The timing of Robert Mercer’s departure as a top executive for Renaissance Technologies has political observers riveted on the Long Island billionaire’s low-key but powerful public role.
Mercer and his daughter Rebekah wielded important influence in President Donald Trump’s campaign last year — beyond millions of dollars in political action committee support.
Last year they helped Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon and consultant Kellyanne Conway ascend to leadership in Trumpland after campaign manager Paul Manafort was forced out.
The Mercers, who at first backed Ted Cruz for president, keep cropping up in right-wing power circles.
Their involvement in high-profile national politics did not end with Trump’s inauguration.
Last week, congressional probes of a Russian role the campaign spawned news about the Mercer-financed firm Cambridge Analytica, which mined web data for the 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.”
Presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was credited with bonding with the Cambridge firm in his job during the campaign of overseeing digital operations.
Amid the tumult over investigations, there is also the long-pending matter of an IRS demand for an estimated $7 billion in back taxes from Renaissance Technologies.
Seven years ago, the IRS deemed a practice used by Renaissance and others of temporarily storing investment income in bank accounts to be a tax-avoidance scheme.
Renaissance was told to stop the practice, but refused.
The nonprofit Mercer Family Foundation has donated millions of dollars to right-leaning groups that have called for the firing of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen — an Obama administration holdover whose term ends this month.
Whoever replaces him could, therefore, take on a case of major importance to Renaissance and the Mercers.
For the moment, references in Mercer’s letter to Bannon and the controversial right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopolous draw much of the buzz in the political world.
Mercer said he respects Bannon and discusses politics with him “from time to time,” but “I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically.”
Bannon is readying challenges to incumbent GOP senators deemed out of line with Trump — and Mercer’s financial backing for the effort has been widely expected.
And “actions and statements by Mr. Yiannopolous,” Mercer said in his letter, “have caused pain and divisiveness. . . . I was mistaken to have supported him.”
Mercer also denied he’s a white supremacist, as some have suggested.
Earlier this year, Renaissance official David Magerman publicly parted ways with Mercer and wrote an opinion piece denouncing the Head of the Harbor resident’s politics.
Magerman essentially said Mercer had invested in Trump expecting a return, writing: “A problem for democracy arises when financial support for politicians and political action transitions from giving gifts to making investments.
“When the government becomes more like a corporation, with the richest 0.001 percent buying shares and demanding board seats, then we cease to be a representative democracy and become an oligarchy instead.”
In Thursday’s letter to employees, Mercer described his own ideology this way:
“I believe that a collection of individuals making their own decisions within the confines of a clear and concise set of laws that they have determined for themselves will advance society much more effectively than will a collection of experts who are confident in their knowledge of what is best for everyone else.
“This is why I support conservatives, who favor a smaller, less powerful government.”