I remember a time back in the early days of the Tea Party movement — maybe you do too — when anger at Wall Street and its overweening influence on Washington formed a central part of its critique of the American political scene.
Somewhere along the line, however, that anger and discontent disappeared. I suspect it happened when big money came along to co-opt the movement for its own purposes, making it inconvenient to rail at those who were now paying the movement’s bills. But a lingering memory of that not-too-distant history came to mind this morning as I read a piece at Politico headlined “Wall Street’s vote: Romney by a landslide”.
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and the super PAC supporting it are outraising Obama among financial-sector donors $37.1 million to $4.8 million.
Near the front of the pack are 19 Obama donors from 2008 who are giving big to Romney.
The 19 have already given $4.8 million to Romney’s presidential campaign and the super PAC supporting it through the end of April, according to a POLITICO analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. Four years ago, they gave Obama $213,700.
None of them has given a penny to the president’s reelection campaign or the super PAC supporting it.
None of that’s a surprise, of course. It’s been clear for quite a while that Wall Street money would weigh in heavily on behalf of Romney. But what I find more interesting is the sense of persecution that is apparently driving that decision.
For example, one of the donors quoted in the story is Ken Griffin, a Chicago hedge fund operator. Griffin is listed at No. 117 on the Forbes 400, with an estimated net worth of some $3 billion. Griffin has donated more than $1 million to Restore Our Future, the Romney SuperPAC, and another $1 million to American Crossroads, the SuperPAC run by Karl Rove. He has also contributed another $1.5 million to the supposedly grassroots “Americans for Prosperity” tea-party group heavily funded by the Koch brothers.
Recently, when asked in an interview with the Chicago Tribune whether the current system gives him and other deep-pocket contributors too much political influence, Griffin issued a strong no.
“I think they actually have an insufficient influence,” he said.
However, what really drew my attention was the explanation that Griffin offered Politico for his investment in politics:
“It is critical that the next president appreciates that America’s prosperity is driven by the innovation and hard work of the American worker, whose valiant efforts have, in recent years, been undermined by the oppressive weight of government intervention.”
I’d like to make three observations about that statement:
1.) Let me get this straight: Griffin is defending valiant American workers, the same workers whose jobs have been sent overseas and whose pension funds have been raided, the same workers who have been treated as so many disposable units of production by many on Wall Street? He’s doing it for the little people?
2.) Griffin lives in and operates within a system that has rewarded him with riches and power far beyond any available in any previous era or in any other country. Yet somehow he has managed to convince himself that he and others like him are not being treated fairly and are somehow the oppressed victims in all this. In interviews, he has painted this country as a place that penalizes success and this economy as hogtied by regulation, oblivious to the fact that the best rebuttal to that argument is his own enormous wealth.
3.) “The oppressive weight of government intervention” that he complains about in fact saved the ungrateful Mr. Griffin and his $3 billion fortune at a time when massive irresponsibility within his industry threatened to bring the global financial structure tumbling down into a smoking ruin.
Griffin has said that his company took no direct money from the Wall Street bailout, and I’m sure that’s true. However, it is equally true that without the injection of $700 billion in taxpayer money through TARP, and without the direct, repeated, ongoing and massive intervention of the Federal Reserve, the market collapse of 2008 would have been impossible to halt and then later reverse, and much of his fortune would have disappeared.
As it was, Griffin’s reported net worth fell from an estimated $3.7 billion in October 2008 to $1.5 billion just six months later. And while I suspect that he likes to credit himself, the bold entrepreneur, for executing a turnaround in his fortunes, any contribution that he may have made through his no-doubt considerable intelligence and hard work was insignificant compared to the impact of TARP, QE 1, QE 2 and other interventions by the federal government.
I am sorry if Mr. Griffin feels unappreciated. It is unfortunate that he sees so many frustrating obstacles placed between himself and true success, whatever he deems that might be. It is regrettable that he believes he has less influence over American affairs than by right ought to have.
On the other hand, I know a lot of people who feel unappreciated, frustrated and unheard these days. And I think their reasons are better than his.
– Jay Bookman