The enormous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile — piloted around Wisconsin by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan as a youth — is a perfect metaphor for Ryan’s out-sized fundraising prowess.
But a close look at the record of Ryan — author of several manifestos, including the “Roadmap for America,” calling for voucherizing Medicare — raises a crucial question: whose roadmap has Ryan been following as he has cruised to national prominence, the constituents of his distressed district in southeast Wisconsin or his big campaign contributors?
Ryan is running not only for the “heartbeat-away” position, but also for reelection in Wisconsin’s First District running from Oak Creek to Janesville.
Ryan’s fundraising has been prolific as a congressman. From 2000 to 2010, Ryan out-raised his opponents by a combined 31-1.
This time around, Ryan faces his best-funded candidate ever in Kenosha: small businessman Rob Zerban, who has gathered $1.4 million from labor, liberals, and pro-choice advocates. But even with his time devoted since early August to running for vice president, Ryan maintains a huge advantage with $5.4 million on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Advancing rapidly to hold the extremely powerful influential post of House Budget chair at the youthful age of 42, Ryan had built a reputation as an exceedingly adept fund-raiser. Ryan is “one of the top political fundraisers in Congress, with backing from the employees of banks and insurance companies that would benefit from his actions on financial regulation and Medicare,” where he seeks to substitute vouchers for guarantees of lifelong medical care, Bloomberg BusinessWeek pointed out. Ryan currently has “more than $5.4 million in his campaign account, about $2 million more than the next highest House member.”
Ryan’s success has rested on drawing funds from financial (exemplified by Goldman Sachs, his second biggest source of funds historically), insurance and pharmaceuticals. Fully 65% of his funding comes from outside Wisconsin.
Ryan’s support by these industries — which accounted for $817,000 of the $3.2 million raised by Ryan during the July 1, 2009-June 30, 2011 period reports the Center for Responsive Politics — has been a clear pattern throughout his career.
Until recently, “Less well-known [have been] Mr. Ryan’s close ties to the donors and activists who have channeled Tea Party anger into a $400 million political machine, financed by a network of conservative and libertarian donors that now rivals, and occasionally challenges, the Republican establishment behind Mr. Romney,” the New York Times reported.
“Mr. Ryan is one of a very few elected officials who have attended the Kochs’ [Charles and David, the billionaire brothers and right-wing funders who gained prominence with their links to the radical turn of Gov. Scott Walker shortly after he took office] biannual conferences, where wealthy donors sit in on seminars on runaway government spending and the myths of climate change,” the Times added.
The relationship with the Kochs has been long and extensive, said US News and World Report: “he has long been a favorite of the libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch. Before entering Congress, Ryan worked with a conservative group that would eventually merge with a Koch brothers’ group to become FreedomWorks, a leading sponsor of the Tea Party movement.”
Ryan has also benefited from ties to controversial billionaire Paul Singer, who commands a fortune estimated at $19 billion by Fortune.
In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that the controversial Singer — labeled “the Vulture” by Great Britain’s prime minister and the World Bank officials for his ruthless treatment of impoverished nations — aggressively promoted the choice of Ryan to Mitt Romney, notes Greg Palast, author of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits, which appears certain to be one of the most-discussed books of the election season.
The influence of Singer within the Republican Party is hard to overstate. “Since the death of Enron’s Ken Lay, Singer and his vulture flock at Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott International, had become the top contributors to the Republican National Committee,” writes Palast. Part of Singer’s wealth is also channeled through less savory groups, says Palast: “Singer put money behind the Swift Boat smear on Bush’s opponent, John Kerry.”
Through such important contacts in rarified circles, Ryan has developed an enormous money machine that is the envy of all but a handful in Congress. “The Koch Industries PAC has donated more than $100,000 to Mr. Ryan’s campaigns and his leadership PAC, more than has any other corporate PAC,” reported the New York Times.
Ryan’s ties to Singer became particularly noteworthy when he took a high-profile role in denouncing the bailouts of the banking and auto industries at the start of President Obama’s term—but then wound up voting for both of them. One Congressman from Wisconsin attacked the bank bailout, and then voted for it,” Palast declared in Madison recently.
“One Wisocnsin congressman attacked the auto bailout, and then voted for it. That congressman was Paul Ryan.”
Ryan’s fierce verbal opposition to the bailouts delighted the nascent but fast-growing Tea Party movement whose adherents had long been admiring the congressman’s reputation as a “fiscal hawk” (actually, Ryan’s record reveals consistent resistance to spending on social needs while supporting major expenditures for corporate tax breaks and tax cuts flowing mainly to the wealthy, along with backing for the multi-trillion Iraq and Gulf Wars.)
However, Ryan’s reversals on the bailouts — which drew much less media coverage than his strident attacks and thus failed to incite his rightist grass-roots supporters — were critical to the interests of his donors.
For Goldman Sachs, the $700 billion bailout under the Troubled Asset Relief Program meant a chance to limit their exposure to the bad debt — “the toxic assets—in its portfolio. When Ryan — who had voted for the crucial deregulatory moves widely blamed for triggering the Wall Street meltdown — announced his vote for TARP, he said the bailout “sucks” but was vital to “save the free enterprise system.”
Ryan may have been acting solely in his mind to save capitalism, but he also voted in the same way a favored golden boy of Goldman Sachs would have: helping them to shift untold billions in risk to the public.
Regarding the auto bailout, Ryan initially struck themes similar to GOP Senate and House members from the South who seemingly hoped that the US-owned auto firms would collapse.
But Ryan also had to face the potential political fallout of the GM closing in Janesville, which was projected to cause the direct loss of 2,700 jobs, wipe out an additional 6,000-8,000 more support jobs, drop spending power in Janesville by $500 million a year and threaten the pensions of thousands of GM retirees living in the district.
(This is the same GM plant referred to deceptively in Ryan’s Aug. 28 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, where he sought to portray the hopeful remarks of candidate Barack Obama made on February 2008 as a promise to Janesville workers made by Obama already sitting in the White House. GM announced the Janesville closing June 3, 2008, long before Obama was sworn in Jan. 20, 2009.)
Once again, Ryan’s vote for the bailout provided immense financial benefits to a major campaign backer, in this case Paul Singer. Singer and John Paulson had cunningly bought up the only steering-column plant in North America for pennies on the dollar, a resource vitally needed by Obama’s auto task force to maintain all auto making. Paulson and Singer racked up an enormous profit of $2.5 billion. “The auto bailout team initially resisted the outrageous amount Singer wanted, but he had the industry by the ball bearings.”
Since the shutdown, Ryan’s voting record has reflected far less concern for the suffering of families who lost jobs or saw their incomes plummet as a result of the GM closing and other shutdowns across the district. It has been plagued by growing poverty (43% to 69% of the children in the major cities of his district are eligible for free or reduced-cost meals because of low incomes), falling wages (average pay in Janesville has dropped by $5 an hour), the loss of healthcare coverage, rampant home foreclosures, and growing hunger and homelessness.
Ryan has voted against an increase in the minimum wage now at $7.25, extended unemployment benefits, the S-CHIP and Affordable Care healthcare programs, foreclosure assistance, expanded food stamps, and called for cutbacks in worker re-training programs in his budget proposals.
Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based writer and publicity consultant. Email winterbybee@ gmail.com.
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2012
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