VIDEO: Paul Singer on his Politics and Philanthropy

In a rare public interview, Paul Singer discusses his upbringing and how he views politics and philanthropy: Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management, demonstrated his Jewish humor and opened up about his upbringing, love for music, and the philanthropic causes he supports during a rare wide-ranging interview with David Rubenstein, host of “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” on Bloomberg TV, at the Bloomberg Invest New York summit this week.

Singer’s Jewish mother’s reaction when he gave up practicing law to enter the world of business: “Can you earn a living?”

Rubenstein: I assume she is proud of you — Singer: Yes she is” — Does she recognize that giving up the practice of law was probably a good idea?

Singer: “I hesitated because…

DR: Because she’s Jewish…

PS: “She hasn’t been in great shape for the last several years…

DR: But when she was in better shape, she must have called you today, ‘You are doing great’?

PS: “Never. She called me and said, ‘Your reports are too long.’”

DR: At least she was reading them.

PA: “No. She was saving them.”

DR: Where does the name Elliott come from?

PS: “My middle name. I thought it was better than Paul.”

Singer on being portrayed and perceived as an intimidating activist investor: “What I have learned over the years is to not care too much about opprobrium and unfair press. There’s a part of this equation that’s functional. In other words, if that’s the reputation we have, backed by having the money and the process and generally sound-thinking about the positions, it’s good when a corporate executive opens the mail, or the email, or picks up the phone and listens with the understanding that we are real and that we have the capacity to carry through… So it doesn’t bother me anymore.”

Rubenstein: Were you always a Republican?

Singer: “I was a Stevensonian Democrat in 1956 and a Kennedy liberal. But starting with Goldwater I became a conservative.”

On 2106, Trump — “I stood aside for most of 2015 and then supported Marco Rubio…

DR:And when he dropped out, did you support someone else?

PS: “No. I stood aside.”

DR: Ultimately, when Donald Trump was the nominee of the party, did you support him then, as the nominee? 

PS: “I voted for him. I was not going to vote for Hillary Clinton as some of my Republican friends did. And I became optimistic about some of the opportunities – in economic growth, regulatory reforms, and tax reform.”

DR: Did you know him before he was elected president?

PS: “I did not. I invested in his bonds a couple of times. They were [high] on the date of issue.”

Dr: Have you seen him since he’s president and do you give him any advice?

PS: “I visited the WH once a few months ago and we chatted a bit about taxes and economic policy.”

If Trump offered an administration post: “I would say, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. President, but I am doing what I love doing and I’d be happy to render whatever help I can as a private citizen.”

DR: You have given, raised a lot of money for Republicans. Do you think you’ve gotten value for your money? Do they listen to you? How much influence do you get for all the money that you have given to these people?

PS: “I don’t think of it in terms of value for your money. It’s a very interesting thing with politics, and not that many of my peers have the staying power or stubbornness, or stupidity, to persist as long in the political arena… Many people find and feel that the reliability and effectiveness that they expect and find in their businesses is not what they find in politics. And so the answer to your question is: I do have — and do speak to policy makers, try to convey ideas about the things that I know best… Their problem is that they are subject to all kinds of forces, all kind of pressures coming from 360 degrees on their compasses. And so, the right policies and the best ideas — many of them listen and many of them are smart — are not necessarily things that make the final cut.”

How Singer views his philanthropy: “I am very interested in supporting Jewish causes, particularly Israel and the economic stability and growth of Israel, the acceptance of Israel, [and] the normalization of Israel’s relationships with other countries. I am also interested in the rule of law and I am interested in campuses – free speech on campus.”

Outside activities: “I am a musician. I play piano and keyboards. I’ve been in a number of bands, amateur bands of course, and I play with musicians now… I started taking piano lessons when I was 10 years old and started becoming interesting in playing rock and blues, and honky-tonk piano when I was 11 years old I have been in reggae, blues bands, and rock bands. Sadly, the reggae band I was in was old white. It was a fake new reggae band… I’ve had a lot of fun because most of my family are musicians and so we have a family band also… I also ski, snowmobile, hike, sail. I like the outdoors.”

Dig at the NY Times — Rubenstein: Let’s suppose the New York Times were to ask somebody to write an obituary for Paul Singer, and let’s suppose they ask you to write the obituary, what would you like to see as the headline of what you had accomplished in your life?

Singer: “Could it be the Wall Street Journal? It would help me think better… ‘He tried to make a difference. He protected a lot of people’s capital over a long period of time. He was steady, reliable.’”

DR: A lot of people who are very wealthy, I noticed, are not really happy. You seem like a pretty happy person. Would you say you are happy with what you have accomplished and not tortured? I know a lot of people that were tortured.

PS: “This is a form of therapy, David, which I appreciate. Would you mind if I lie down (on the couch)?

DR: No. (laughter)

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