Pity the Poor Billionaires

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We had the perfect headline all picked out for this piece but our colleague Paul Waldman at The American Prospect magazine beat us to the punch:

“It’s Hard Out There for a Billionaire.”

You see, according to Politico.com, the so-called “mega-donors,” unleashed by Citizens United and pouring boundless big bucks into this year’s political campaigns, are upset that their massive contributions are being exposed to public view, ignoring the right of every one of us to know who is giving money to candidates — and the opportunity to try to figure out why.

“Quit picking on us” is part of Politico’s headline. Their article says that the mega-donors’ “six- and seven-figure contributions have… bought them nothing but grief.”

“This is definitely not what they had in mind. In their view, cutting a million-dollar check to try to sway the presidential race should be just another way to do their part for democracy, not a fast-track to the front page.”

Uh-huh. The sound you hear is the world’s smallest violin, say, a teeny-tiny Stradivarius insured for millions. “Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America’s multimillionaires and billionaires?’ Paul Waldman asks. “Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive… America’s barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right.”

Last month, an Obama website cited eight mega-donors to Mitt Romney’s campaign as possessing “less-than-reputable records.” Among them was Frank VanderSloot, a Romney national finance co-chairman who has raised millions for the campaign. He’s a rancher – with 110,448 acres, on which he no doubt roams playing “This Land is Your Land” on his little Stradivarius — and CEO of the billion-dollar company Melaleuca, which Rolling Stone describes as “a ‘multilevel marketing’ firm based in Idaho that sells off-brand cleaning products and nutritional supplements.”

VanderSloot and his wealthy pals went ballistic and cried intimidation. “You go back to the Dark Ages,” VanderSloot said, “when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else — watch this — watch what we do to the guy who did this.”

Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot defends his Romney donation by writing another check -- on the O'Reilly Factor.

Conservatives described the Obama ranking of Romney contributors as an “enemies list,” conjuring images of Nixonian wiretaps and punitive tax audits. But despite protestations to the contrary, these deep-pocketed plutocrats aren’t shelling out the shekels for the love of flag, Mom and apple pie (or tarte tatin, as they call it in the swanky joints).

“Most of the megadonors backing [Romney’s] candidacy are elderly billionaires,” Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. “Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney’s pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy — and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent.” As at least one of them has said, they view these cash infusions as an “investment,” plain and simple.

Dickinson claims that what VanderSloot specifically seeks are, “Fewer consumer protections. The FDA has rebuked Melaleuca for making ‘false and misleading’ claims about its supplements, and the company has signed a consent decree agreeing to ‘not engage in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid.’ VanderSloot is also an anti-gay crusader: He tried to kill a PBS program for promoting ‘the homosexual lifestyle,’ and gave big bucks to pass California’s ban on same-sex marriage.” (Maybe that’s why Mitt has called for privatizing PBS, admitting he’s eager to see commercials on Sesame Street!)

Not that Democrats are pure of heart and innocent of venal self-interest – many of them are all too ready to leap to the music of the ATM, too. In fact, Adam Bonica, an associate political science professor at Stanford has put together a database indicating that since 1979, 377 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans have given almost half a billion dollars to candidates of both parties, most of it in the last decade. The median contribution was $355,100 each.

For evidence of the bipartisan nature of avarice, all you need to do is leap into your Wayback Machine and dial back less than twelve hours before Politico’s story of angst among the generous upper classes. This time, the headline reads, “Bill would give bank a $300M benefit.”

Seems the Emigrant Bank, based here in New York City, needs a loophole. “At issue is an arcane provision in the Dodd-Frank law setting out how much capital banks are required to have and in what form,” Politico reported. “Emigrant, the nation’s largest privately owned bank, currently has $10.5 billion in assets, according to its chief regulatory officer, Richard Wald.”

At one point during the financial meltdown, Emigrant borrowed money that by the end of 2009 raised its worth beyond $15 billion. This triggered a Dodd-Frank provision requiring the bank to liquidate some of its assets.

Enter New York Republican Congressman Michael Grimm who, with the bipartisan backing of members of the House Financial Services Committee, including Democratic ranking member Barney Frank (as in Dodd-Frank), introduced a one-sentence bill — that’s right, one sentence — moving the cut off date to March 31, 2010, when the banks assets had slipped back under $15 billion. This will create a savings for Emigrant of $300 million in capital.

Emigrant has come a long way since it was founded in 1850 as a savings bank for newly arrived Irish émigrés. Now Howard Milstein, whose family is worth an estimated $3.8 billion, owns it. He was a bundler for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and a major contributor to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Politico’s John Bresnahan writes, “The Milsteins, along with business associates and other family members, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to both GOP and Democratic lawmakers over the past decade. Along with Grimm, New York Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Carolyn McCarthy and Gregory Meeks — all co-sponsors of the bill — have received $11,500 in donations from the Milsteins this cycle.”

What’s more, over the last two years, “The Milsteins have retained high-powered lobbying help to bolster their push for congressional action, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars,” including a firm which counts among its partners former New York Republican Senator Al D’Amato, whose career in Congress was but prelude to his lucrative retirement as a hustler for the mighty.

All of which leads to one last headline, via the Reuters news service on Thursday: “House panel votes to give New York bank a break.” The tally was 35-15.

And the plutocrats cried all the way to the bank.

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  • Anonymous

    Ready to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, Tea Partiers?

  • Anonymous

    when any group or person in government has so much power that the people have no voice it’s called tyranny, When they so weaken the government as to cause its collapse thats treason . Those poor billionaire’s need to put their money back in their pocket,and them and their crooked friends in wa .dc. need to put all of the money they looted from the U.S. treasury with the fanny may freddy mack aig scam, Then they need put back all the money they took from social security .
     The smartest thing we can do at this point is out law political party’s , after all the only purpose they serve is as a platform for bribes.
     When Barney Frank retired he stated ,” When someone gives you millions for your  campaign you feel obligated to vote the way they want you to.”
    The problem with that is if the donation has strings attached (even so much as a desire ) then it’s a bribe! 

    SO WHERE IS THE FBI. AND WHY HASN’T MR. FRANK BEEN ARRESTED ? 

  • Dad-Man

    Here in Minnesota, we’ve given a New Jersey billionaire refuge by building him a stadium for his NFL franchise.  We pay for most of the stadium construction, he sells the naming rights. It’s the least we can do for a guy.

  • Psychedfilms

    Excellent reporting.  Love the light your organization shines on so many significant issues.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Barrows/716552858 Robert Barrows

    Money and politics…Who knew? Along these same lines, I think  you’ll get a kick out of a couple of songs called “Big Bucks” and “Run For Office.” You can hear free clips of them at http://www.barrows.com/music.html

  • Ralph Carlson

    I found this article very interesting especially the link to “House Panel Votes to ….”  I have sent this to a few of my friends who have an interest on what’s going on in this country.  Unfortunatley, in my opinion, a good number of the American voting public has no interest in politics or articles like this. I guess that’s why we haven’t had an over 60% turn out in federal elections since 1960.  The 2010 turn out was 37.8%, how sad. In the coming election I would like to see a 70% or higher turn out to let our overseas neighbors know that we Americans care who we elect to office.

    Ralph A. Carlson – San Francisco, CA

  • Billandjudith

    Thank you.  My team’s grateful that you care.  Bill M.

  • Anonymous

    This little plutocrat went to market,
    This  little plutocrat stayed home.
    This little plutocrat had roast beef,
    But this little plutocrat had none.
    And this little plutocrat went, “Wee! Wee! Wee!” all the way to the bank.

  • David F., N.A.

    While these billionaires are busy hedging their bets by buying off both sides of the aisle, a much larger problem flies quietly beneath the radar.  We hardly ever hear anything about the machines our state and local governments buy in order to count election votes.  Sure, money (along with bs media polls) has a strong influence on our elections, but, when it doesn’t, these machines are easily manipulated (by programming or hacking) to distort democracy and determine a leader(s).

    Meet Command Central, the People in Charge of Wisconsin Voting Machines
    http://wcmcoop.com/members/meet-command-central-the-people-in-charge-of-wisconsin-voting-machines/

    Many of our clerks have undoubtedly met Aaron Storbeck, who travels to conventions and sets up wares to show county clerks how easy these machines are to use. In a follow-up email interview Storbeck denied his machines could be corrupted:

    Barbara With: So as far as you know, you don’t know how anyone could create corruptible programming that would not show up until Election Day.

    Command Central: Hasn’t happened and we have 46 counties as customers in Wisconsin and 3,000 pieces of equipment out there.

    But perhaps the most disturbing answer Storbeck gave was to the question of who programs the computer pacs that tabulate the votes.

    CC: My step-mother is Sue Wahl and she does the programming.

    Who is Command Central? Listed only as a P.O. box number on Storbeck’s card, on further investigation, Command Central’ s office can be found in Marketplace strip mall, 110 2nd Street South, Suite 300, in Waite Park, a suburb of St. Cloud, MN. They also are listed as doing business from suite 219 at this address. Coincidentally, Michelle Bachman’s campaign office is also located at this address, right down the hall in Suite 232.

    And who is Sue Wahl-Storbeck and should we trust her with our voting machines?

    In 2007, Sue Wahl-Storbeck filed suit against a former employer and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for disqualifying her from receiving unemployment benefits because she had been fired. The company, ACS Enterprise Solutions, claims that in 2005, Wahl-Storbeck refused to take the annual ethics exam that was required for employment with ACS. She claimed the organization was so dysfunctional that it was “hypocritical” to take the test. She lost both her original case and the appeal. “Because each refusal to take the ethics exam was intentional conduct that displayed clearly Storbeck’s refusal to comply with ACS’s reasonable request, her actions do not constitute a single incident under Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6(a). Accordingly, the ULJ properly determined that Storbeck is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because she was discharged for employment misconduct.”

    This is the woman who has control over the programming of 3,000 voting machines in 46 districts in the State of Wisconsin.

    Regardless of her achievements, whenever anyone is given the sole responsibility to program our voting machines, we are placing the vitality of our entire democracy in their hands.

    Forty-six Wisconsin counties and 3,000 voting machines are being controlled by a two-person company operating out of a strip mall in Minnesota.

  • David F., N.A.

    George Carlin – You are a slave http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB-HZG1Zh7s

  • JonThomas

     This was excellent!!

  • Helpingforeach

    As a freelance
    investigative reporter, I have been a fan of BM for many decades.

     This article was inflammatory, not researched
    and biased. Nor does it appear to be accurate.

    Wealthy people
    have the same rights as the rest of us peasants. Engaging in the current
    political foray is really beneath you Bill.  It is disappointing to say the least. You have
    cashed in on the very credibility issues legitimate journalists fight so hard
    to dispel. You drank the Kool-Aid.   I
    wonder, was it about the money?

    You have lost all
    your credibility with just one story.

  • Davideros

    Nonsense, Helping. The article is thoroughly researched and sourced, very much to the point. You are the one who drank the Kool-Aid, pal,neatly spiced with Courvoisier it would seem.

  • David F., N.A.

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0512/76893.html
    I like the part where Frank says he won’t object to the Grimm bill as long as it is passed in the light of day.  Now either he wants to flaunt this corruption in our face or he wants us to believe that he’s honest and noble, and not a money grubbing douche-bag.

  • Nayakk

    A reporter? Write much?

  • Anonymous

    uh, could you specify? What bias? He calls out both parties, uh Carolyn Maloney is a DEMOCRAT, and he skewers her and the other NY Dems for supporting the Emigrant bailout – or maybe you believe corporations are people too??   The Supreme Court’s idiocy in opening the door for billionaires to ostensibly hijack our national government will haunt this nation for decades..

  • Stewart Connor

    We need to find a way to get money out of politics.

  • taxpayer

    Feeling like a partisan hack yet?