The departure of Robert Mercer as a top executive for the Suffolk-based, super-profitable Renaissance Technologies had political observers riveted last week on the Long Island billionaire’s low-key public role.
Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer, wielded important influence in President Donald Trump’s campaign last year.
They are credited with helping Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon and consultant Kellyanne Conway ascend to leadership posts in Trumpland after campaign manager Paul Manafort was forced out.
The Mercers, who at first backed Ted Cruz for president, are now as often mentioned in power circles as Midwestern industrialists Charles and David Koch, who also boost favored right-wing causes and campaigns with millions of dollars. Renaissance founder Jim Simons, a prominent backer of Democrats who at Renaissance worked with Mercer as his top colleague, retired in 2010.
Often forgotten in the political coverage is the long-pending matter of an Internal Revenue Service demand for an estimated $7 billion in back taxes from Renaissance Technologies.
Seven years ago, the IRS deemed a practice used by Renaissance and other hedge funds of temporarily storing investment income in bank accounts to be a tax-avoidance scheme.
Renaissance was told to stop the practice, but refused, defending its legality.
This month happens to mark the end of the term of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, an Obama administration holdover.
Trump is due to name a successor, who would stand to inherit the Renaissance matter as a small part of a sprawling agency portfolio.
Last month, congressional probes of alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 election spawned news reports about the Mercer-financed firm Cambridge Analytica, which mined web data for the Trump campaign.
By several accounts, Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last year regarding creation of a searchable database of hacked Hillary Clinton emails.
Assange, who published thousands of the embarrassing emails, tweeted: “I can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica [prior to November last year] and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks.”
Cambridge also was involved in targeting and propagating online messages on social media for the successful British campaign to separate the United Kingdom from the European Union.
During the Trump campaign, the firm worked with the candidate’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, a real estate scion who oversaw digital strategies.