Hedge fund billionaire fires back at Warren: 'Your vilification of the rich is misguided'

Jerry Adler
Senior Editor

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s quest to be judged as a candidate by the enemies she makes got a boost this week from hedge fund mogul Leon Cooperman, who sent her a five-page letter complaining that she doesn’t know anything about billionaires, or him in particular.

“However much it resonates with your base, your vilification of the rich is misguided,” Cooperman, whose fortune has been estimated at over $3 billion, wrote to Warren, in a letter made public Thursday afternoon. He said the Massachusetts Democrat, who is running for president on a platform that includes a wealth tax on large fortunes, has “demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of who I am, what I stand for, and why I believe so many of your economic policy initiatives are misguided.”

Warren’s tax agenda has become a lightning rod for criticism by the ultrawealthy, including some, like Cooperman, who identify as political moderates. “What is wrong with billionaires?” Cooperman complained to Politico in a story that appeared last week. “You can become a billionaire by developing products and services that people will pay for.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses a crowd in Florence, S.C. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

“I believe in a progressive income tax and the rich paying more,” he went on, before accusing Warren of “s***ing” on the “American dream.”

Warren responded in a tweet, writing, “Leon, you were able to succeed because of the opportunities this country gave you. Now why don’t you pitch in a bit more so everyone else has a chance at the American dream, too?”

Cooperman’s letter recounted his “classic American success story.” The son of an immigrant plumber in the Bronx, he attended public schools and New York City’s then tuition-free Hunter College, graduating with a “negative net worth” before going to work for the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

He described in detail his charitable donations to education and other causes, including the establishment of Cooperman College Scholars, a program to help disadvantaged high school students apply to and attend college. He wrote that Warren’s critiques of the wealthy ignore “the substantial contributions to society which they already, unprompted by you, make” — singling out Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the three co-founders of Home Depot.

The letter didn’t discuss the many billionaires, including one prominent New York City real estate developer who went on to run for president, who give little or nothing to charity.

Much of Cooperman’s letter consisted of a point-by-point refutation of Warren’s claims for her wealth tax plan, which calls for a 2 percent annual tax on the portion of personal fortunes above $50 million. He said it would be counterproductive and discourage investment and business growth.

After objecting to the way Warren “proceeded to admonish me (as if a parent chiding an ungrateful child)” in her tweet, he informed Warren, a leading scholar of American personal finance, that “typically, unless born to money or married into it, people become rich by providing a product or service that others want and are willing to pay for.”

The service that made Cooperman his fortune was a hedge fund, an investment vehicle tailored to the already wealthy.

The richest family in America, the descendants of Walmart founder Sam Walton, worth an estimated $190 billion cumulatively, were, of course, “born to money,” as was the runner-up, the heirs to the Mars candy fortune.

There was no immediate response to the letter from Warren.

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