A high-flown hobnob for state's pension chief

On Monday, Florida pension chief Ash Williams plans to be the keynote speaker for some of the world's most powerful hedge fund managers and financial executives. They're meeting at the $500-a-night Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, and some paid $50,000 or more for sponsorships to woo potential clients.

Network 2011 — organized by a top hedge fund lobbying group — will feature panel discussions, cocktail receptions, product exhibitions, hospitality suites and a round of golf on the Breakers' Ocean Course. Over three days, investment managers, brokers, bankers and others will discuss their latest deals and strategies — from derivatives and futures to legal and accounting services. Coming off the worst financial crisis in decades, they're making a special push to woo public money — like the $126 billion pension fund that Williams keeps tabs over.

Wonder what he's going to say at the keynote luncheon?

So do we, since his speech is closed to the public and the St. Petersburg Times is shut out of the event.

The Managed Funds Association, the conference organizer, says it invited only a select group of journalists and is "at capacity for press." A partial roster of attendees lists the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and a few trade publications, but no Florida press.

As executive director of Florida's State Board of Administration, Williams signs off on investments for more than 1 million current and future retirees and hundreds of cities, counties and schools districts. At the Palm Beach conference, Williams likely will run into investment firms he does state business with, and others that are seeking state business.

A former hedge fund executive himself, Williams didn't respond to our request for an interview. A spokesman said Williams was out of the office and would not do an interview.

Sort of odd for a guy who says he is all about transparency and last week told a Florida Senate committee considering pension reform that sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Taxpayers are paying for Williams' flights and lodging, but he won't be staying at the Breakers. He plans to check into a $111 room at a Marriott late Sunday and leave for Tallahassee after his speech Monday afternoon.

Scott campaign veteran sets sights high

Susie Wiles, who managed Gov. Rick Scott's upstart campaign, is now looking at the White House. She told the Florida Times-Union that she will lead a political action committee formed by supporters of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Huntsman, the current U.S. ambassador to China, is mulling a run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Tea party reacts to Rubio snub: 'So what?'

A Florida tea party group says it has no problem with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio snubbing the Tea Party Caucus, a newly formed group in the Senate.

"Neither Rubio nor any other elected official should feel compelled by the grass roots tea party to join any 'Tea Party Caucus,' " said Everett Wilkinson, head of the South Florida Tea Party. "The tea party movement is comprised of grass roots, leaderless, bottom-up and decentralized organizations that operate opposite to D.C. business."

Rivera delivers Cuba travel policy protest

U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, brought a complaint over President Barack Obama's just-announced loosening of the Cuba travel policy directly to the commander in chief. Joining Rivera at a White House reception for new lawmakers on Monday was Cary Roque, who was captured while working for dissidents during the Bay of Pigs invasion and imprisoned by the Castro regime for 16 years. Roque delivered to Obama a letter signed by Cuban exile organizations protesting the new policy. Rivera could use a diversion. He's facing growing heat over a state investigation into his campaign activities.

Winner

of the week

Richard Corcoran. The twice-failed political candidate finally won a seat in the Florida House, and last week the Trinity Republican locked down the pledge to become the chamber's speaker in 2017-18. He'll be following his old boss, Marco Rubio.

Loser

of the week

Mosaic Co. An employee for the fertilizer giant paid $10,000 last week for a chocolate hazelnut cake a 9-year-old girl baked and entered into a Youth Fair Auction in Polk County. The girl's father just happened to be Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam. She did not keep the money. Mosaic officials said they "initiated an aggressive investigation." At best, it was an embarrassment for all involved. At worst, it looked like a cheesy attempt to curry favor with the new ag chief, one that would have violated the state's gift ban.

A high-flown hobnob for state's pension chief 01/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 6:36pm]

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