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Losing money in a weak economy

Martin Peterson
From Idaho

There has recently been a lot of talk about the group of Americans known as The One Percent. The term refers to the one percent of Americans who control something like forty percent of the nation’s wealth. Presumably, the wealthiest of these individuals, unless they inherited their wealth, are people who are intelligent, have a high work ethic and think strategically when making business decisions.

So, at a time when there has been so much talk about the overly long recovery from the last recession, where do these wealthy individuals invest their money? Following tips from their Fox News advisors, the smart investment was in Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates.

The talking heads on Fox said for months that this was a sure thing. As it turns out, as financial advisors, they were right up there with Bernie Madoff.

Take the billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson. He made his billions off of people who bet and lost and when it came to making political donations, he proved no luckier than most of his customers. He spent $53 million on nine political races and had only one winner. The one winner was in the Texas Senate race where he actually supported two candidates.

Then there are the Koch brothers, Charles and David. They were reported to be prepared to donate something in the neighborhood of $400 million to a variety of tax exempt groups that are not subject to federal campaign finance disclosure. Their top priority was to support candidates who will weaken environmental regulations and stop the move away from coal to cleaner sources of energy. Presumably, that would have come with Republicans solidly in control of the House, Senate and White House. In the end, it was not one of their better investments.

One of the super PACs into which many of those wealthy one-percenters poured contributions was the one run by the former Bush political operative Karl Rove. Rove has been largely
viewed as one of the shrewdest and most effective political operatives of the current generation.

Not so in 2012. Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC spent $104 million of other people’s money in the general election and none of its candidates won. In the end, rather than declaring victory, all he could say was that without this funding support, the races wouldn’t have been nearly as close. Someone needs to remind him that close only counts in horseshoes.

Closer to home, there was Idaho’s own Frank VanderSloot. VanderSloot is the Idaho Falls based billionaire who founded Melaleuca, an Amway clone that sells nutritional supplements, cleaning supplies and personal care products. His 2012 election passion was Idaho education reform and Mitt Romney. He spent $1.3 million in supporting the ill-fated Luna laws and another $1 million on the Romney campaign.

So what is the take-home lesson from all of this? Just as with the stock market, there are no sure things in politics. But there are ways in which people could minimize their losses. One such way would be for the U.S. to adopt the British campaign model and limit campaigns to thirty days. In addition, the British government imposes what they call Purdah before elections. This is a period of about six weeks prior to elections during which the government is prohibited from making public release of any proposed new programs.

Unfortunately, there is little chance that such common-sense changes will be coming to U.S. elections any time soon. The billions spent on the 2012 elections didn’t simply disappear, as in the case of a bad stock purchase. The moneys went to a wide-range of election stakeholders who weren’t running for office. They include campaign advisors, media strategists, political advisors, newspapers, direct mail firms, robo telephone calling firms, radio and TV stations, advertising agencies and others. There are also many others who benefit economically from lengthy and expensive campaigns, although not at the expense of the candidates campaign checkbook. These include media pundits and commentators. Political campaigns are big business and in America we strongly support big business.

Take no comfort in knowing that as you read this, plans are being hatched among both Republicans and Democrats for those first visits to Iowa and New Hampshire as the cycle begins for the 2016 presidential elections. It’s going to be another long four years.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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