Wolf nominates Philly venture capitalist Vague for cabinet position

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    Gov. Tom Wolf has nominated a Philadelphia financier, former utility executive and big-time political donor, to be the next secretary of the state Department of Banking and Securities. 

    The nominee, Richard Vague, is a managing partner at Gabriel Investments, a venture capital firm that funds “high-potential business opportunities” in the Philadelphia area, according to its website. The firm’s portfolio includes a number of apps and e-commerce ventures, such as flower delivery service UrbanStems.

    In addition, Vague chairs the Philadelphia-based Governor’s Woods Foundation, which focuses on “cultural development and progressive realism in government policy.” He also serves on a board overseeing the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school and hospitals

    “Richard Vague has proven himself a leader in the financial world, in both the nonprofit and private sectors,” Wolf said in a statement released by his office on Friday. “His background will allow him to help all aspects of Pennsylvania’s banking and securities industry succeed, propelling our commonwealth to new heights.”

    Vague will be acting secretary by Saturday, but his appointment will still require Senate approval. The upper chamber, controlled by Republicans, must approve him by a two-thirds majority for Vague’s appointment to be official.

    If he’s confirmed by the Senate, Vague will be in charge of regulating more than 200 state-chartered banks as well as licensing thousands of non-bank lenders and financial professionals.

    The secretary also has a vote on investment decisions for both state pension boards.

    Vague co-founded Energy Plus, a Philadelphia-based electricity and natural gas utility company concentrated in the northeast. Vague sold the company for $190 million in 2011 to NRG Energy, based in Princeton, New Jersey. He’s also founded and run two credit card companies later sold to Bank One and Barclays, respectively.

    Vague has often put his money to political use. OpenSecrets lists 320 separate donations in his name to federal candidates since 1992. The dollars originally flowed mostly to Republicans, before shifting post-Trump to Democrats.

    Some exceptions remain. Vague has given $35,000 to a Super PAC aligned with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., since 2015, according to OpenSecrets. He also donated $5,400 to Democratic candidate Katie McGinty during the contested primary to face Toomey in 2016, but did not fund the Democrat during the general election.

    He also may have higher political aspirations. Buzzfeed News and Philadelphia Magazine both profiled Vague for six swing state focus groups the businessman hosted in 2018. He said they were to better understand the voters who elected Trump, and even floated running as a Democrat for president this year.