Cerberus

Is Cerberus still indirectly supporting the NRA?

June 4, 2013: 1:42 PM ET

130604120651-stephen-feinberg-620xaCerberus says it has nothing to do with gun policy. Is that really true?

FORTUNE -- When Cerberus Capital Management announced that it would sell firearms manufacturer Freedom Group in the wake of last December's Newtown massacre, it referred to itself as a group of "investors, not statesmen or policy makers."

Cerberus added:

"Our role is to make investments on behalf of our clients who are comprised of the pension plans of firemen, teachers, policemen and other municipal workers and unions, endowments, and other institutions and individuals.  It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate.  That is the job of our federal and state legislators."

Okay, except that Freedom Group subsidiaries like Marlin Firearms and Remington Arms have donated tens of thousands of dollars over the years to the National Rifle Association -- a group that very much seeks to affect policy.

The question, therefore, is if Cerberus directed Freedom Group businesses to stop donating to the NRA, post-Newtown.

Today I got a chance to ask Cerberus co-founder and CEO Steve Feinberg, who was speaking at a private equity industry conference in Boston. During his session, Feinberg talked repeatedly about how Cerberus gets very involved with its private equity portfolio companies -- sometimes devoting dozens of team members to a single one. But when I asked about Freedom's donations to the NRA, as part of audience Q&A, he suddenly switched into passive investor mode.

"We don't manage the day-t0-day in a company and tell them what to do," he explained, adding that Freedom itself has a policy of no direct lobbying.

Feinberg did not seem to know if the company had given money to the NRA post-Newtown, but did stress that the "NRA does provide tremendous support and customer references and business for gun owners."

In other words, Cerberus has not told Freedom Group or any of its subsidiaries to end their donations to the NRA. And I'm not arguing that it needs to. After all, it makes all sorts of symbiotic sense for America's largest firearms manufacturer to support America's largest lobbyist for gun ownership.

But don't then pretend that you've completely washed your hands of policy, letting the legislative chips fall where they may. If you really want to extricate yourself from the debate -- at least until you manage to sell Freedom Group -- there is an easy way to do it.

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