May 12, 2016 / 12:07 AM / 4 years ago

Fundraisers make pitch for Trump at hedge fund conference

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Top fundraisers for Donald Trump made pitches on Wednesday to prominent hedge fund investors to line up behind the presumptive Republican presidential nominee as he seeks to raise $1 billion for the general election campaign.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Lynden, Washington, U.S., May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

The New York billionaire businessman was a topic of discussion as some 2,000 hedge fund managers, investors, lawyers and journalists gathered in Las Vegas for the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, known as SALT, the industry’s most prominent annual meeting.

Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s newly appointed national finance chairman and a private investor himself, met with some of the attending hedge fund managers and others, including oil investor T. Boone Pickens, Georgette Mosbacher and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.

In an onstage interview, Kenneth Griffin, the billionaire founder of powerful hedge fund firm Citadel who previously supported U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, did not address the presidential campaign. A spokesman for Griffin did not respond to a request for comment.

Also speaking at the event was former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who in an onstage interview, declined to endorse any presidential candidate. Earlier this year, Bloomberg flirted with an independent presidential candidacy, but decided against it for fear it would help Trump’s chances of getting elected.

Some investors told Reuters they were disappointed Bloomberg did not enter the race.

Trump is the last man standing in the Republican race after U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich dropped out last week. Trump, who has never held elective office, is trying to unite Republicans behind his candidacy after a primary election campaign in which his fiery rhetoric on trade, immigration and Muslims rankled party elites.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed Trump had pulled even with Clinton, his likely opponent in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

David Rubenstein, co-founder of private equity powerhouse Carlyle Group, kicked off the three-day conference by asking the audience which candidate they thought would move into the White House in January after November’s election. The vast majority did not express an opinion on either Trump or Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Away from panel discussions on how the industry can salvage a poor start to the year - the average hedge fund is off 0.8 percent this year, according to eVestment - powerful Trump backers were working smaller venues around the Hotel Bellagio.

Anthony Scaramucci, who hosts the conference and runs hedge fund investment firm Skybridge Capital, said he was reaching out to his contacts to convince them Trump would run his candidacy like an entrepreneur, something he said America needed.

‘ENTREPRENEURIAL AVENUE’

“You have an opportunity now to bring an entrepreneur and a team of advisers that are entrepreneurial, out-of-the-box thinkers into Washington,” Scaramucci told Reuters. “That’s the sell to potential donors.”

Scaramucci has long been a powerful Republican fundraiser who originally backed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in this year’s race and later Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

He said there would be the Trump “Entrepreneurial Avenue” versus the “Clinton cul-de sac,” a suggestion that economic growth would be stronger under the likely Republican nominee.

Scaramucci added that potential donors would soon get over any fears of publicly helping Trump.

“Candidate Trump has said some things that some business people think: ‘Jeez, if I’m associated with some of those things, it could be perceived negatively for my business.’ I think that will wash away in the next two months,” Scaramucci said.

Among big-name Trump backers at the conference were Pickens, an oil investor and hedge fund manager who previously supported Bush’s candidacy.

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“Yes, I’m for Donald Trump,” he said on stage, adding Trump was smart enough to get himself help where he needed it politically and that it would be refreshing to have a businessman instead of a politician in the White House.

“Donald almost always overestimates how successful he is,” Pickens said, “but nonetheless he has been out there and he does know something about what he is talking about.”

(This version of the story corrects paragraph three to remove reference to Mnuchin meeting with Griffin)

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Lawrence Delevingne; Editing by Peter Cooney

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