Yet there is hope. The key is finding the right leader. And that leader is Mr Bloomberg, who told the Financial Times this week that he is considering joining the race for the White House. His character is unimpeachable and he is an extraordinary entrepreneur and philanthropist. He has great judgment and is beholden to no one. He has a proven business record, having created $40bn of value building one of the most successful media and information technology companies in the world.

Ackman may be right that Bloomberg has a record of success in both business and government, while winning respect abroad for his philanthropic efforts to fight global health problems like obesity and tobacco addiction.

But the op-ed is also striking for its total lack of appreciation for the political moment we’re in now. Sure, voters aren’t turned off by Donald Trump’s wealth, but they’re attracted more to his outsider status and willingness to say what no other politician will more than they are his money. Bloomberg on the other hand, who is well known for his quixotic campaigns against things like large serving sizes of soda, will likely strike the same electorate as a paternalistic insider, a billionaire who thinks he knows better than them, rather than a guy whose money frees him from the shackles of political correctness.

Of course, Bill Ackman wouldn’t be where he is today if at least some of his long-shot bets didn’t pay off. Are you ready to get in on the ground floor of a Bloomberg-for-president campaign?

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