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Why Taylor Swift’s Masters Are Playing a Role in Virginia Race for Governor

Ahead of next month’s Virginia gubernatorial election, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe is targeting the state’s Taylor Swift fans  for support.

McAuliffe has launched a series of negative Facebook, Instagram and Google search ads tying the Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin to Scooter Braun’s 2019 purchase of the pop star’s master recordings, asking her fans to #StandWithTaylor — and vote for McAuliffe instead.

“Did you know that Republican candidate for Governor, Glenn Youngkin, helped buy Taylor Swift’s masters out from under her when he was co-CEO of Carlyle Group?” one of the targeted ads states.

Youngkin was co-CEO of private equity firm The Carlyle Group when it funded Scooter Braun’s $300 million acquisition of The Big Machine Label Group, including Swift’s master recordings, through his former media company Ithaca Holdings. The June 2019 acquisition infuriated Swift, who addressed the deal at the 2019 Billboard Women in Music event on Dec. 12 of that year. “This just happened to me without my approval, consultation or consent,” Swift said during her speech, which called out Braun, Carlyle and the other investors involved in the deal. “After I was denied the chance to purchase my music outright, my entire catalog was sold to Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings in a deal that I’m told was funded by the Soros family, 23 Capital and that Carlyle Group.”

Although a Nov. 24, 2019 New York Times story reported that Carlyle had intervened to urge Braun to reach out to Swift and “brought the bitter fight closer to a resolution,” Swift, in her remarks at the Women in Music event, added that, “to this day, none of these investors have bothered to contact me or my team directly — to perform their due diligence on their investment. On their investment in me. To ask how I might feel about the new owner of my art, the music I wrote, the videos I created, photos of me, my handwriting, my album designs.”

In November 2020, Ithaca sold Swifts catalog to Shamrock Capital for $300 million.

Youngkin was named co-CEO of The Carlyle Group with Hewsong Lee at the beginning of 2018 and after a two-and-a-half year power struggle that Bloomberg Quint described as “increasingly acrimonious,” announced his retirement from the company in September 2020. He announced he was running for governor in January 2021.

“No matter the industry, Youngkin has shown he would rip off anyone for a profit,” Democratic Party of Virginia Spokesman Manuel Bonder said in his statement. “What happened here is a continuation of Glenn Youngkin’s abhorrent track record of shipping jobs overseas, raising rents on seniors, and harming working families across our country. When it comes to Taylor Swift’s music: what did Glenn know and when did he know it? Virginians deserve answers.”

Youngkin spokesperson Christian Martinez responded: “Terry McAuliffe has reached the stage of desperation in his campaign where he’s rolling out the most baseless attacks to see what sticks. It’s a pathetic fall that could only be achieved by a 43-year political hack.”

McAuliffe, who was governor of the state from 2014 to 2018 and co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, has repeatedly used Youngkin’s tenure at Carlyle — which manages $260 billion in assets, according to its first-quarter 2021 report — as a sign that his opponent is not a man who will look out for working-class Virginians’ best interests. In reference to the sale of Swift’s masters, his camp also points to a YouTube video of a political meet-and-greet in which Youngkin says, “I will own everything that happened at Carlyle [when he was there]” and “will never walk away from anything I did in my business career.”

As with most things having to do with politics, the story is not so cut-and-dry. In July, Axios reported that McAuliffe had personally invested in co-investment vehicles tied to the Carlyle Group’s third and fourth buyout funds, plus an energy fund. His wife also invested alongside Carlyle Partners IV. At the time a spokesperson for the campaign told Axios that McAuliffe currently has less than $5,000 of exposure to Carlyle funds, which is below the amount that the candidate would have had to disclose publicly.

Carlyle first invested in Ithaca in 2017, a deal that was overseen by the head of the firm’s media, retail and consumer team, Jay Sammons. After helping to fund Braun’s acquisition of Big Machine, Carlyle sold its stake in Braun’s company when HYBE, the Korean company behind BTS, acquired Ithaca for $1.05 billion in stock and cash.

Swift’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests to comment.

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