Billionaire businessman Ronald Perelman has helped land the wife of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the board of directors of Revlon—the latest politically connected appointment to the board of a company he controls.
Perelman, 70, has been a political player for decades. He dishes out large campaign checks. He employs a team of lobbyists to patrol the nation’s capital to protect his business interests. And he has ensured that a steady stream of political elites land on the payrolls or boards of directors of his businesses.
Among the political bold-named faces that have filled Perelman-run company boards (some while private; some while public) are former first lady Nancy Reagan, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan, former SEIU leader Andy Stern – and now Diana Cantor.
Perelman’s politics have zigged Democratic (he gave $50,000 to President Obama’s 2009 inaugural fund) and zagged Republican (he hosted a fundraiser for Mitt Romney at his Hamptons estate last summer and has given heavily to Cantor), but the one constant has been Perelman’s appetite for relationships with Washington’s power brokers.
“Just like any intelligent business person, Mr. Perelman looks to work with, employ, and promote the best people available,” said Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Perelman and his wholly owned holding company, MacAndrews and Forbes. “In this regard, thoughtful professionals with prior public service experience are considered a positive addition.”
Perelman has a broad set of corporate interests, which include cosmetics, the production of a small-pox vaccine, designing and manufacturing Humvees, and servicing the lottery industry. MacAndrews and Forbes and its subsidiaries spent more than $2 million on federal lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics
His practice of placing political influencers on his corporate boards first exploded into public view in 1998, when it came out that Jordan, then a Revlon director, had personally called Perelman to seek a job for a former White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
A Washington Post profile in the scandal’s wake described Perelman’s political modus operandi this way: “So the billionaire writes checks, a hundred thousand dollars to Democrats here, a hundred thousand to Republicans there. He chairs presidential fundraisers and hires – ‘acquires’ is the verb of choice – some former politicians and their friends.”
Other corporations have ex-politicians and the politically powerful on their boards, but Perelman stands out. At one point in the 1990s, Perelman, who lives in New York, had the city’s former mayor, David Dinkins, former city council president, Andrew Stein, and former deputy mayor, Bill Lynch, all on the payroll.
Directorships at Perelman companies can be lucrative. Revlon directors who served for all of 2012 were paid between $131,000 and $181,000. Diana Cantor was formally elected to the Revlon board by shareholders earlier this month.
An aide to Rep. Cantor said that neither Eric nor Diana Cantor “ever had a single conversation with Ron Perelman” about her joining the board of Revlon. Instead, she went through “an extensive interview process, and as someone who has significant corporate experience, was a great fit.”
Taylor, Perelman’s spokeswoman, said Diana Cantor had been selected by an independent nominating committee, then confirmed by the full board (which Perelman chairs) and then presented to shareholders. Perelman alone controls three-quarters of the shareholder voting power.
Perelman began donating to Eric Cantor in 2008. That summer, GOP presidential nominee John McCain had lunch with Eric and Diana Cantor at Perelman’s Hamptons home during a fundraiser – just as buzz about the House member being vetted for the vice-presidency was picking up.
Perelman has been giving to the Virginia Republican ever sinc.—a total of $27,100 to his reelection campaigns and ERIC PAC, and thousands more directed to a Cantor joint fundraising committee. The political action committee of MacAndrews and Forbes has given the lawmaker's committees another $47,000 since 2008. And when Perelman hosted Romney last summer, the House majority leader could be seen mingling in the crowd.
Diana Cantor has been a successful businesswoman in her own right for decades. When she met Eric, she was already rising through the ranks of Goldman Sachs; he was still in graduate school. She holds a law degree and an MBA, and is a certified public accountant. And since 2005, she has sat on two other corporate boards: Media General, a broadcasting firm, and Domino’s Pizza. Domino’s has been by far the most lucrative, earning her more than $3 million in cash, stock, and options.
In 2011, Diana Cantor joined the board of the Edelman Financial Group. In 2012, she joined the board of Universal Corporation, a tobacco leaf-company, and some private boards.
Eric Cantor became House majority leader in 2011, when Republicans took over the chamber.His office released the same statement for a story last week about Diana Cantor’s Domino’s compensation as for this story: “I’m very proud of Diana, who over the past 30 years has built a tremendous business career while raising our three wonderful children,” Eric Cantor said. “She is an example to all aspiring young women and working mothers who want to study hard, work hard, and achieve great things.”
For Perelman, Revlon is one piece of a broader corporate empire. His most recent board appointment that drew significant scrutiny came in 2010, when Andy Stern, the former head of powerful Service Employees International Union, and a close ally of President Obama in passing health care reform, landed on the board of Siga, another Perelman-controlled company.
Siga, the maker of drugs that combat lethal pathogens, stirred controversy in 2011, when the Health and Human Services Department awarded the firm a sole-source contract worth $443 million to produce 1.7 million doses of an anti-viral smallpox vaccine for the nation’s biodefense. Another member of Siga’s board is Fran Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush during most of his second term.
In addition to his political and business involvement, Perelman, whom Forbes magazine estimated in 2012 was the 29th wealthiest man in America, is a major philanthropist. He has given hundreds of millions of dollars to various causes and universities. Last month, he pledged $100 million to the Columbia Business School, where they are erecting a new building: the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Business Innovation.
“Mr. Perelman is an engaged citizen,” Taylor said. “Engaged philanthropically, engaged civically and engaged politically.”