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25 Top Pension Power Players

A realist’s guide to the new political establishment and looming retirement battles

  • Kip McDaniel

Editors’ Note: Due to lack of support in the U.S. Senate, Andy Puzder has withdrawn his name for consideration to be Secretary of Labor. The editors of Institutional Investor will update this ranking when there is clarity surrounding the new nominee for this position.

There is almost no political issue that touches on the everyday essentials of American life more than retirement policy. It’s not sexy in the way that, say, nuclear policy is sexy — confronting North Korea will always out-headline changes to discount rates, lifetime income solutions, and public sector benefits — but barring utter catastrophe, little is more important to Americans than maintaining a standard of living, and dignity, as they age. How can the U.S. accomplish that? A major part of the solution is to build structures to ensure that as citizens age and leave the workforce, they have been given the chance to acquire enough resources not to fall into poverty or lose their sense of self-worth.

No group has more power to affect these structures than those who populate and influence government — thus, Institutional Investor identified and ranked the new political power players in the field of pensions and retirement. To start, we identified four prominent themes running through the discourse on retirement. They are, in no particular order, the controversies surrounding public sector benefits; the intersection of corporate pension regulation and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.; high investment fees paid to asset managers via public pension plans; and innovation in defined contribution systems. We then looked — from the national to local levels — at relevant elected politicians, cabinet secretaries, appointed advisers, lobbyists, think tank leaders, judges, and union leaders. Each was judged by a simple calculus: Did this individual have the power to effect change over our four major themes? 

Power, of course, is the ability to get things done — or to stop things from getting done. It is not what we want to happen. It is beyond our purview here to judge whether the changes being made — or not made — will help or hinder the ability of Americans to retire with dignity. Nor can we say this list is immutable given that many of President Trump’s appointments had yet to be confirmed as of late January — and that their fates could change with a single tweet. Instead, we simply offer our best estimate of who will hold the levers of retirement power in 2017.


 The 2017 Pension Political Power 25Click below to view profiles
1. Andy PuzderSecretary of Labor2. Bruce RaunerGovernor of Illinois3. Betsy DeVosSecretary of Education4. Laura & John ArnoldFounders,
Laura and John Arnold Foundation5. Steven MnuchinSecretary of the Treasury
6. Wilbur RossSecretary of Commerce7. Tani Cantil-SakauyeCalifornia Chief Justice8. Paul RyanSpeaker of the House9. Anthony ScaramucciFounder, SkyBridge Capital10. Kevin de LeónCalifornia State Senator and President Pro Tempore
11. Mike EnziChairman, Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security12. Steve SweeneyPresident,
New Jersey State Senate13. Jerry BrownGovernor of California14. Corey LewandowskiCo-founder, Avenue Strategies15. Paul SingerPresident,
Elliott Management Corp.
16. Randel JohnsonSenior Vice President, Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits, U.S. Chamber of Commerce17. Joe ManchinU.S. Senator18. Kenneth FeinbergFounder and managingpartner, Feinberg Rozen19. Scott WalkerGovernor of Wisconsin20. Richard TrumkaPresident, AFL-CIO
21. Mike RawlingsMayor of Dallas22. Elizabeth WarrenU.S. Senator23. Kent MasonPartner,
Davis & Harman24. Bernie SandersU.S. Senator25. Randi WeingartenPresident, American Federation of Teachers