MSU invests in firm with ties to Breitbart investor

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan State University has invested in a hedge fund managed by a powerful investor of ultra-conservative Breitbart news, which has been described as “the platform for the alt-right” by the outlet’s founder and President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

MSU pulled $100 million from hedge funds in 2016 and transferred half of it to Renaissance Technologies, an investment management firm headed by Breitbart investor and hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, according to Bloomberg News.

A liberal group called Progress Michigan said Wednesday that MSU has a “moral obligation” to divest from the company because they argue Breitbart “pushes white supremacy.”

“There is no middle ground when it comes to supporting hate directly or indirectly,” said Denzel McCampbell, a spokesman for the group.

The issue came to the fore after a national liberal news outlet called Think Progress detailed the investment in an article titled, “These wealthy institutions are quietly financing white nationalism.”

A spokesman for the university, Jason Cody, called the article “misleading and purposely confusing” in a statement.

“MSU is not financing any white nationalist organization or individual. We also do not have a financial position in any media outlet, Breitbart or otherwise,” he said. “The MSU Investment Office is responsible for managing the long-term assets of the university through the endowment fund, and MSU invests in hundreds of different financial vehicles.”

Cody notes that the hedge fund MSU invested in was founded by James Simons, a mathematician and “substantial supporter of medical research and a major contributor to the Democratic Party.”

He characterized the company’s partners as comprised “primarily of other academics with non-financial backgrounds” but said “we do not consider the personal political opinions and private activities of individual employees when making decisions.”

“It also should be noted that those individual employees are not directly receiving any monies from MSU,” Cody said. “To attempt to draw a line, as the Think Progress story did, from MSU’s investments to financing white nationalism is misleading and irresponsible.”

Breitbart has been described by Bannon in an interview with Mother Jones as “the platform for the alt-right” -- a loose-knit right-wing group that promotes “white identity” and welcomes “implicit or explicit or explicit racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.