Biden secretary of State pick Blinken has ties to venture capital fund

Antony Blinken, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, speaks as President-elect Biden reveals his national security nominees and appointees at his transition head office in Wilmington, Delaware, November 24, 2020.

President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to lead the State Department co-founded a business advisory firm that assisted release an obscure equity capital fund with a heavy national security portfolio.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice to be secretary of State, co-founded WestExec Advisors in 2017 with other previous government officials, including Michele Flournoy, a previous undersecretary of Defense for policy under President Barack Obama.

The fund, Ridgeline Partners, was co-founded by Blinken’s WestExec and “offers strategic insight on U.S. & allied national security capability needs and emerging chances to help grow” the fund’s portfolio, according to the WestExec site.

The fund’s website likewise states that WestExec acts as a tactical partner of Ridgeline’s. Another of the advisory company’s co-founders, Nitin Chadda, is the investment co-chair for Ridgeline Partners. Chadda functioned as senior advisor to the secretary of Defense throughout Obama’s 2nd term.

The business within Ridgeline’s portfolio include information and tech start-ups that have gotten federal government agreements, consisting of some deals with the Department of Defense, according to public disclosure reports. Another one of its portfolio companies is partly moneyed by a not-for-profit endeavor company that initially was produced to help the Central Intelligence Firm.

It’s yet another example of the business ties amongst Biden’s appointees raising concerns about potential disputes of interest. Blinken, a handling partner at WestExec, has actually been on a leave of absence from the firm given that signing up with the Biden campaign.

Blinken was also included with Pine Island Capital Partners. The investment firm was recently featured in a prospectus for an unique function acquisition business, pitching access to those thinking about buying a stake. Biden’s current option for secretary of Defense, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, is likewise part of the Pine Capital’s advisory group in Washington, D.C. Pine Island is listed as a tactical partner of WestExec.

Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice to head the Workplace of Management and Budget, has been running a nonprofit that has actually been mainly moneyed by Wall Street investors and Silicon Valley giants.

Progressives are requiring more openness about Biden appointees linked to the fund and the business in its portfolio.

“We require to understand precisely who is connected to this company and the business in its portfolio – a number of which count on federal government contracts or financial investments– how this will connect to decisions which they are likely to have to make, and whether possible conflicts can even be cured,” David Segal, the executive director of the progressive Need Development, informed CNBC in an e-mail.

Ridgeline’s site says that it “invests in commercially feasible technology companies that are crucial to nationwide security.” The company’s website also lists eight members of WestExec’s team, including Chadda and Flournoy, whom Biden supposedly thought about for Defense secretary before he selected Austin. Ridgeline’s site does not explain any potential roles of the WestExec leaders, and Blinken is not listed on the fund’s homepage.

A representative for WestExec declined to address comprehensive questions on their working relationship with Ridgeline and referred CNBC to a part of the company’s site that gives a brief overview of their partnership. The representative likewise stated WestExec has no role in Ridgeline-backed companies making an application for or getting contracts.

Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for the Biden transition team, told CNBC in a statement that, while Blinken has actually not been associated with the company’s operations, he will divest his interest in Ridgeline if he is verified by the Senate. The statement did not state how much he has purchased the company.

“Joe Biden has pledged the most fairly strenuous administration in American history, and every Cabinet member will comply with all disclosure requirements and stringent ethics guidelines– consisting of recusals when appropriate,” Bates said.

As the main confirmation process starts, Blinken will need to file a public financial disclosure report, which might give a glance into how much he has actually made considering that starting WestExec and any stake he has in Ridgeline.

Ridgeline’s other co-founders have a mix of experience in finance, equity capital and various federal government devices. Ben Walker, a co-founder and partner at Ridgeline, was a founding partner of Harpoon Ventures, another equity capital firm. He also has experience as a member of the defense council for the Truman National Security Task.

Andrew McMahon is likewise listed as a co-founder and partner. Among his lots of other prior experiences, McMahon’s LinkedIn page states he was a policy analyst at the Workplace of Management and Budget throughout the Obama administration.

Ryan Clinton is another co-founder and partner at the fund. His LinkedIn profile states he has a background in “defense technology.” Simply prior to running Rigeline, he operated at Anduril, a defense technology business that was co-founded by longtime Trump-ally Palmer Luckey. Clinton’s LinkedIn page says he worked on “company advancement and growth,” and his profile recommends his work for Anduril focused on the Department of Defense.

Walker, McMahon and Clinton did not return ask for comment.

Of the 13 companies they presently have listed in Ridgeline’s portfolio, a minimum of three have seen considerable federal government contracts. Opentrons, a New York-based startup that states it makes robots for biologists, has actually gotten almost $90,000 in federal government agreements because late 2019. The Departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Interior recently bought services from Opentrons.

Wallaroo Labs, a New York-based data and technology company, is likewise listed in Ridgeline’s portfolio. In late 2019, Wallaroo received a Department of Defense agreement worth simply under $50,000.

Fluree is likewise a Ridgeline portfolio company. It got a nearly $50,000 contract late from the DoD late in 2015. The data company is based out of North Carolina and Ridgeline is noted among a variety of tech and military giants as its partners, including Amazon Web Provider, the U.S. Air Force and the Google Cloud Platform.

Australian technology company Myriota becomes part of the portfolio, too. Though the startup doesn’t appear to have any recent federal government agreements connected to them, they are funded, in part, by In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit that was created to help offer high end technology to the CIA, a report on the firm’s site says.

In-Q-Tel combined with other financiers to spend $28 million in Series B financing to grow Myriota’s satellite network, according to a press release from April. In-Q-Tel’s newest 990 disclosure type from 2018 says the group is a 501(c)( 3) and completed that year with over $450 million in net assets.

“ln-Q-Tel determines, adapts, and delivers innovative technology options that serve the national security interests of the United States federal government and its allies,” the filing states under its mission declaration.

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