Public pension funds provide retirement benefits for government employees, such as firefighters, teachers, and police officers. In the United States, the pension funds of state employees are typically managed by a board of trustees that is generally comprised of investment professionals, beneficiary representatives, and individuals appointed by state elected officials. (Fund governance structures vary somewhat from state to state.) These trustees then exert tremendous influence over the allocation of pension assets to different investment vehicles, such as private equity and hedge funds. While individual pension funds vary in size, the total amount of money involved is enormous: Public pension fund managers in the United States are responsible for allocating over $5.5 trillion in assets across different investment vehicles.
How pension managers select among different investment opportunities remains a largely opaque process. This lack of transparency—coupled with broad investment discretion—fosters a substantial risk of corruption. Such corruption can take several different forms: