For Ray Washburne, it looks like the fourth time was the charm. After backing the unsuccessful presidential campaigns of Republicans Tim Pawlenty (2012), Mitt Romney (’12), and Chris Christie (’16), the Dallas businessman/GOP fundraiser wound up serving as vice chair of the 2016 Trump Victory Committee. His reward came this week, when it was announced that the president had nominated Washburne to lead the Overseas Private Investment Corp.
The arcane government agency helps U.S. businesses invest in emerging markets by providing loans, insurance, and seed capital. Though it says it operates on a self-sustaining basis and advances U.S. policy and security priorities, OPIC has been criticized as “corporate welfare” by some conservative groups. And, in fact, it’s been targeted for downsizing—and eventual elimination—by the Trump administration itself.
Washburne, who says the OPIC job “fits my skill set to a T,” thinks the corporate-welfare knock is unfair. Every major country has a similar development agency, he says, and OPIC only does what makes economic sense. To receive aid, companies need to put up “25 percent hard equity,” he adds, and the agency makes $500 million for the U.S. government every year. (Not quite, but OPIC has returned $1.6 billion to the feds since 2010.)
In recent years, OPIC under presidents Bush and Obama has also been criticized by some for a bias against financing oil, gas, and coal projects in favor of “greener” ventures. Would the agency under Washburne tilt away from that? “We’ll be for what helps American business create jobs,” he says. “The Obama administration spent a lot of time on climate change-type stuff. Ours will be more focused on economic development.”
Washburne, whose nomination as president of the agency will have to be confirmed by the Senate, says that, if approved, he’ll “travel back and forth” between Washington, D.C., and Dallas. Here in North Texas, he’s the president and CEO of Charter Holdings, a real estate investment company; a co-founder of the M Crowd Restaurant Group; and an owner of the upscale Highland Park Village shopping center. Isn’t he leery of stepping away from his business interests, especially his stewardship of HPV? “I’ve got a lot of good people,” he says.