CNBC

Santelli raises red herring on private equity

September 21, 2012: 12:21 PM ET

Is private equity getting fair treatment?

FORTUNE -- Rick Santelli this morning pulled a bait-and-switch on CNBC viewers, in a segment ostensibly about whether or not private equity firms are being unfairly persecuted by state regulators.

Santellli began by referencing a recent story about how Sun Capital Partners is among several private equity firms under investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office for a controversial tax strategy. He then points out that Sun is run by Marc Leder, who hosted the now-infamous fundraiser for Mitt Romney back on May 17. Here's where Santelli connects the dots:

"When did the subpoenas go out? Remember, May 17. The subpoenas went out in mid-July. Does that not raise a couple of red flags for you?"

In other words, NY AG Eric Schneiderman is giving Leder some payback for hosting the Romney fundraiser. Never mind that Lerer had been raising money for Romney since his 2008 presidential run. Or that nearly a dozen other firms received subpoenas as part of the same investigation (including some with principals who had donated the Obama's reelection campaign). Or that there is absolutely no evidence beyond the barely-coincidental timing that ties the fundraiser to the investigation.

Actually, not even really timing. Just one breath later, Santelli admits that mid-July subpoenas likely mean the investigation actually began before May 17.

You'd think Santelli would have stopped once he snapped his only tenuous string, but no. He then goes on to talk about how Jon Corzine -- and Obama supporter -- isn't being prosecuted in connection with the failure of MF Global. In other words, Romne's big money supporters get in trouble, Obama's big money supporters get off.

Look, I'm all for a good conspiracy theory. But this is just a wink and a chyron.

Private equity firms being investigated is nothing new. For example, remember when the U.S. Justice Department looked into possible collusion between mega-buyout firms? Pretty sure that was under President Bush. Was he also trying to punish Mitt Romney's supporters?

There are real tax policy issues -- and past tax practices -- worth discussing, including ones related to how senior Sun Capital executives pay a relatively low rate. So let's do that, rather than gratuitously suggest nefarious, partisan motives.

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