This content is from: Corner Office

The 2014 Pension 40: The Battle Is On

Our ranking of the 40 most influential players in U.S. pensions highlights new names swept up in an intensifying political struggle.

  • Robert Teitelman

Pension reform has staggered out of the closet and into a political dustup. The underfunding of many defined benefit plans has been evident for years, but when cities like Detroit and Stockton, California, went bust, the issues remained the bailiwick of experts. That ended with the 2014 elections. Public pensions were suddenly not just about calculating liabilities or debating investment strategies; they were driving higher taxes and reduced services, stirring charges of selling out to Wall Street or abandoning police officers and firefighters. The hope that a few bullish years and some investment prowess could repair a long-fraying retirement system was lost. Someone had to pay, whether it was taxpayers, beneficiaries or bondholders. As former Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern (No. 37), now at Columbia University, says, “You can’t fight the math.”

The emergence of pension reform as an electoral issue has recast Institutional Investor’s second annual ranking of the 40 most important people in the fight over defined benefit pensions. This year some 22 of the 40 are new to the list — many, like our No. 1, Illinois Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, elevated by politics. The Pension 40 covers not only public pensions but corporate and Taft-Hartley, or multiemployer, plans. Many of these plans are in trouble. Some view a shift to defined contribution plans as the only way out; others see that as an attack on long-promised, hard-earned benefits.

The Pension 40 includes a diversity of voices: executives and union members; academics, politicians and judges; plan administrators and government officials. Some have long been influential. Others, mostly politicians, have been swept into the maelstrom: Rauner, the former private equity executive who beat incumbent Pat Quinn, now faces what may be the U.S.’s worst state pension problem. Other officials, like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (No. 4), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (No. 9) and Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla (No. 22), also face pension woes whether they like it or not. Another theme in the Pension 40: the emerging role of the courts. Bankruptcy judge Christopher Klein (No. 23) defied America’s largest pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, in the Stockton Chapter 9 case. And state courts in California, Illinois and Rhode Island are telling politicians and voters what will pass muster.

Pension politics has come to reflect the polarized, often bitter conventional variety, with big-money groups taking sides, from the American Federation of Teachers, run by Randi Weingarten (No. 3) to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (No. 2) to advocacy operations like Randy DeFrehn’s (No. 6) National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans. The best news? There’s no deficiency on the Pension 40 of voices offering creative solutions. In the end, they may have to lead us out of the wilderness.

The Pension 40 was compiled under the direction of Senior Contributing Editor Robert Teitelman. Individual profiles were written by Teitelman; Editor Michael Peltz; Associate Editor Kaitlin Ugolik; Senior Writers Frances Denmark, Imogen Rose-Smith and Julie Segal; and Editorial Research Assistant Georgina Hurst.

 The 2014 Pension 40Click name to view profile.
Bruce Rauner
John and
Laura Arnold

Laura and John
Arnold Foundation
Randi Weingarten
American Federation of Teachers
Rahm Emanuel
David Boies
Boies, Schiller & Flexner
Randy DeFrehn
National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans
Damon Silvers
Laurence Fink
Chris Christie
New Jersey
Robin Diamonte
United Technologies Corp.
Ted Eliopoulos
California Public Employees’ Retirement System
John Kline
J. Mark Iwry
U.S. Treasury Department
Gina Raimondo
Rhode Island
Phyllis Borzi
U.S. Labor Department
Orrin Hatch
Abigail Johnson
Fidelity Investments
Ted Wheeler
Caitlin Long
Morgan Stanley
James Hoffa
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Amy Kessler
Prudential Financial
García Padilla

Puerto Rico
Christopher Klein
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Caifornia
Steven Rhodes
Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
Kevin de León
David Draine
Pew Charitable Trusts
Jordan Marks
National Public Pension Coalition
Sam Liccardo
Joshua Rauh
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Karen Ferguson and Karen Friedman
Pension Rights Center
Timothy Blake
Moody’s Investors Service
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
Center for Retirement Initiatives, Georgetown University
Edward (Ted) Siedle
Benchmark Financial Services
Daniel Loeb
Third Point
Judy Mares
Employee Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Labor Department
Andrew Biggs
American Enterprise Institute
Andy Stern
Columbia University
Kenneth Mehlman
KKR & Co.
Teresa Ghilarducci
New School for Social Research
A. Melissa Moye
U.S. Treasury Department