Michael Hiltzik

The homecoming: Eric Cantor lands on Wall Street

Did Eric Cantor land a Wall Street job based on his charm? Not likely

One of the unappreciated pleasures in this fame-besotted world is reading a celebrity newspaper or magazine profile and thinking: I wonder what the truth is, really.

That was the case with this week's Wall Street Journal scoop about former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) jumping to the Wall Street investment bank Moelis & Co. as vice chairman and managing director. In the same sense that Soviet citizens once had to become experts in reading between the lines when they perused Pravda, careful scrutiny of the job announcement paid dividends.

Some of the pleasure came from the article's laugh lines. It told, for instance, of how the job offer emerged out of the blue when Cantor and Ken Moelis, the firm's founder, "were having brunch with their wives in Los Angeles and Mr. Moelis, also a Republican, was giving Mr. Cantor career advice when it occurred to him that the two should work together."

We're being asked to imagine that the conversation went something like this:

Moelis: "Don't wear sneakers to your job interview. Also, make sure you proofread your resume because no one wants a guy whose resume is full of typos, and -- Hey! Wait a second! Why don't you come work for me?"

Cantor: "I never thought of that."

We're also told that "Mr. Cantor said he is focused on his new career learning the investment banking business and providing clients with quality counsel.

"'I've got a lot to learn,' he said. 'I'm very focused on my next step.'"

That requires us to believe that the investment banking training program operated by Moelis & Co. normally pays its trainees what it's paying Cantor, which is $1.4 million this year including a signing bonus, and a minimum of $1.6 million next year. 

Most fascinating, we're being asked to take at face value Moelis' assertion that the Cantor acquisition isn't about Cantor's political connections but to have the former House leader provide "strategic counsel to the firm's corporate and institutional clients on key issues," as the firm said in a news release. "He will play a leading role in client development and advise clients on strategic matters." Ken Moelis also cited Cantor's "unique expertise in assessing complex situations and crafting innovative solutions."

Couple of points here. 

First, if you're banking on Cantor's grasp of strategy, wouldn't you wonder about how he got utterly trounced in a Republican primary in June by David Brat, a thoroughgoing political nobody with no money, who attacked the arch-conservative Cantor from the right?

Second, Cantor was one of the leading money men in the House GOP, collecting more than $10 million in contributions through his campaign committee and leadership PAC for the current election cycle, and more than $13 million in the 2012 cycle. (The figures are from the Center for Responsive Politics.)

Some 80% or more of that money came in the form of large individual contributions or contributions to his PAC, which also tend to arrive in large blocks. The securities and investment, real estate and insurance industries led the honor role of donors in both cycles. When the Wall Street Journal describes Cantor's new job as "something of a return to his roots," it's pushing the envelope of understatement. 

Dennis Kelleher, the former corporate lawyer and Senate Democratic staffer who heads Better Markets, a financial consumer advocacy group, put it best in an interview with New York Magazine's Annie Lowrey

"Let's look at all (Cantor's) investment-banking experience," Kelleher said. "Let’s look at his capital-markets experience. He has none. He has no experience or skills that would qualify him to be even an intern at a fifth-tier firm in the financial industry.... Wall Street is after what it’s always buying in Washington: access, influence and unfair advantage. And Cantor is a big catch for anybody who wants access."

Keep up to date with The Economy Hub by following @hiltzikm.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
86°