Peter DeFazio and the Daughters of Mercer


While the predictable rightie screaming-point that “UNIONS IS THE REEL BAD BIG SPENDERZES,” is kerfluffed into a Memeorandum kerfuffle, we instead return to the stealth zillionaire who dropped all that anonymous cash on attack ads on Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio from the 2-person “Concerned Taxpayers of America” astroturf group.

I was looking into the Federal Election Commission’s reports for the 2010 primaries, and found something interesting.

Robert Mercer

It’s not a smoking gun; it’s not another “gotcha” piece; but it is interesting.

It seems that the $2400 maximum contributions to Art Robinson (the Chemist from Cave Junction, Oregon) was a family affair for Robert Mercer — the New York hedge fund manager who donated $200K to the formerly mysterious “Concerned Taxpayers of America” for anonymous attack ads on Congressman Peter DeFazio (D. Ore.).

And an old People Magazine story (from about Y2K) that’s well-known to many comes to light.

Checking the FEC reports for Art Robinson’s primary contributions, Renaissance Technologies’ hedge fund manager Robert Mercer contributed the maximum, $2400, on April 2, 2010.

But take a look at the contributions beneath Mercer’s (serendipitously all on the same FEC page):

here’s the FEC page (page 39)

Well,  I already knew that Rebekah Mercer is Robert Mercer’s daughter — and her Trump Towers purchase of three floors has been well-reported. But who the heck is Heather Sue Mercer? Was Mercer engaging in that time-honored dodge of contributing the maximum using several family members as fronts?

No clear answers. But the immediate question, of course, is whether “Heather Sue Mercer” is a relative, since there are a lot of “Mercers” in the world and one shouldn’t go off half-cocked.

We find this on a poker statistics page:

Heather Sue Mercer at the World Poker Tournament in London, 2010

Heather Sue Mercer

When Heather Sue is not making the ‘best damn cookies on earth’ she likes to spend her vacations away from mid-town New York in Las Vegas playing high stakes tournaments. She appears calm and collected at the table and although claiming to be a novice and eager to learn she is far from a beginner.

Back in New York she runs Ruby et Violette ( with her two sisters and comes up with cookie carnations such as Drunken Pumpkin, Root Beer Float and Champagne Strawberry. They run the cafe in New York and send them all over America. If you are ever in the Big Apple make sure to try them out!
(Mob Staff Apr 2009)

So, naturally, one checks the bakery page [emphasis added]:

Heather Sue at Left

Those Mercer girls…they were all so smart, had such potential…and now they just make cookies?” This is something we hear a lot. And we happily reply, “No, we don’t just make cookies, we make the best damn cookies on earth.”

Jenji, the eldest of the three of us, graduated from Stanford with a dual major in English and Biology and then went on to earn a Masters in English from The University of Chicago and a Law Degree from Georgetown.

She now does the mopping.

Bekah, the middle sister, and ever pregnant mother to 3 of the cutest kids who ever lived, also graduated from Stanford, with degrees in Mathematics and Biology and then stayed on to earn her graduate degree in Applied Mathematics.

She washes the dishes.

Heather Sue is the baby of the family, and very happily lowered the academic bar, leaving scholarly pursuits behind after the traditional four years of college. She is well known among family and friends for having somehow managed to screw up Jello, and for completely ruining the seemingly overconfidently named, “No Fail Chocolate Cake.”

She turns on the ovens and ties all the bows.

“Bekah” is the middle sister, Rebekah, identified with the bakery in the “Trump Tower” stories.

But we go a little further (I am leaving out a lot of cross-checking,she’s clearly one of Robert Mercer’s daughters). From “The Cake Blog” 21 April 2010 (which is 17 days after she contributed $2400 to Art Robinson’s primary campaign in Oregon:

Heather Sue Mercer, who went to Duke, is boss at Bellagio.

Normally when you hear that there’s a woman who went to Duke doing well in a poker tournament, you assume that woman is Vanessa Rousso. If you made that assumption about this year’s World Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio, you’d be wrong. While Rousso is nowhere to be found, Duke graduate Heather Sue Mercer is second in chips after three days of play, earning her the WPT’s Blue Diamond Bold Player of the Day award.

Mercer gained a lot of unwanted notoriety in the early 1990s when she walked onto the Duke University football team, only to later sue the school for discriminatory treatment. Mercer had been a member of the New York state championship football team while in high school, and once at Duke she tried out for the team as a walk-on but couldn’t get a spot. Later she made the winning field goal in Duke’s intrasquad game and was awarded a spot on the team by coach Fred Goldsmith.

During her time on the team Goldsmith banned Mercer from the sidelines, told her she should watch the game from the stands with her boyfriend, and told her she should give up football for beauty pageants or cheerleading. He eventually cut her from the team in favor of a less-accomplished male kicker. Mercer later sued the university and was awarded $2,000,001 in damages when a federal jury found that she was afforded less opportunity to practice and compete than other walk-ons because of her sex.

Heather Sue Mercer went on to become a securities trader at Charles Schwab, and to finish Day 3 of the 2010 WPT Championship at Bellagio with 1,364,000 in chips, good for second place behind professional player Shawn Buchanan (1,841,000 chips) and ahead of other accomplished pros like Matt Stout, Faraz Jaka, Billy Baxter and Phil Hellmuth. Goldsmith, meanwhile, now holds the job of head football coach at Lenoir-Rhyne University, an NCAA division II school in Hickory, N.C., a position he has held for three and a half years after a successful four-year tenure as the coach at Franklin High School in Franklin, N.C.

Way to go, Heather.

Yup. That Heather Sue Mercer. Here’s a chunk of the People Magazine story:

October 30, 2000 Vol. 54 No. 18

Kicking Up a Storm
By Alex Tresniowski

Dropped from the Duke Football Team, Heather Sue Mercer Scores Big in Court

It is three days after her stunning legal victory, and Heather Sue Mercer is unloading pumpkins from a car outside her parents’ white clapboard home on a tranquil afternoon in Mount Sinai, N.Y. A perfect autumn scene, except for the tears that well up when Mercer discusses her discrimination suit against Duke University. “It wasn’t an easy thing to do,” says the Duke alum, 24. “It wasn’t fun. What I hope is that it will prevent anyone else from having to go through what I did.”

Mercer’s time of trial reached its dramatic climax on Oct. 12, when eight jurors in Greensboro, N.C., found that Duke acted with malice and reckless indifference in cutting her from the university’s football team in 1996. Proficient enough as a placekicker to become the first female on an Atlantic Coast Conference football team roster in l995, the 5’9″, 135-lb. Mercer had claimed that then Duke coach Fred Goldsmith removed her from the squad the next year because of her gender. The three men and five women on the jury concluded that Mercer at least deserved to suit up and play for the practice squad—the fate of two male kickers who also didn’t make the first-string team—and ordered Duke to pay her $2 million in punitive damages. “If you are on the team, you have to be treated like everyone else,” says juror Sharon Hammond. “It didn’t matter if she was the worst player on the team.”


The woman at the center of the controversy disagrees. Now a NASDAQ trader for the investment firm Charles Schwab & Co. in New Jersey (she lives in Manhattan with sister Rebekah, 26, also a trader)

Well, perhaps we can infer credibly where she gets the money to play in poker tournaments. Perhaps not.

What’s interesting is how her father is identified:

Few who know Mercer were surprised she took the fight as far as she did. The youngest of three daughters of Robert Mercer, a computer speech-recognition expert, and his wife, Diana, Mercer was “always the daredevil, the spitfire,” says family friend Donna D’Andraia. A swimming, track and soccer star at Yorktown High in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., Mercer won a spot on the school’s all-male football team in 1993. “Was she great? No. Was she good? Yes,” says Yorktown football coach Ron Santavicca, who put her on the team. “If she couldn’t kick, I wouldn’t have played her.”

The New York Times notes a similar fact:

COLLEGES; Five Years Later, A Female Kicker’s Memorable Victory

Published: October 19, 2000

On a cold afternoon in the fall of 1992, Heather Sue Mercer persuaded her father to accompany her to a field near their Westchester County home and hold a toy football on the ground while she practiced place-kicking. She had seen her high school team’s kicker in action and, characteristically, thought it looked like fun and something she could do. A 16-year-old junior, she was a swimmer, diver, fencer, and played softball, basketball and varsity soccer, in which she was known for her strong legs.

”When she was little she wanted to be a quarterback,” said Robert Mercer, a computer programmer who had been in the band and the chess club in high school. ”I talked her out of that. I thought she’d get this kicking out of her system.”

The ball was about two-thirds the size of a regulation football, and much harder. From about 20 yards away, with the sweeping motion of a sideways soccer kick, Heather Sue blasted it through the goal posts. Robert Mercer says he was astonished. His daughter remembers thinking it was even more fun than it had looked. She decided to go out for the team, unknowingly setting in motion a joyous and painful eight-year drive toward a memorable victory in the campaign for equality in sports. […]

Which seems a bit counter-intuitive. Isn’t Robert Mercer a hedge fund manager? Am I barking up the wrong tree?

Heather Sue Mercer at Duke

Bloomberg News fills in part of the answer:

Simons at Renaissance Cracks Code, Doubling Assets (Update 1)
By Richard Teitelbaum – November 27, 2007 13:12 EST

Jim Simons, Renaissance Technologies Corp. founder

Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) — On a hot afternoon in September, Renaissance Technologies LLC founder Jim Simons is too busy to take a phone call. It is, he says, from Cumrun Vafa, a preeminent Harvard University professor and expert on string theory, which describes the building blocks of the universe as extended one-dimensional filaments….

Leaving Academia

In 1977, frustrated with a math problem and eager for change, he abandoned academia to start what would become Renaissance, hiring professors, code breakers and statistically minded scientists and engineers who’d worked in astrophysics, language recognition theory and computer programming….

And Renaissance Technologies isn’t your average “hedge fund.” (from the same article):

Renaissance is under increasing pressure to stay ahead of the pack — and to keep its secrets under wraps. Save current employees and a few former ones, nobody knows precisely how the firm makes its millions. Medallion stopped taking new money from outside investors in 1993 and returned pretty much the last of their capital 12 years later. Today, the fund is run almost exclusively for the benefit of Renaissance staff.


Simons left Stony Brook in 1977 and started Monemetrics, a predecessor to Renaissance, in a strip mall across from the Setauket train station. He wanted someone to trade currencies and commodities and turned to an old friend, a fellow code cracker from the IDA: Leonard Baum.

Baum was co-author of the Baum-Welch algorithm, which is used to determine probabilities in, among other things, biology, automated speech recognition and statistical computing. Simons’s idea was to harness the mathematical models that Baum was writing to trade currencies….

That’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, of course, but it begins to explain why Robert Mercer was a “speech recognition expert” to People Magazine in 2000 and a “hedge fund manager” in 2010. Here’s the clincher:

James Simons Retires from Renaissance

CEO James Simons Leaves Renaissance Technologies
(September 2009)

James Simons, CEO of Renaissance Technologies, is retiring from the hedge fund business after more than three decades managing the fund. Although he will not be CEO, Simons will remain the majority shareholder and participate in any corporate decisions. The 71-year-old’s departure was announced in a letter to investors this week. Two co-presidents of the firm, Peter Brown and Robert Mercer, will take over as co-chief executives in the transition.

And Business Insider adds, in a March 2010 article:

Who do these guys think they are? Well first of all, they’re both really smart. Here are some more interesting facts about the new heads of Renaissance Tech.

Fun facts about Brown:

  • he has a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University,
  • he is talkative
  • he is politically liberal
  • and he is really competitive. He is known for challenging employees to feats of strength in the office gym.
  • he frequently sleeps in the office and rides a unicycle around
  • he shared an apartment with Mercer when the two first moved to NYC after Renaissance recruited them from IBM

Fun facts about Mercer:

  • he is a member of the NRA
  • he is politically conservative
  • he has a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois
  • he is known for whistling to himself during meetings and for not being very social. “I’m happy going through my life without saying anything to anybody,” he says.
  • He has a huge model of a toy train in his basement

It has been rather condescendingly reported in the Eastern press that, in essence (paraphrasing) “richie rich Mercer sued his model train contractor claiming to have been overcharged $2 million.” You can find that coverage, easily, elsewhere. Mindlessly smearing the rich does not serve the cause of “the people’s right to know,” and I won’t link to said stories in the New York tabloids.

What we now know is this:

It’s the same Robert Mercer, Rebekah Mercer, condo-buyer and cookie-maker, and Heather Sue Mercer, poker playing baker and former NCAA placekicker.

Heather Sue Mercer

And they all knew to donate the federal primary maximum on April 2, 2010 to Art Robinson, a continent away in Oregon.

Like I said, there’s no smoking gun here. No pattern of deception (unless you doubt that Mercer’s daughters would be equally devoted to the primary campaign of an obscure crackpot in Cave Junction, Oregon). Just an interesting story.

I should end with some terrible gambling pun, but I’ll spare you that.



UPDATE: Here’s YouTube video of Heather Sue playing at the World Series of Poker 2010

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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