The notion that California’s Supermarket King Ron Burkle is not a political entrepreneur—someone who has used his connections with politicians to profit—is unsustainable. But, of course, Burkle manages to sustain exactly that notion. The Forbes article that got so much attention from Gawker yesterday (mostly on the question of whether Burkle is or is not friends with Jeffrey Epstein), provides a brilliant little glimpse inside the self-image of Burkle.
The mainstream business press beats up on him, essentially for buying access and influence among politicians and leaders of the pension funds that invest with him.
"I basically became the poster child for the ills of political donations and business. It's preposterous!" he protests.
Totally preposterous! Except, you know, for this sort of thing:
In the mid-1990s he had contributed money to the campaigns of Governor Gray Davis, San Francisco's former mayor Willie Brown (his former lawyer) and State Treasurer Philip Angelides, and later Brown and Angelides joined the Calpers board. "How were we supposed to know in the mid-1990s that Willie Brown was going to be on the board of Calpers?" he says. You would never have guessed unless maybe you knew that Willie Brown was about as well-connected as any politician in California's history.
Oh, and then there’s this:
Yucaipa arranged for Clinton to make a speech at a Teamsters conference in 2003, and later Clinton urged Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. to trust Burkle and present him with possible deals. Result: This spring Yucaipa paid $100 million to buy a controlling stake in Allied Holdings, a trucking outfit in bankruptcy proceedings. "Clinton got it to the point where Hoffa actually helped us with that deal, something I couldn't have gotten on my own," Burkle says.
Ron, Ron, Ron. Look. We know you want people to think you built your fortune on your own, pounded it out on the battlefield of the free-market and all that. But it’s not taking. So we’re going to give you the same advice we gave Aleksey Vayner: Go with what you got. There have been plenty of American fortunes built on political connections. And now you’ve got one of them. If those nasty free-market types want to tease you for it, well just wipe away your tears with your piles of money.
The Rise Of Ron Burkle [Forbes]