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Our Billionaires Are More Virtuous Than Your Billionaires!

They don’t give a prize for the world’s worst reporter, but if they did, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker would be a contender. Her endless campaigning for liberal causes, in the guise of reporting, doesn’t distinguish her, but her dishonesty does. I wouldn’t ask you to read her latest screed; I think the Geneva Convention might prohibit that. Suffice it to say that her piece is subtitled, “Obama doesn’t like cozying up to billionaires. Could it cost him the election?”

You could write the article yourself: rich people are contributing to the Romney campaign; the Democrats’ billionaires aren’t coming through; Citizens United; blah blah blah; left-wing billionaires need to get patriotic and pony up. Of course, when Obama smashed all fundraising records in 2008 and outspent John McCain by five to one or more during the height of the campaign, neither Mayer nor any other liberal complained. Mayer never considers the possibility that Obama’s fundraising problems result from his poor performance in office: enthusiasm for him is down all over, and rich people, not being stupid, have noticed that he is a lousy president.

Mayer, no believer in Occam’s Razor, hypothesizes that the problem is that rich Republican donors are greedy, while rich Democratic donors are altruistic:

Creating a sense of intimacy with the President is especially important with Democratic donors, a frustrated Obama fund-raiser argues: “Unlike Republicans, they have no business interest being furthered by the donation—they just like to be involved. So it makes them more needy. It’s like, ‘If you’re not going to deregulate my industry, or lower my taxes, can’t I at least get a picture?’”

This is profoundly stupid. Put aside the fact that businesses in some industries, like “green” energy, are 100% dependent on government favor. Given the endless overreach of the federal government, every substantial business is affected by federal laws and regulations. Democratic businessmen have “business interests” just like Republican businessmen–leave my industry alone, or regulate my competitors, or don’t single out my industry for a destructive tax, or don’t adopt a stupid regulation. Or pay my business money: when the federal government spends $3 1/2 trillion a year, it is supporting not just a lot of senior citizens, but a lot of businesses, too.

Let’s take the example of Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men and a dedicated supporter of the Democratic Party. Does he get a payoff? Yesterday the Obama administration announced that it had expedited four surface transportation projects. Here is how the administration described one of them:

Devils Lake
State: North Dakota
Coordinating Agency: Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration
Target date for completing Federal permit and review decisions: Winter 2012; Construction expected Summer 2013

The Devils Lake Rail Improvements project will raise the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail line to address the rising level of Devils Lake and ensure the line remains open to passenger and freight traffic. The Project, which received a $10 million TIGER III (2011) grant for phased infrastructure improvements as part of an overall $100 million program, will allow Amtrak’s operating speeds to increase, improve long‐term reliability and lower maintenance costs for both passenger and freight rail. The rail line connects rural communities in North Dakota, Montana, and eastern Washington to larger urban centers with essential services in an area where extreme weather conditions frequently close roads and airports. The project is an example of recovery efforts in the Devils Lake area and involves extensive coordination between the North Dakota Department of Transportation, BNSF, US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure timely permitting and environmental approval processes. Through careful engineering and planning, the rail improvements will be constructed with little to no environmental impact, and all work will be completed within existing BNSF right‐of‐way.

Hmm. Who owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad? Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns it, having just bought the railroad in 2010. It didn’t take long to get the Obama administration to commit $100 million to enhance the value of Buffett’s business. A reader writes:

Federal gov’t is paying 42.5% of $100 million upgrade project for Warren Buffett’s railroad (Berkshire Hathaway owns 100%). That’s even better than solar power subsidies. Justifying it based on need for Amtrak passenger travel. I’d love to see how many people ride Amtrak from North Dakota to Montana.

The Democrats love Warren Buffett–what’s $100 million between friends?–but they hate Charles and David Koch. The Democrats’ anti-Koch campaign seems to have fallen flat, but they haven’t quite given up. A PAC affiliated with Harry Reid has launched a multimillion dollar campaign to demonize the Kochs, in hopes of influencing this year’s election:

A liberal nonprofit group linked to Harry Reid is launching what it says will be a long-term multimillion-dollar advertising campaign targeting the conservative Koch brothers.

The campaign, which is funded by Patriot Majority, kicks off Tuesday with a $500,000 cable television ad buy accusing Charles and David Koch of trying “to buy this year’s elections and advance their agenda.” …

Patriot Majority’s ads, which will air nationally on CNN and MSNBC, are part of a campaign called “Stop The Greed Agenda,” which will be supplemented by a website, direct mail and online ads — all directed at the Kochs, for now.

It is ironic that the Democrats accuse the Koch brothers of “greed.” They are among the country’s greatest philanthropists, who have given away hundreds of millions of dollars to charities ranging from the arts to cancer research. It is also notable that the ad buy is on MSNBC and CNN, which means that it is pitched not to persuading undecided voters, but to riling up those who are already committed Democrats.

“We’re going to take them on,” said Craig Varoga, president of Patriot Majority. His group, which spent more than $10 million boosting Reid during his tough 2010 Senate reelection campaign in Nevada, is the nonprofit arm of Majority PAC, the super PAC assisted by Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, and other Senate Democrats.

So this is more or less an official effort of the Democratic Party. Here is the Patriot Majority ad:

The ad is the usual lies, distinguished only by the apparently-zombie family in the last shot. Not sure what’s going on there. The ad says the Koch brothers support special interests, which makes you wonder: where does Patriot Majority’s money come from? We don’t know because the organization is a 501(c)4 and keeps its donors anonymous. Craig Varoga, who runs Patriot Majority, has refused to reveal who is funding the anti-Koch television campaign. We do know, this, however:

Patriot Majority…has received a large chunk of its donations from labor unions, according to FactCheck.org. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave the group $500,000 in 2010. The Service Employees International Union also donated to the group.

Is there any special interest more devoted to its parochial financial benefit, to the detriment of the common good, than public employee unions? I don’t think so.

The Center for Public Integrity adds this:

Veteran Democratic Party operative Craig Varoga has quietly emerged as a significant player in the universe of outside political groups that during election years pump tens of millions of dollars into ads and get–out-the-vote drives to help members in tough races.

Patriot Majority, a 527 that Varoga set up in 2005, works closely with — and gets about half its funding — from several prominent unions such as the AFL-CIO and the SEIU. “We get money from all the major unions,” Varoga, 53, told the Center, adding that his group also has close political ties with America Votes, a broad coalition of some 400 liberal groups and unions.

America Votes. Hmm. I wonder who controls that front group? The Wall Street Journal reported in May:

Billionaire investor George Soros plans to donate $1 million to super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, a pro-Democratic outside group that is helping Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats.

A spokesman for Mr. Soros says that he will also donate $1 million to America Votes, an organization run by Democrats that helps to coordinate the grassroots activities of progressive groups around the country. (Mr. Soros previously gave $1 million to America Votes last year, bringing to $2 million the total given to the organization for the 2012 campaign season.)

So it appears probable that George Soros, a convicted criminal–insider trading–who ranks as America’s 7th richest person, is financing ads that accuse his fellow billionaires of being greedy. For purely altruistic reasons, of course.

Does this kind of smear do the Democrats any good? I doubt it. Ads are effective when they relate to something the viewer cares about, like 8.3% unemployment, or 16% underemployment, or close-to-zero economic growth, or $16 trillion in federal debt. The overwhelming majority of voters have never heard of the Koch brothers, don’t care about them, and understand the basic fact that there are rich people on both sides of the political divide. So I’m guessing that this campaign turns out to be one of Soros’s poorer investments.

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