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Tim Geithner did not 'bail out' his new employer

November 18, 2013: 11:22 AM ET

Tim Geithner takes a private sector job. Cue the baseless 'revolving door' accusations.

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FORTUNE -- Private equity firm Warburg Pincus recently made what seemed to be an innocuous change on its website – reclassifying co-presidents Joe Landy and Charles Kaye as co-CEOs. But it seems this was a precursor to this past weekend's big news: The hiring of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as president and managing director, effective next March. He also will be part of the firm's executive management group (effectively replacing Kewsong Lee, who just bolted for Carlyle Group).

My gut take is that this is a smart move. Geithner obviously understands how to manage a large organization (thanks to both his Treasury and NY Fed experience), plus he should have good insights into a wide array of industry sectors (including, of course, financial services). And, yes, his political connections could come in handy.

Also worth noting, however, that some critics already have begun to pounce on what they refer to as an untoward "revolving door" nature of Geithner's hire. For example, Better Markets CEO Dennis Kelleher said:

"Proving his critics right, Geithner will now be richly rewarded by the very industry he worked so hard as a public official to bail out with taxpayer money and which he was supposed to regulate but did not."

Sounds pretty bad. You know, if it were true.

No private equity firms received taxpayer-funded bailout funds. Nor did they ask for any. Probably because private equity is an entirely different business than investment banking or reinsurance, with a portfolio management structure that virtually precludes its practitioners from causing systemic financial catastrophe. The industry was largely untouched by Dodd-Frank, for example, because no one could present a compelling case for its inclusion.

In fact, the only real connection Warburg Pincus has to TARP is that it invested in two companies that has previously received TARP funds -- both of which have since paid back the money.

As for broader regulation, I'm not really sure what Kelleher is referring to. Raising taxes on private equity execs by changing the treatment of carried interest? Not something that would have been in Geithner's purview. Fighting harder for a full-throated Volcker Rule? Maybe, but at best that would have just presented some slight fundraising complications for independent private equity firms like Warburg Pincus.

The real boon for post-crisis private equity has been low interest rates, so perhaps Kelleher's complaints should wait until Ben Bernanke takes up residence at Buyout Firm X.

I did reach out to Kelleher, but was told he was unavailable. A Better Markets spokesman declined to comment further.

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Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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