Founded in 1636, Harvard University is generally considered to be the oldest university in the United States. With a $36.4 billion endowment, it is generally considered to be the richest university in the United States as well. And Harvard just got richer, with some help from a big Republican donor.
Yesterday, Harvard College President Drew Faust announced that hedge fund manager John A. Paulson, a Harvard Business School alum, had pledged to donate $400 million — the largest gift in Harvard history – to the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). The gift seemed to have naming rights attached: The school will now be called the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Paulson is no amateur when it comes to big donations — he’s given millions to political causes over the years. In 2012, he personally helped fund the Republican convention with a $1 million contribution. He claimed a slot on the list of top individual contributors to federal candidates, parties, PACs and outside spending groups in that election cycle, giving (with his wife, Jenny) a total of $1.2 million, $1 million of which went to Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Other executives from Paulson’s hedge fund, Paulson & Co, also were big donors that cycle, bringing the firm’s total to $2.1 million in 2012. Several of those donors maxed out to the Republican National Committee and the party’s House and Senate campaign committees.
Paulson’s contributions were far lower during the 2014 midterm cycle, though he gave significantly to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Paulson’s firm has made frequent and creative use of complex financial instruments, particularly in connection with the housing market. It was Paulson who approached investment firm Goldman Sachs in 2006 to create a complicated investment vehicle that bundled subprime mortgages, which Paulson’s firm then bet against. The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Goldman with defrauding investors in connection with the fund, also alleging that Paulson & Co. paid Goldman to structure the vehicle. The hedge fund, which was not charged by the SEC, netted about $1 billion from the deal. Goldman, meanwhile, paid $550 million to the SEC to settle the case. Since then, an insurance company has sued Goldman over the transactions and has been seeking to add Paulson & Co. as a defendant.
Still, his firm’s success in that deal and others – in 2007, for instance, Paulson & Co. made $15 billion-plus betting on the collapse of the U.S. housing market — clearly has provided Paulson with the level of resources that make possible a $400 million donation to his alma mater. And it’s plain that he has further millions to spare should he want to make an imprint on 2016 presidential politics.