Updated from 11:18 a.m. ET with closing Herbalife and NuSkin share prices.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Carl Icahn has made a career of writing big checks when advocating for strategic and management change at America's largest and often worst-run corporations. While Icahn is willing to pony up billions of dollars to support his notions of change, the activist investor doesn't appear interested in having his money speak in Washington.
Carl Icahn and the company he controls haven't spent money on political campaigns or lobbying in Washington since January 2012, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics on its OpenSecrets Blog.
That may be an important distinction for investors as the billionaire activist investor asserts himself in an over 15-month battle between multi-level supplements seller Herbalife (HLF) and his hedge fund nemesis Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Management.
Herbalife Tumbles as FTC Opens Inquiry
Icahn's lobbying spending appears to have run dry around the time he decided to close his hedge fund to outside investors in 2011. OpenSecrets records also show that Icahn's lobbying efforts were targeted at broader issues throughout the financial services sector such as corporate governance standards and shareholder rights. Icahn spent $360,000 on lobbying in 2009, the firm's biggest-ever lobbying year, according to filings.
During that year, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY.) sponsored the Shareholder Bill of Rights Act of 2009, a bill that was not enacted and died on the floors of Congress. In 2009, Icahn briefly took Jimmy Williams, a former senior advisor to current Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), in house as the firm's 'senior political advisor.' After the Shareholder Bill of Rights Act of 2009 failed, Williams moved onto lobbying firm SNR Denton.
In 2011, Icahn spent $20,000 in lobbying. Icahn's lobbying money trail then ran dry.
The activist has also been an active contributor to political campaigns, especially fmr. presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign. Mr. Icahn, his wife, Icahn Associates and Icahn Enterprises (IEP) contributed to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential run.
Icahn Enterprises and Icahn Associates also made $30,800 contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2011, according to OpenSecrets data. In total, the Icahn household and affiliated companies contributed $185,700 to candidates and parties between 2010 and 2012; however, their last contribution came in a small amount in January of 2012.
Icahn couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Ackman's Pyramid Scheme Allegation
In December of 2012, Ackman alleged Herbalife was nothing more than a pyramid scheme, disclosing his hedge fund had taken a $1 billion short position in the company's shares. The hedge fund manager then put on a series of presentations detailing why they felt that to be the case.
Soon thereafter, Dan Loeb of Third Point Management and Icahn took opposing bets to Ackman's short trade, going long Herbalife shares.
In Feb. 2013, Icahn reached an agreement with Herbalife that would give the activist investor two seats on Herbalife's board of directors, and the ability to buy up to 25% of the company's outstanding shares. Currently, Icahn holds 17 million Herbalife shares, or approximately 16.8% of the company's outstanding shares.
After suffering large losses, Ackman amended his Herbalife trade in late 2013 so as to have synthetic short exposure to the company instead of a direct short. At an investor conference earlier in 2014, Ackman said his potential profit from the Herbalife short, however, has grown.
Ackman Goes to Washington
Currently, Herbalife and Ackman have been ratcheting up their lobbying efforts and other spending in Washington, employing a small army of lobbyists to make their respective cases in the halls of influence.
Having an inside track in Washington appears increasingly important given that Ackman has conceded it is legislators and regulators who ultimately may decide whether Herbalife is a pyramid scheme or not.
Earlier in March, Herbalife disclosed that the Federal Trade Commission had opened an inquiry into the company. The FTC's inquiry came just weeks after Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and a handful of public interest groups asked that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FTC investigate the company.
Ackman has become an increasingly prominent political influencer in Washington, giving lobbying money and campaign contributions in a manner that, according to a New York Times investigation, has been targeted at Herbalife.
Herbalife, for its part, said it "welcomes the inquiry given the tremendous amount of misinformation in the marketplace, and will cooperate fully with the FTC," in a March 12 statement. We are confident that Herbalife is in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations," the company said.
Shares in the company have tumbled over 20% in the past month.
Icahn's Rising Support
On Monday, Herbalife got added support as the company works to fight Ackman's allegations and a FTC review. The company said it had reached an agreement with Icahn to give the activist a further three seats on its board of directors.
The rising number of Icahn nominees to Herbalife's board, which now stands at five as the company's annual shareholder meeting in April approaches, indicates that the company's billionaire advocate isn't going to back down.
"We remain resolute in our commitment to the long term success of Herbalife," Icahn said in a Monday statement. "We thank the board for their trust in us and hope and believe our directors will enhance value and contribute to the long term success of the company, as we have done at so many companies over the past decade," he added.
That Icahn has been relatively inactive as a lobbyist and campaign contributor in Washington may be meaningful to the investor community, given an uncertain set of outcomes to the Ackman vs. Herbalife battle.
For now, Icahn is simply putting his money where his mouth is. Furthermore, he has a profit, whereas Ackman is likely sitting on realized and unrealized losses.
Kerrisdale Capital Comments
Icahn's added influence on Herbalife's board of directors is a "tremendous positive" according to Sahm Adrangi, CIO of hedge fund Kerrisdale Capital.
"Icahn's involvement in Herbalife is a tremendous positive, in that he will maintain strong oversight over the company's capital allocation policies. Today's announcement demonstrates that HLF management and Icahn continue to have a constructive relationship. Through share buybacks and potential recapitalization transactions, the company's cash flow will likely be returned to shareholders to a greater extent than if Icahn's nominees were not active members of the board," Adrangi said in an email to TheStreet.
Kerrisdale Capital currently holds 275,000 Herbalife shares, Adrangi said. That indicates the hedge fund has been increasing its holding of Herbalife amid the company's share price tumble in 2014.
Herbalife shares rose 6.7% in Monday trading, closing at $52.86.
Direct seller NuSkin (NUS) said in a filing on Monday it had been fined $540,000 by Chinese authorities for what the country's watchdog agency said were illegal and misleading product sales.
NuSkin said on Monday the company had been fined $540,000 by China's State Administration for Industry & Commerce, while employees at the company were fined a further $241,000. The Provo, UT-based company had previously disclosed the Chinese probe.
Shares in NuSkin rose over 18% in Monday trading, closing at $88.66, indicating investors' took the fine as a positive outcome for the company.
-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York