Money Mover

An international market for made-in-America financial products could mean that Clinton was a wise investment for Goldman Sachs

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No. 13
Jon Corzine
Last year’s rank: No. 38, New York, N.Y., $257,800 (with wife, Joanne)
Corzine, 51, is co-chair and co-CEO of Goldman Sachs, an investment firm.

J.P. Morgan once famously declared that America was “good enough for me.” Today’s highfliers in the brave new world of global finance are less insular. To someone like Jon Corzine, co-chair and co-CEO of Goldman Sachs, the whole world is his oyster.

With its commanding presence in the capital markets of New York, London, Frankfurt, and, increasingly, Tokyo, Goldman is one of the world’s most consistently successful financial houses, earning billions since Corzine took the helm in 1994. Not surprisingly, the firm has long had a reputation for being close to those in power, as, for example, in the Clinton administration, where Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a former Goldman chair, has been uniquely influential.

In the fall of 1997, the U.S. government embarked on an international reform crusade of breathtaking scope and audacity. As one Asian country after another collapsed and appealed to the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund (which relates to the U.S. Treasury rather like the RCA Victor dog did to the talking machine in the logo) for rescue funds, the Americans drew a line in the sand: They made aid contingent upon sweeping privatization of state-directed (and, over the last generation, fabulously successful) Asian economies.

Likened by the former head of one major Japanese bank to a new “MacArthur scenario,” this approach would have institutionalized the open markets for money, foreign exchange, and securities that firms like Goldman thrive on. In place of the usual closed circle of state-encouraged, “national champion” firms borrowing vast amounts of money from government-controlled savings systems at concessionary rates, the U.S. Treasury demanded the creation, virtually overnight, of American-style “transparent” markets for stocks and bonds. The U.S. and the IMF also insisted upon sweeping accounting reforms, far-reaching financial deregulation, balanced budgets, higher interest rates, and freely convertible foreign exchange markets overseen by independent central banks. If successful, this new made-in-America “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” would open up the pension funds and other savings vehicles of what had been the fastest-growing and highest-saving countries in the world to money managers like Goldman, and create lucrative new markets for securities placement, debt stretch-out, privatizations, mergers, and acquisitions (at fire-sale prices).

As the Clinton administration went into high gear, so did Corzine. In October 1997, with Clinton stumbling in the polls and the press, Corzine donated $25,000 to a DNC nonfederal (i.e., soft money) account; a month later he gave $75,000. In January, he gave $30,000 more, and in March, he gave $15,000. He also made substantial contributions to the Democratic senatorial and congressional campaign committees, plus the usual raft of donations to individual congressmen and -women and Goldman’s own PAC.

Recent announcements and some subtle clues in FEC records suggest that Corzine continues to plan ahead. Earlier this year, with the stock market near all-time highs, Goldman announced plans to transform its venerable private partnership into a publicly traded corporation. (The deal is now on hold.) In June, the firm named a co-chair and co-CEO alongside Corzine. Corzine, meanwhile, was placing some thoughtful political bets: In April, he donated a token $5,000 to Al Gore’s Leadership ’98 PAC.

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