Texas Enron trader’s fortune helped fund Engage Rhode Island

Some of the secrecy surrounding Engage Rhode Island has been pierced.

The deep-pocketed advocacy group, which provided crucial support to Treasurer Gina Raimondo last year in her push to pass the landmark state pension overhaul, received between $100,000 and $500,000 from a Houston billionaire who was a trader for the ill-fated energy company Enron, The Wall Street Journal revealed Tuesday night.

A spokesman for John Arnold, 38, and his wife, Laura, confirmed their donations to the paper. Arnold founded Centaurus Advisors LLC, a Houston-based hedge fund, with $8 million of his own money in 2002. He closed the fund earlier this year. Arnold’s net worth is estimated at $3 billion by Forbes magazine.

Reached late Tuesday night, EngageRI spokesman John Duffy declined to discuss the Arnold’s financial support. “We respect the privacy of our donors and we continue to do so,” he said. The group is organized as a 501(c)4 and is not required to disclose its donors.

Duffy said EngageRI has received almost $1 million since it was created in the summer of 2011, suggesting the Arnolds provided between one-tenth and half the money EngageRI has raised so far. The group has spent about $740,000 lobbying for the pension changes.

A review by WPRI.com shows the Arnolds also donated directly to Raimondo on May 18.

John Arnold gave $2,000 to Raimondo’s campaign and another $1,000 to Hope Now PAC, a political action committee chaired by Warwick Rep.-elect Joe Shekarchi, Raimondo’s 2010 campaign manager, and staffed by Jackie Baginski, Raimondo’s campaign finance director, according to R.I. Board of Elections records. Laura Arnold also gave $1,000 to Hope Now PAC.

The Wall Street Journal revelation about the Arnolds’ donations to EngageRI comes the same day the paper’s editorial page lambasted Governor Chafee for talking with union leaders about a settlement to end their lawsuit challenging the pension law. “It’s too bad the governor has decided that taxpayers must lose in order for him to win re-election,” the editorial said.

The Arnolds have supported President Obama and other Democrats. Their nonprofit Laura and John Arnold Foundation lists public pensions as one of its policy focuses, and they have backed changes in California and other places. Last year the Arnold Foundation co-hosted a conference on the issue along with the George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“The cost of public employee benefits in most states and communities is unsustainable,” the foundation’s website says. “The economic and social costs of this looming crisis are potentially crippling to our nation. We seek to remedy this untenable situation by promoting transparency and concrete solutions that address the problem in a manner that is comprehensive, lasting, and fair to all parties.”

Josh McGee, the foundation’s vice president for public accountability initiatives, praised the treasurer in a Houston Chronicle op-ed last June reflecting on the failed attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“Raimondo, the touted pension champion in Rhode Island, is now the most popular politician in her state, primarily due to her leadership on this difficult issue,” McGee wrote. “Other leaders would be well-served to heed Raimondo’s mantra, ‘This is about math, not ideology,’ before they fall into a budgetary abyss.”

John Kilduff, a partner at hedge fund Again Capital LLC, described John Arnold as “legendary” in a Bloomberg News interview earlier this year. “There are contenders and pretenders, and he was a contender,” Kilduff said.

30 thoughts on “Texas Enron trader’s fortune helped fund Engage Rhode Island

  1. Transparency? How insulting! Let’s promote transparency by secretly contributing $100,000.00 to steamroll legislation. I wonder if he was a member of ALEC. Disgusted is the only word that comes to mind right now. No wonder Ms. Raimondo supported their anonymity.

    • Jan, No, “disgusting” is the quite, costly, back-room deal-making between the greedy Public Sector Unions and anyone (most politicians) who unjustly extract more and more money out of the Taxpayers pockets with excessive and unnecessary pay, pension, and benefit enhancements.

      Sounds like you a card-carrying member of theses greedy Unions.

  2. Gina Raimondo, formerly of Bain Capital, now used Enron money to steal retirement money away from the middle class.

    You’re a mean one, Mrs. Grinch.

    • The people of Enron did not have retirement money in pensions, it was through ESOP employee stock option plans and they bought stock on their own freewill in their 401K. They made choices and took responisblity for their actions. Something most Rhode Islanders are afraid to do, you all want to be taken care of by the government.

      • Pension contributions from state workers and teachers were mandated by RI State Law. So if anyone should take responsiblity for their actions, it should be the state.

      • Only a fool would keep throwing money into an unsustainable fund as the state pension fund. Too bad you never educated yourself to open an IRA and read the Wall Street Journal and Barrons. That is how money becomes wealth.

      • Jan, ALL of YOUR pension contributions (INCLUDING all the investment earnings thereon) will accumulate to a sum at retirement to buy 10-20% of your excessive pension. Taxpayers contributions and the investment earnings thereon are responsible for the 80-90% balance.

        The lies, the deceit, the BS of your Union and members such as yourself have now been exposed.

        We’ve just BEGUN cutting those pension & benefits ….. MUCH more to come.

      • Jan –

        I noticed you haven’t replied. Do you think I will let up JUST BECAUSE of what happened today. Those trough feeding “public servants” deaths are just the beginning of what is needed to pay for your UNDERFUNDED GENEROUS pensions. The more of you parasites that are kept from the pension trough the BETTER.

      • Tough Love – Your’s is one of the most vile and sick posts I’ve ever read. You’re happy that all those people were murdered? Twenty children were killed… what the hell is wrong with you. Please look for a mental health professional as soon as you can. I feel nothing but pity for you.

      • Bill,

        The comment to which you were responding was posted by some other than I me who regularly posts a Tough Love. He has done this before and did further down in the comments here (see his comment time stamped December 14, 2012 at 11:05 pm, and my response posted as a reply to his). I agree with you, his comments are disgusting.

  3. It’s all coming together. Look at her campaign war chest……. And do not forget the $ 1500 dollar, oops I meant the $ 50 an hr lawyer.

    ” Greed is good”

    Guys have Farrah posters in their rooms, Gina must have Michael Douglas.

  4. Great job digging this up Ted! The Projo has the resources to have gotten this scoop, but they are in bed with EngageRI instead of reporting for its readers. More opportunities for you.

  5. Who helped fund the initiative is irrelevant. Its a classic “red herring”.

    The issue is affordability, sustainability & fairness to taxpayers, who don’t get to retire in their 50s or earlier.

    Someone made a comment here that “Pension contributions from state workers and teachers”. No doubt some of the monies did come from them. Fine. We’ll give you back your contributions & accumulated interest/earnings add a 2% match as in the private sector. Feel free to then buy your own annuity & see how far you get.

    The issue here is fairness to taxpayers. Don’t force us to pay high taxes so you can have more & better than we do. Do what you will with YOUR money, but keep your hands off ours. Why we even have unions in the public sector is a complete mystery, but that’s a topic for another post.

  6. John Arnold Foundation representatives also showed up in Colorado last October, at a Donnell-Kay Foundation luncheon.


    The Colorado Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded an initial District Court ruling that denied the contractual status of public pension COLAs in Colorado. The Court of Appeals confirmed that Colorado PERA pension COLA benefits are a contractual obligation of the pension plan Colorado PERA and its affiliated public employers. A huge victory for public sector retirees in Colorado! The Colorado Legislature may not breach its contracts and push taxpayer obligations onto the backs of a small group of elderly pensioners.

    The lawsuit is continuing. Support pension rights in the U.S. by contributing at saveperacola.com. Friend Save Pera Cola on Facebook!

    In 1977, the (U.S.) Supreme Court clarified that state attempts to impair their own contracts, ESPECIALLY FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS, were subject to greater scrutiny and very little deference because the STATE’S SELF-INTEREST IS AT STAKE. As the court bluntly stated:

    “A governmental entity can always find a use for extra money, especially when taxes do not have to be raised. If a state could reduce its financial obligations whenever it wanted to spend the money for what it regarded as an important public purpose, the Contract Clause would provide no protection at all . . . Thus, a state cannot refuse to meet its legitimate financial obligations simply because it would prefer to spend the money to promote the public good rather than the private welfare of its creditors.”

  7. One good thing came out of today’s shootings, we won’t have to pay GOLD PLATED PENSIONS to several trough feeding teachers.

    • The A-Hole who placed this comment (above) is not (me) the person who regularly comments under the handle “Tough Love”. Clearly that A-Hole does this as a trouble-maker, because he doesn’t like my many comments that Public Sector pensions are simply excessive and need to be reduced for CURRENT, not just new workers.

  8. Ted Nesi ……….

    Please note, there is a rather obnoxious person who has twice in the comments to this post made believe he was me. I am the person who regularly posts as “Tough Love”. His 2 obnoxious comments referring to today’s terrible situation in CT. are time stamped “December 14, 2012 at 11:54 pm” and “December 14, 2012 at 9:31 pm”.

    I responded to each of those 2 comment because they are not something I would ever say nor how I feel. I believe he is doing this because he dislikes my strong advocacy for pension reform.

    You can verify that those 2 comments were not from me by checking (from the computer logs of comments you received on this article) that the geographical location of his IP address is likely far away from mine. I would appreciate your doing so and removing his comments under my handle (Tough Love). If you do so, removing my responses to his comments would then make sense. Another suggestion is to block his IP address from any further comments so that he cannot do so again. Thank you.

    • That an apparent union supporter would pretend to an outspoken opponent of public pensions and bring horrific shooting of children into the pension discussion is beyond words. If the person posing a Tough Love is truly a union supporter then he/she has shown their cause to be worthy of far more scrutiny than just on pensions. Sick. The killing of children has no place in these discussions.

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