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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Obama Shuts Down Republican Chrysler Dealers? Let's Check the South Dakota List...

Now this is interesting: the national blogosphere has been churning up the contention that the Obama Administration targeted Republican donors and protected Democrat pals on the Chrysler dealership closing list. Folks are having trouble finding Dem donors among the roster of Chrysler dealers facing the axe... but think about the car dealers you know: how many are Democrats in the first place? Darn few, I'll bet.* (Wait a minute: how does an industry dominated by God-fearing, market-loving Republicans go so financially bad even before Obama gets in the door?)

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight does a fine job of running the donor numbers and discovers that 88% of political contributions from car dealers go to Republicans. The Atlantic's Megan McCardle observes that the dealers Chrysler targeted tend to be in rural areas with low sales... and rural areas tend to vote Republican.

So is there any there there? Well, let's see if there's any there here, in South Dakota. I took the names of the owners from the seven dealerships Chrysler announced would lose their franchise and ran them through OpenSecrets.org (which covers just contributions to party orgs and federal candidates, not state and local offices). I searched for all contributions from 1990 to the present. The results:
  • Steve Biegler: $0
  • Terry Schulte: $6000 to Republicans in the 1990s (including $1000 to Char Haar in 1992), none since.
  • Jim Sieg: $0
  • Larry Patnoe: $0, but Donald Patnoe gave $250 in 2007 and $250 in 2008 to the Nat'l Auto Dealers Assoc.
  • Barbee Kranz: $0, but John Kranz gave $4000 to Republicans from 1990 to 2003 (including $2000 to Janklow in 2002), and Scott Kranz gave $200 to Thune and $250 to Diedrich in 2004. Both made further donations to the NADA.
  • Don Schoenhard: $0
  • Todd Jensen: $1000 to NADA, 2003-2007
Hmmm... no Friends of Barack (or Stephanie, Tim, or Tom), but not exactly any big players in the Republican tent, either. If the Obama Administration were really playing payback, they'd have taken a whack at the Prostrollo All-American Auto Mall here in Madison: since 1990, the Prostrollos alone have given over $60,000 to Republican candidates, including $15,500 to potential 2012 Obama rival John Thune. Of course, auto-patriarch Jerry did slip a thousand to Daschle in 1998 and another thousand to DASHPAC in 2000, so maybe that saved the dealership.

But consider: when I do a search of OpenSecrets.org for South Dakota donors who include "auto" or "car" in their occupation, I find nine times as many donations to the GOP as to the Dems. Statewide, Republicans claim 70% of South Dakotan's party and federal-level political donations. By my calculations, here in Madison's 57042 ZIP, Republicans get 80% of those donations.

In other words, you swing a dead cat in South Dakota, and you'll get fur on some Republicans. Shut down some rural car dealers, and you're more likely to ding Republicans than Democrats. My analysis of campaign donations suggests there's no political monkey business going on here.

*Bonus joke, with custom punchlines for both sides of the aisle!
  • Why aren't more Democrats car salesmen?
    • punchline for my Dem friends: Because exploiting one's fellow man through the free market is a job for Republicans.
    • punchline for my GOP friends: Because Democrats prefer to exploit their fellow man through government.
Update 2009.05.29 06:50 CDT: This good summary of the right-wing blogger conspiracy theorizing points to Michelle Malkin's flip-flop on the issue, motivated apparently by the opportunity for airtime. We are all media whores. The post also draws comments that point to Timberline Dodge of Portland, Oregon, which is being closed. The only campaign donation I find connected to them on OpenSecrets.org: $500 to Dem Senator Ron Wyden in 2003.

Update 07:05: Deirdre Gregg of the Puget Sound Business Journal does a similar analysis for her home state and finds an Obama donor on the closing list. Gregg also links to this Fox News report that finds no substance to the conservative bloggers' accusations:

A preliminary study by FOXNews.com found that the data do not support the charges. Among the dealerships set to close, 12 percent of a random 50 selected for review donated to Republicans and 8 percent to Democrats. Of the dealerships remaining open, 14 percent of a random 50 selected donated to Republicans and 10 percent to Democrats. In both samples, the average size of donations was similar for both parties.

According to the sample, one major factor in determining whether a dealership was closed or not was the size of the dealership, measured by the number of product lines carried (the four lines are Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Dodge Truck). The average store that will be closed in the FOXNews.com sample carries 2.5 of those product lines whereas the average store that will stay open carries 3.64 ["Conservative Bloggers Charge..." Fox News, 2009.05.28].


  1. The decision about which dealers to close was made in the corporate offices, not in the White House. It was based on sales performance. If anyone has any information that the Obama administration was in anyway involved, let them cite the evidence.

  2. Cite evidence???

    Republicans don't need no stinking evidence to invent a talking point attacking Democrats.

  3. I agree...Obama could have appointed "The Adolf" to the bench and Newt the Poop Chute and Rush the Lush could have found reasons to bad mouth him. And if God walked into a Dems convention, the Republicans would claim He was brainwashed by North Koreans.

  4. Even Glenn Beck thinks that accusation is nonsense.


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