Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Ryan Exit


Tomorrow our first Rob Zerban vs Paul Ryan billboard goes up. Sunday night I met John Nichols at an event for The Nation and when I told him where we put it, he lit up like a Christmas tree. I-94 is the most heavily trafficked highway in WI-1. Anyone from Kenosha and Racine heading for Milwaukee or the airport-- or out west towards Janesville-- will see the giant board. And for next to no extra money, we were about to get the board at the Ryan Road exit. It costs about $5,000 a month to keep it up-- so we can use some help... and this is the only Blue America page which has no limits to the amount of contributions.

We were inspired, at least in part, by the remote, out of the way DCCC generic billboard that didn't even bother to mention Rob's name-- and at a time in the cycle where almost the only thing, other than contributions and organization, that matters for challengers is name recognition. But for us, like for people all over America, we take getting rid of Paul Ryan very seriously. And we want to reach out and touch. Of course, the plutocrats and oligarchs have a different idea about what to do with Ryan. We see him as the Mr. Destructo of a civil society; they see him as their opportunity for the 1% to cement their dominance over this country once and for all.
In recent years, "rising star" has become a common descriptive phrase in reports that mention Rep. Paul Ryan.

That, political experts say, would largely explain why the Janesville Republican, who chairs the budget committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, has had such striking success in attracting campaign contributions.

Goal Thermometer Another factor could be a groundswell of support for his controversial budget blueprint that proposes significant changes to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and the tax code to address the nation's fiscal crisis.

Ryan's star is bright both inside and outside the Badger State and his appeal is reflected in the campaign finance numbers he has amassed. After collecting $732,218 from January through March, Ryan now has more than $5 million to spend on his re-election campaign in the fall. A Center for Responsive Politics analysis shows 57 percent of the contributions of $200 or more Ryan has collected since January 2011 have come from outside the state.

Ryan received $98,250 from political action committees in the first quarter and $695,300 from PACs so far this election cycle.

The size of Ryan's campaign bank account is formidable given his Democratic challenger, Kenosha County Supervisor Robert Zerban, had just $428,000 to spend at the start of April... He now has more available cash than any of the GOP House leaders, including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

Among Ryan's top 20 contributors this cycle are the forces of Greed and Avarice that depend on him and others like him to allow them to pillage and plunder the nation: Northwestern Mutual, United Bank Suisse, PricewaterhouseCoopers, UnitedHealth Group, Abbott Laboratories, AT&T Inc, Goldman Sachs, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, Credit Union National Assn, Cigna... And when you factor in "contributions" (the polite way Washington politicians refer to bribes) to his Leadership PAC, we find all kinds of financial predators who have also been financing Romney's onslaught against democracy: Elliott Management (far right financier Paul Singer), Citadel Investment Group (Chicago financial predator Kenneth Griffin), Madison Dearborn Partners (John Canning's private equity firm specializing in leveraged buyouts), New Vernon Capital, Charles Schwab, Accenture, AQR Capital Management, Blackstone Group (Pete Peterson)...

What Frank Rich warned about in New York this week in terms of billionaires trying to buy the White House for Romney... well, many of the same shady criminal sociopaths are trying to set up Paul Ryan for that glory as well.
If you want to appreciate what Barack Obama is up against in 2012, forget about the front man who is his nominal opponent and look instead at the Republican billionaires buying the ammunition for the battles ahead. A representative example is Harold Simmons, an 80-year-old Texan who dumped some $15 million into the campaign before primary season had ended. Reminiscing about 2008, when he bankrolled an ad blitz to tar the Democrats with the former radical Bill Ayers, Simmons told the Wall Street Journal, “If we had run more ads, we could have killed Obama.” It is not a mistake he intends to make a second time. The $15 million Simmons had spent by late February dwarfs the $2.8 million he allotted to the Ayers takedown and the $3 million he contributed to the Swift Boat Veterans demolition of John Kerry four years before that. Imagine the cash that will flow now that the GOP sideshows are over and the president is firmly in Simmons’s crosshairs.

...Sugar daddies-- whom I’ll define here as private donors or their privately held companies writing checks totaling $1 million or more (sometimes much more) in this election cycle-- are largely a Republican phenomenon, most of them one degree of separation from Karl Rove and his unofficial partners in erecting a moneyed shadow GOP, David and Charles Koch. At last look, there were 25 known sugar daddies on the right (or more, if you want to count separately the spouses and children who pitch in). You’ve likely heard of Sheldon Adelson, the Vegas tycoon who is Benjamin Netanyahu’s unofficial ambassador to the GOP. But you may be less familiar with Irving Moskowitz, the bingo entrepreneur who funnels his profits into East Jerusalem settlements. Or Robert Mercer, the hedge-fund master of “flash trading” who poured a clandestine $1 million into ads attacking the “ground-zero mosque” and nearly another $3 million into a scale-model railroad in his Long Island mansion. Or Steven Lund, the co-founder of Nu Skin, which became “direct selling” sponsor of the Romney-run 2002 Winter Olympics after having spent much of the nineties settling complaints over false advertising and other unscrupulous practices with the Federal Trade Commission and six different states’ attorneys general.

The list of 25 does not include donors whose names we may never know: those who are legally allowed to remain anonymous when giving to patently political “social welfare” nonprofits like Rove’s Crossroads GPS. That particular Rove money drop reported to the IRS last week that nearly 90 percent of its first $76.8 million haul (from June 2010 through December 2011) had come from two dozen donors giving $1 million or more, including two contributions of $10 million each. While Obama has his own super-PAC–“social welfare” nonprofit combo, the proceeds totaled only a pathetic $6.7 million last year. A paltry $100,000 contribution is all it takes for a Democratic donor to get priority access to the White House, according to the New York Times. George Soros is on the sidelines, and Obama so far has claimed only two sugar daddies of his own: Bill Maher and DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg. ...[J]ust 10 percent of Romney’s donors for 2012 have been from among the hoi polloi (those contributing $200 or less)-- compared with 52 percent for Santorum, 48 percent for Gingrich, and 45 percent for Obama. The only Americans fired up and ready to go for Mitt are those who can and will give to the max, all keenly mindful of the dividends certain to accrue to them in a Romney administration.

...Mitt’s own coterie of Wall Street vulture capitalists is second to none in rapaciousness—starting with the hedge-fund gambler John Paulson, who collaborated with Goldman Sachs on his megabet against the entire American housing industry before the crash. Another Romney hedge-fund patron, Paul Singer, is notorious for slick trafficking in Third World debt, with results that leave the destitute masses of countries like the Congo in a far sadder state than the hapless Goldman clients (those “muppets” we’ve been hearing about) on the losing end of Paulson’s big score. Romney also has an affinity for fellow Mormons who’ve made sugar-daddy fortunes by peddling dubious “health products” sold by “multilevel marketing” schemes (a.k.a. pyramid selling) in which retail sales are secondary to the commissions tied to roping more suckers into the sales force. In addition to Lund of Nu Skin, there’s Frank VanderSloot, the Professor Marvel behind Melaleuca, an Idaho-based company that promises to help “moms be moms” and “earn a corporate income from home,” even if they don’t have the financial cushion of, say, Ann Romney. Though a promotional video on its website features women who claim to have earned as much as $500,000 selling goods like dietary supplements (which purport to remedy clogged arteries and arthritis), the average Melaleuca peddler makes just $87 per year. An industry critic, Robert L. FitzPatrick, elucidated for Mother Jones how companies like Melaleuca and Nu Skin are perfect examples of the vulture-capitalist business model: They set “the average person upon his neighbor to get at his assets, savings, and investments.” Romney, meanwhile, has applauded VanderSloot for having “vision and sense of social responsibility” that are “second to none.”

What these sugar daddies specifically want from Mitt and his party, besides the usual conservative bullet points (codified in Paul Ryan’s tax-cutting, government-shredding budget), is clear enough: the widest possible regulation-free berth for any vulture businesses they have a hand in, from nuclear waste to “health” nostrums, from new houses to financial products created from those homes’ subprime mortgages. A particularly large wish list is likely to emanate from the Koch brothers, whose privately held business interests are many. Such has been their zeal to protect their gas and oil holdings that they shoveled nearly $25 million into organizations fueling climate-change denial from 2005 to 2008-- nearly three times what Exxon Mobil spent on such spin during that period, in Greenpeace’s accounting. To preserve another profit center, a Koch subsidiary has also backed the recently disbanded Formaldehyde Council, which argued that formaldehyde is “a natural part of our world” rather than “a complete carcinogen,” which is how it is classified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA, of course, is exactly the kind of federal agency that would lose funding and gain Koch apparatchiks as staff members in a Romney administration.

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