PE Firm Involved in Dirty Political Trick?

Today is Super Tuesday, Part Deux – so it seems appropriate to talk some politics. But don‘t worry, nothing about Clinton, Obama, McCain, Texas or Ohio. Instead, this is about a candidate for U.S. Senate from New Jersey, who has accused a private equity firm of sabotaging his campaign website.

The candidate is Murray Sabrin, a university professor who once ran on the Libertarian ticket for governor of New Jersey. He’s now running for U.S. Senate as a Republican, and last week received an endorsement from political soul-mate Ron Paul. More specifically, Paul sent out a so-called “Money Bomb” for Sabrin, which is basically an email asking supporters to immediately make an online donation. The idea is to raise lots of money in a single day, and then use the windfall as evidence of growing grass-roots support.

Soon after Paul lit the fuse, however, the Sabrin website crashed. It and some associated email accounts were down for approximately 16 hours, before being put back online. The campaign was furious. It had discussed the expected traffic surge with Network Solutions beforehand, and that it had been assured the site would be fine. Network Solutions, for its part, said that the crash was related to internal coding problems on Sabrin’s end, and that it worked as fast as it could to get the site back online.

This is where it gets just bizarre. The Sabrin campaign seemed to have two choices at this point: Either accept that the crash was caused by its own coding mistake, or blame Network Solutions for having faulty technology. But it went for an unexpected third avenue: Accuse Network Solutions of taking down the website for partisan political purposes. And how does it know that Network Solutions is anti-Republican? Because it’s controlled by private equity firm General Atlantic, which happens to have some prominent Democratic donors in its ranks.

Sabrin’s campaign sent out a press release late Friday titled: “Democratic Private Equity Firm Halts Ron Paul Revolution!” Its first line? “A $17 billion private equity firm, managed by major Democratic donors, General Atlantic, shut down Dr. Murray Sabrin’s website last night immediately after Dr. Ron Paul sent out a nationwide email asking his supporters to participate in his online fundraising drive.”

Part of me wanted to ignore this whole thing, because it’s just so silly. But conspiracy kooks should sometimes be called on their kookiness. So here goes.

The press release identifies General Atlantic as a “Democratic private equity firm,” because some of its managers have donated to Democratic candidates. This is true, although GA managers also have donated to GOP candidates. For example, it points out that General Atlantic CEO Bill Ford has given to Democrats. It doesn’t mention that he’s also made recent donations to Rudy Giuliani and a Republican PAC that supported such candidates as George Allen and John Conryn. It also tries to use “guilt” by association, pointing out that Ford sits on the board of Amherst College – alongside a deputy managing director of the New York Times. How’s that for reaching (note: Ford may well be a card-carrying Democrat, but Sabrin hasn’t proved it).

More importantly, it would not matter if every member of General Atlantic was a Democratic super-delegate in Denver this summer. Even under that scenario, it is extremely unlikely that the firm would interfere in the day-to-day operations of one of its portfolio companies, in order to hinder an underdog GOP candidate. For the record, GA denies having any role in the website shutdown, and Network Solutions says that there were no political motives.

I asked Sabrin campaign spokesman George Ajjan if he had any evidence that General Atlantic was involved in the shutdown (political or not). In fact, I asked him six separate times. He refused to answer the question – which is an answer in its own right. He did say that the campaign plans to sue Network Solutions (and possibly GA) for a service agreement violation, but would not provide a shred of evidence that it was done (A) Intentionally, or (B) Intentionally for political motives. It was pathetic.

If I were General Atlantic, I’d sue first: For libel.