Who's Daniel A. D'Aniello? And Why Did He Just Give $20 Million to the American Enterprise Institute?

To answer the first question, Daniel A. D'Aniello is cofounder and chair of the Carlyle Group, the famed Washington-based private equity firm. In other words, he's a big deal.

And the most immediate reason he just gave $20 million to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is to help the conservative think tank move into its first permanent home in the organization’s 75-year history.

This is a lot of money for AEI. Its total revenues in 2013 were $44 million. With D'Aniello's support, AEI is moving its headquarters to a tonier part of D.C. (what a press release refers to as "think tank row"). AEI's new building will bear its benefactor's name.

The new headquarters is being built in what was once a luxury apartment building, which AEI bought from the National Trust for Historic Preservation last year. The offices will be named after D’Aniello, and will feature a state-of-the-art media and communications facility, a modern events space, optimal colleague interaction, classrooms to educate future leaders, and adequate room for growth, according to AEI.   

D'Aniello, who is the vice chair of AEI’s board of trustees, has been described as a long-time admirer of AEI founder Arthur C. Brooks. In a statement released yesterday, Brooks said D’Aniello’s gift will help them expand their “service to the nation” by enabling AEI to better “lead the fight for the system and culture of freedom that are America’s gift to the world.”

D’Aniello, it would seem, is stepping out of the shadow of his partner at Carlyle, David Rubenstein, who is known for his major philanthropic gifts, particularly in the area of historic preservation, famously purchasing documents such as a copy of the Magna Carta for the National Archives, and making the largest single donation, $7.5 million, to help restore the Washington Monument.

While Rubenstein keeps his philanthropy apolitical, however, D’Aniello’s gift couldn’t be more ideological.

Press releases detailing D'Aniello's personal history emphasize a life of humble beginnings. Hard times included bagging groceries in the coal-mining town of Butler, Pennsylvania during his teenage years. D'Aniello's mother was an insurance claims agent (a fact her billionaire son includes in multiple published narratives about his life). Thanks to "freedom, opportunity, and enterprise," however, D'Aniellio propelled himself to Syracuse, Harvard Business School, and executive positions at Trans World Airlines, Pepsi, and Marriott. But it was through his own company, Carlyle, that D'Aniello eventually made it on the Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest individuals in the world.

D'Aniello founded Carlyle with two partners in 1987. Politically connected, the trio leveraged relationships with George H.W. Bush and former British Prime Minister John Major to secure ownership of struggling defense businesses. D'Aniello and his team restructured those companies and resold them for profit. And that's essentially what Carlyle has been doing ever since. A couple high-profile examples: In 2008, Carlyle spent $910 million to acquire a majority share in Booz Allen's government consulting business. By June of last year, that deal had earned Carlyle more than $2 billion in profits. Also last year, Carlyle made an impressive return on a $275 million investment from 2007 when it sold aviation communications company Arinc to Rockwell Collins for more than $1.3 billion, one of the largest aerospace and defense business acquisitions of 2013. 

As for D'Aniello's admiration for Arthur Brooks, the two met years ago at Syracuse University (where D'Aniello, '68, is on the board), and bonded quickly over shared political ideals. D'Aniello now serves as the vice chair of AEI's board. The Washington Post reports, Brooks and D'Aniello have been discussing a donation like this for years.

Chalk up one more billionaire giving big to conservative organizations that defend their interests in Washington and beyond. In fact, AEI has two billionaires on its board: D'Aniello and Bruce Kovner, in addition to a number of other super wealthy business leaders. It's nice to know who's paying for all those policy briefs, books, and op-eds arguing for lower taxes on rich people and less regulation of business.