More on San Diego's Relational Investors

A friend who works for a placement firm called me up to point out that I managed to malign the entire placement agent industry in my last post.

There are placement agents who register and disclose everything to regulators — only to see their reputations undermined by folks who don’t play by the same rules.

A company in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. called Tullig Inc. was paid nearly $17 million for helping San Diego’s Relational Investors LLC line up a big investment from CalPERS, the giant California pension fund.

What magic strings did Tullig pull on from Yorktown Heights? What’s the connection between Relational and Tullig?  And why is it so hard to get answers to these questions?

Neither Tullig nor its head, Donal J. Murphy is registered with the SEC or the industry’s own regulatory body, FINRA.

Neither is another of Murphy’s companies, DJ Murphy Associates Inc., described as a company that sells investment services to public pension funds in this 1998 story in The New York Times.

Murphy, a native of Queens, New York, spent two decades at Bankers Trust before branching out on his own in 1992. Relational hired him the following year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In 2003, DJ Murphy Associates was fined $400 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to register as a major donor. (.pdf)

Mount Kisco, NY-based DJ Murphy wrote a check for $10,000 to Democrat Steve Westly’s campaign for California controller on Aug. 14, 2002.

The same day, Aug. 14, 2002, something called the E-Celerator Fund LLC wrote Westly a $12,500 check. E-Celerator is a little-known private fund that’s run by Whitworth and his partner, David Batchelder.

E-Celerator gave another $15,000 to Westly’s campaign on Dec. 6, 2002, more than a month after his close election victory.

Perhaps these contributions had something to do with the seat California’s controller automatically holds on CalPERS’ board.

On the CalPERS board, Westly took up the cause excessive executive compensation, which happened to be Whitworth’s signature issue as well, and the pension fund nominated Whitworth for a spot on the New York Stock Exchange.

Not bad for a guy from Winnemucca, Nevada who started out as an aide to hometown Sen. Paul Laxalt. Laxalt is now a $20,000-a-month lobbyist who worked for Whitworth on issues such as “Legislation/policies relating to the tax treatment of carried interest received by investment fund managers.”

This is in the same vein as the top CalPERS middleman ARVCO Financial Venture’s Al Villalobos, a former member of the pension fund’s board who grossed nearly $60 million in fees. Villalobos chose to incorporate in tax-free Nevada.

Middlemen, however, are stuck in the middle. The real money is with investment managers like Whitworth, who made $16 million in a single year, according to court documents filed by his ex-wife.

Whitworth owes his wealth in part to the corporate public disclosures that Relational’s team scours to find undervalued companies like Mattel and J.C. Penney. Relational then buys up a stake in the company and tries to turn things around.

Fair enough, but Whitworth is throwing his weight around the corporate boardroom courtesy of giant pension funds like CalPERS, which has put $1.5 billion in Relational to date.

If only Whitworth were as transparent as he expects corporate executives to be.

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