Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

The 2017 Pension Political Power 25 – Institutional Investor

  1. Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, is among the most impassioned leaders fighting for defined benefit pension plans. Representing 1.6 million teachers nationwide, the 59-year-old has a big budget and considerable political power behind her, but she’s got good reason for concern: There’s no doubt that she and the teachers she serves will lose influence under Republican President Donald Trump. Since Trump nominated charter school advocate Betsy DeVos (No. 3) to head the Department of Education, Weingarten has been using her bully pulpit to slam DeVos on her charter record and her support for the restructuring of government pensions in Michigan. Weingarten continues to battle hedge funds that manage teachers’ pension investments, calling for institutional investors to shun managers with high costs and those who work against issues important to teachers. — Julie Segal

  1. Bernie Sanders

U.S. Senator

A longtime socialist congressman from Vermont, Bernie Sanders catapulted to national fame with his 2016 bid to become the Democratic presidential candidate. He garnered support in the Rust Belt states, which defied their traditional patterns to provide the swing votes that put Donald Trump in power. Sanders’ strength among these Trump backers makes him the most important voice in the populist opposition to the GOP in the Senate, which he joined in 2007. Though Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, his socialist views have often put him at odds with the party’s mainstream — as he was in 2015, when he introduced a bill to reverse the effects of the 2014 Kline–Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act, which is set to result in deep pension cuts for retirees and workers in struggling multiemployer corporate pension plans. Sanders, 75, is expected to reintroduce that legislation. In the 2017–’18 Congress, he will be the ranking member of the powerful Senate Committee on the Budget, where the Pension Guaranty Benefit Corp. is likely to be on the chopping block. — Michelle Celarier

  1. Kent Mason

Partner, Davis & Harman

Since 1988, Kent Mason, a partner at law firm Davis & Harman, has lobbied on behalf of clients with vested interests in the retirement savings industry. Among the 16 names on Mason’s current roster are the American Benefits Council, whose mission is to shape corporate benefits policy, and financial services giants State Street Corp., TIAA, and Vanguard Group. Last year these clients helped earn Davis & Harman $1.2 million in fees, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Mason, 62, testifies for his clients before the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Department, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. His recent public statements have included scathing criticism of the reissued DoL fiduciary rule and support for multiple employer retirement plans, which allow unrelated small companies to offer savings plans more economically. — Frances Denmark

  1. Elizabeth Warren

U.S. Senator

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren is one of her party’s fiercest opponents of the Republican agenda on retirement, which ranges from privatizing Social Security to cutbacks in pension benefits. And with key pension issues coming down the pipeline, she’s the leader workers expect to fight in their corner, as she did last year when she came out against Goldman Sachs Group and Northern Trust Corp. for charging fees on the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund when it was facing insolvency. As a populist counterpoint to Donald Trump, she’s among the few capable of mobilizing crowds that could force the GOP to reconsider its policies. Warren, 67, who recently announced that she will run for reelection in 2018, sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and has been talking about the retirement crisis almost since she joined the Senate, in 2011. Her signature accomplishment, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, shows her understanding of the complex financial issues facing middle-class voters. One of the Democrats’ most prodigious fundraisers, Warren is widely considered a potential presidential candidate for 2020. — Michelle Celarier

  1. Mike Rawlings

Mayor of Dallas

In November, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings testified before the Texas Pension Review Board that his city faces bankruptcy if something isn’t done to fix its struggling, scandal-plagued Police and Fire Pension System. The rating agencies agree with the former Pizza Hut CEO: In December, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Dallas’s general obligation bonds from Aa3 to A1, citing challenges surrounding the poorly funded $2.1 billion public safety pension plan. It was Moody’s third downgrade since October 2015, all for the same reasons. Just the day before the most recent cut, the pension plan’s trustees had halted lump-sum withdrawals; that action was taken in response to the 62-year-old Rawlings’s unusual step of suing the pension fund and its board as a private citizen to try to prevent a equivalent of a bank run. — Imogen Rose-Smith

  1. Richard Trumka

President, AFL-CIO

Since Richard Trumka’s 2009 election as president of the 12.5 million-­member AFL-CIO, the largest organization of labor unions in the U.S., his job has only gotten more difficult. Even before Donald Trump was elected along with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, unions — and traditional pensions — were under assault. Trumka, 67, comes from a family of coal miners and worked in the Pennsylvania mines before earning a law degree from Villanova University in 1974 to help achieve his childhood goal of aiding miners. Fair wages and pension benefits for union members are key issues for Trumka, a founding member of the National Public Pension Coalition, which fights to protect public sector workers’ pensions and has been at the forefront of pushing for an expansion of Social Security. — Frances Denmark

  1. Scott Walker

Governor of Wisconsin

When Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin in 2010, it was the beginning of the end for the state’s public sector unions. The following year, to close a $3.6 billion budget gap, Walker pushed Act 10 through the legislature, eliminating collective bargaining rights for unionized state workers and doubling their mandated pension contributions. The Republican governor was hoping to replace the defined benefit pension that covers all state employees with a 401(k)-style savings plan, but he changed his mind after learning that Wisconsin’s system is fully funded and widely acknowledged as the best in the U.S. Walker survived a 2012 recall election that was held as protests against his antiunion actions mounted. With $30 million in funding from the Koch brothers and other GOP donors, the 49-year-old governor still has national ambitions. His model for taking on unions is one GOP leaders are looking to. — Frances Denmark

  1. Kenneth Feinberg

Chairman, Founder and managingpartner, Feinberg Rozen

It takes a brave man to tell the Teamsters that they need to cut their pension benefits — and an even braver one to tell them that the cuts they have made are not enough. Kenneth Feinberg is that man. Known for his skills as a federal mediator — he oversaw the compensation funds for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Deepwater Horizon spill, among others — Feinberg was chosen by the Obama administration to oversee the restructuring of insolvent multiemployer retirement funds. The post was created under the 2014 Kline–Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act — a recognition of the stiff hurdles the nation’s private sector union pension plans were facing. Last year Feinberg, 71, rejected the first restructuring proposal submitted by the Central States Pension Fund, leaving its more than 400,000 Teamsters uncertain about their retirement future. In February he approved the restructuring plan of the Iron Workers Local 17 pension fund. — Frances Denmark

  1. Joe Manchin

U.S. Senator

Donald Trump may have won West Virginia on a promise to revive the coal industry, but will he stand up for coal miners’ pensions? That’s what Joe Manchin wants to know. The Democratic senator from West Virginia has led the charge on Capitol Hill to bail out the United Mine Workers of America’s health care and retirement funds. This year he helped reintroduce the Miners Protection Act, which would prop up the depleted funds with $3 billion over the next decade; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the legislation in 2016. Manchin, 69, has cozied up to Trump, breaking party lines to support several of the new president’s cabinet picks. Representing a Democratic stronghold that backed Trump, he could be in a unique position to broker a bipartisan deal, but he faces a tough 2018 reelection campaign. — Jess Delaney

  1. Randel Johnson

Chairman, Senior Vice President, Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s head of labor, immigration, and employee benefits, Randel Johnson, 64, is set to be one of the busiest lobbyists in Washington. Hands down the nation’s largest lobbying group by spending, and the go-to voice of business, the Chamber almost always has a better chance of advancing its agenda with a Republican president, let alone with a self-described business leader and deal maker like Donald Trump. The group, which views itself as a custodian of ERISA, supported the reforms to the multiemployeer retirement system that passed in 2014 and opposes higher Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. premiums. In December, Johnson and his staff published a wish list of retirement policy changes. A top priority: fixing the multiemployer mess. The Chamber also wants to see ERISA cover the emerging network of state-based solutions to private sector pensions. — Jess Delaney

  1. Paul Singer

President, Elliott Management Corp.

As chairman of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a free-market think tank, Paul Singer, president of hedge fund Elliott Management Corp., has been shaking up the pension world. Pensions are a big research priority for the institute, which maintains they need reforming so states and municipalities can better afford current services, including K–12 education. Pension clients are a big source of business for $28 billion-in-assets Elliott Management; Singer and other hedge fund managers who support the Manhattan Institute while managing defined benefit pension money face flak from unions. But the 72-year-old is known for his candid views on pensions, including his position that they are in far worse financial shape than the public realizes. —Julie Segal

  1. Corey Lewandowski

Co-founder, Avenue Strategies

Few political operatives appear better suited to thrive in the topsy-turvy world of Washington under the 45th president of the United States than Puerto Rico’s new man in D.C., Corey Lewandowski. And as a lobbyist for the commonwealth, he could become an unlikely pension savior.

When he met Donald Trump, Lewandowski had gained a name for himself as a bruiser and a doer in New Hampshire politics; in January 2016 he became the real estate mogul’s campaign manager. His tenure didn’t last long, but his scowling presence set the tone for the Republican candidate’s campaign, and he’s given credit for the “let Trump be Trump” approach, which proved a winning strategy.

Now Lewandowski, 43, is back in Washington as a lobbyist. One of his first clients: cash-strapped Puerto Rico. In late January the territory and its recently elected governor, Ricardo Rosselló, 37, were in talks with Lewan­dowski’s new firm, Avenue Strategies, to represent the commonwealth. Any resolution of Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis will have to address a massively underfunded public pension system and the payment of pension benefits going forward. Also, a restructuring of the territory’s pension debt could set a precedent for what happens to U.S. states struggling with pension burdens. — Imogen Rose-Smith

  1. Jerry Brown

Governor of California

California’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, didn’t hesitate before signing into law the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, which is rattling money managers. Now California will have a state-run retirement plan for private sector employees, giving 7 million workers without a retirement plan a low-cost way to save — a model that other governors may advocate for their own states. Brown, 78, who was elected to a historic fourth term in 2014, supported the initiative led by State Senator Kevin de León (No. 10), countering money managers’ arguments that such a plan could leave taxpayers with the bill in the case of shortfalls. He has also backed the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s phase-in of a lower discount rate — the assumed rate of return on plan assets — providing a more accurate account of liabilities. — Julie Segal


  1. Steve Sweeney

President, New Jersey State Senate

Last November, New Jersey achieved a dubious honor when it surpassed Illinois and Kentucky to claim the most underfunded pension system in the U.S. The Garden State has $135.7 billion less than it needs to cover its pension promises, and fixing the funding gap has been an ongoing political challenge. As the powerful president of the State Senate, Steve Sweeney, 57, is on the front line of the state’s bloody pension battles. He was the driving force behind a law passed in December that requires New Jersey to make quarterly rather than annual payments to its pension system. Governor Chris Christie vetoed two previous iterations of the bill — calling it an improper and unwarranted intrusion in 2014 — but conceded after a revision shifted borrowing costs associated with those payments to the pension fund. Pension politics will loom large in New Jersey’s upcoming state elections, slated for November. Though Sweeney has opted not to run for governor, he will be an important power behind whoever inherits the throne from an embattled, term-limited Christie. — Jess Delaney

  1. Mike Enzi

Chairman, Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security

As chairman of the Senate subcommittee on primary health and retirement security, Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi is the man to watch regarding any changes to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and private retirement plans. Last year Enzi introduced the Pension and Budget Integrity Act to take PBGC premiums out of the federal budget process. Supporters say this move will bring accountability to the pension insurance system and make plans more affordable. The act would eliminate incentives for legislators to raise premiums to pay for nonessential items. Enzi, 73, has long fought for retirement security: In 2015, as a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, he explored using multiemployer plans as retirement savings vehicles for small businesses. — Julie Segal

  1. Kevin de León

California State Senator and President Pro Tempore

State Senator Kevin de León has been the driving force behind the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, designed to cover almost 7 million full-time private sector workers with no access to a workplace plan. Under the leadership of Senate President Pro Tempore de Leon, California became the first state to enact legislation to launch a new kind of affordable, portable savings vehicle. The law created a board, which ordered a market analysis and a feasibility study, both finalized last year. De León, 50, traveled to Washington with State Treasurer John Chiang to make sure California was in compliance with federal regulations. Another big victory has been acceptance of the new plan by employer and insurance industry groups. Though Governor Jerry Brown’s impending lame-duck status makes the ambitious pro tempore all the more powerful, de León’s signature legislation is facing pushback from the new powers in Washington. — Frances Denmark

  1. Anthony Scaramucci

Founder SkyBridge Capital

In an April 2016 op-ed for Institutional Investor , SkyBridge Capital founder Anthony Scaramucci warned that the U.S. was in the midst of “a retirement crisis” and argued for a drastic overhaul of the pension system, modeled on Australia’s superannuation funds. “The question is whether in this toxic political environment our elected officials will do anything about the problem,” Scaramucci opined. Now, as an adviser to President Donald Trump, the Mooch, 53, is in a position to get some answers. In his II op-ed he laid out an ambitious policy agenda that includes raising the retirement age for Social Security from 66 to 70 and reducing benefits for wealthier individuals. He also called for employers to set up retirement programs in exchange for union concessions on defined contribution pension liabilities. To make America great again, Scaramucci wants to make it Australia. — Jess Delaney

  1. Paul Ryan

Speaker of the House

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan made his reputation as a deficit hawk. Any attempt to get pension legislation through Congress will be dead in the water without his backing. Given the Republican representative’s willingness to take the ax to veterans’ and federal employees’ pensions in recent years, more of the same is likely in store for the rest of the nation’s workers. The first test will be the position Ryan, 46, takes on a Donald Trump–backed Senate bill to restore pension benefits to thousands of coal miners, who overwhelmingly voted for Trump in states like Kentucky and West Virginia. So far, House Republicans have resisted efforts to shore up the miners’ pensions, which face insolvency. As chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early years of the Obama administration, Ryan headed a controversial bipartisan effort to slash $6 billion from military pensions. — Michelle Celarier

  1. Tani Cantil-Sakauye

California Chief Justice

The fate of California’s defined benefit pensions — and potentially those in every state — now lies in the hands of California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, 57, and her six fellow judges. If California’s top court rules that promised pension benefits can be taken away, that may open the door to drastic pension overhauls, removing an obstacle that has long frustrated would-be reformers around the country. For public employee retirees in Marin County, it could be “good-bye, pension spiking; hello, benefit adjustments.” The story so far: In 1955 the Supreme Court of California ruled that under the state’s commerce clause, benefits that had been promised to workers could not be taken away — though reasonable modifications were allowed if they included some comparable new advantages. This decision, known as the California rule, has been used by courts throughout the U.S. and its territories to stave off pension reform. Last year, though, a San Francisco court unanimously upheld a Marin County pension reform effort. The decision was challenged, and Cantil-Sakauye’s court has agreed to hear the case. — Imogen Rose-Smith

  1. Wilbur Ross

Secretary of Commerce

If Congress approves his nomination to what some have called Donald Trump’s cabinet of deplorables, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, 79, will take center stage in the president’s plan to kick-start the U.S. manufacturing sector. But the so-called king of bankruptcy doesn’t seem to have room for pension funds in his vision of a successful turnaround. Ross made his billions by using a slash-and-burn cost-cutting strategy to drag companies back from the brink of collapse, then selling them for a profit. He punted billions of dollars in defined benefit pension liabilities to a government-owned bailout fund, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. As Commerce secretary, Ross would inherit one of three seats on the PBGC’s board, where he would oversee the takeover of retirement funds when companies phased out their defined benefit plans. Ironically, Ross’s boss has his own union pension: According to his financial disclosure filings, Trump has collected more than $168,000 from his Screen Actors Guild union pension — a benefit from his work on The Apprentice. — Jess Delaney

  1. Steven Mnuchin

Secretary of the Treasury

Think presumptive Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin won’t have much time to deal with pensions? Think again. The Treasury secretary is one of three board members of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., so pensions fall squarely in his purview. Also, Mnuchin, 54, inherits two ticking pension time bombs. One is the Puerto Rico debt crisis; the other is what to do about the U.S.’s troubled multiemployer retirement funds. Puerto Rico secured itself a stay of execution via the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, which Congress passed in June 2016. The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, formed as part of that legislation, has until February 15 to come up with a plan, but that date is fast approaching. Now Puerto Rico is Mnuchin’s problem, and fixing the commonwealth’s $49 billion pension burden must be a part of any realistic path to fiscal stability. As for U.S. trade unions, they’re not going to wait quietly for a resolution to their growing pension woes. . — Imogen Rose-Smith

  1. Laura & John Arnold

Founders, Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Since 2011 the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) has established itself as the most powerful voice among not-for-profits fighting to reform public defined benefit pensions in the U.S. The Arnolds’ considerable wealth aids in these efforts. John Arnold, 42, made his multibillion-dollar fortune as a natural-gas trader, first at Enron Corp. and then running his own hedge fund. The couple is willing to give big bucks to candidates and campaigns that support the type of pension reform they endorse: a reduction of the burden on state and municipal coffers. The Texas-based LJAF has worked with state lawmakers to help shape pension policy, most recently in Arizona. The foundation’s top pension executive, Josh McGee, is emerging as a pension power player in his own right: In addition to his day job, he’s a senior fellow with conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (see Paul Singer, No. 15) and chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board. — Imogen Rose-Smith

  1. Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s 59-year-old pick to head the Department of Education, is an advocate of charter schools. These alternatives to public schools are allowed to use teachers not represented by unions — teachers who won job security and comprehensive benefit plans, including guaranteed pensions, through their union membership. DeVos’s husband is Dick DeVos, former president and CEO of multilevel-marketing giant Amway Corp.; her Michigan-based family has donated millions to charter schools, and if she’s confirmed for the Education post, expect her advocacy and clout to shrink union power and whittle away at teachers’ retirement plans. The DeVos family has a history of backing similar causes. Every year it hosts the West Michigan Policy Forum, which has decided to fight to restructure government pensions and benefits in 2017. — Julie Segal

  1. Bruce Rauner

Governor of Illinois

In 2015, Republican Bruce Rauner, former chairman of private equity firm GTCR, was elected governor of Illinois — which has one of the most underfunded state government pension systems in the country — on a promise to bring fiscal stability. Illinois has since become ground zero for pension reform. In December, Rauner, who has a history of antiunion positions, vetoed a bill that would have provided $215 million for pensions for Chicago public school teachers; he said any bailout needed to be tied to statewide pension changes, which he’s been trying to ram through the legislature since he took office. State Democrats overrode his veto, but Rauner, who turns 60 this month, has more support in the House, which has yet to vote. He has appointed outspoken pension reformer Marc Levine to head the $15 billion Illinois State Board of Investment. Levine has done one thing to make pension backers happy: He slashed ISBI’s hedge fund portfolio. — Michelle Celarier

  1. Andy Puzder

Secretary of Labor

As Donald Trump’s Labor secretary, Andy Puzder will lead the charge against workers’ rights for an administration that has committed to “make America great again” without the bedrock principles of modern organized labor: retirement security, access to health care, and a minimum wage. CEO of fast-food conglomerate CKE Restaurants, Puzder, 66, has a record of opposing increases to the minimum wage, new overtime rules and other regulations. When he assumes his new job, the Department of Labor boss and ERISA custodian — whose confirmation hearing is scheduled for February 2 — will find a host of pension issues on his doorstep. Key among them: leading the fight to gut the fiduciary rule, which forces investment advisers to act in clients’ best interests, and the thorny question of raising Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. premiums. The pension backstop lacks the funds to bail out all the plans it covers, but employers and unions are reluctant to pay more. In business Puzder has shown himself reluctant to lay much of his workers’ pension burden on his company: Hourly workers at CKE’s Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains aren’t unionized and don’t even have access to a 401(k) plan. The parent company’s 401(k) has no matching contribution or profit sharing, and its plan manager charges high fees. Puzder’s own financial disclosure form, filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, is due to be published any day and will show how much he himself has saved for retirement. — Michelle Celarier

District Offices

Gloucester County
Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752

Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808
Fax: (856) 339-9626

The Bridgeton Library Satellite Office
1st Tuesday of the month
3 pm - 5 pm
150 East Commerce Street
Bridgeton, NJ 08302
Phone: 856-455-1011