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Fact Check: Digging finds no vendetta against Chrysler dealers
Source URL: Fact Check: Digging finds no vendetta against Chrysler dealers | jacksonville.com

Many Times-Union readers want to know:

Is it true, as this e-mail says, that President Barack Obama targeted Republican-owned Chrysler dealerships for closure? The e-mail says that of the 789 dealerships closed by the federal government, 788 had donated money exclusively to Republican candidates and causes.

This claim doesn't make Nixon's Watergate or Clinton's Monica Lewinsky scandals pale in comparison as the heavily forwarded e-mail says it should. That's because the evidence shows that the closings were not politically motivated at all.

Various groups, including Fox News, looked at the allegations and found nothing to them.

The e-mail originated from a May 27, 2009, opinion piece from the Washington Examiner, according to Snopes.com, a well-respected fact-finding website that confirms or debunks rumors and urban legends. The Examiner is a conservative free-distribution newspaper in the Washington, D.C., area.

A bankrupt Chrysler announced on Feb. 11, 2008, that it would be "reducing the number of unprofitable dealers operating in close proximity to one another." The list of closings came out in May 2009.

In the heat of the presidential campaign, the Examiner piece ignited Internet bloggers who continued to write that the Obama administration was responsible for the list and targeted the dealerships who donated to Republicans. The administration denied that, saying that Chrysler alone was responsible for selecting the dealerships. Chrysler said it selected the dealerships based on market share, sales volume and location.

The e-mail also says that Steven Rattner, who was picked by the administration to head the White House's Auto Task Force, is married to Maureen White, a former Democratic National Committee finance chairwoman, and thus had "access to campaign donation records" to produce the list.

Actually, all that information is available for anyone to see at the Federal Election Commission's website, Federal Election Commission Home Page, or through the public online database (tinyurl.com/5lkyzc) maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks political money and lobbying influence.

Inclination to the GOP

Analysts who looked closely at the campaign data found this, which might help explain the allegations: Car dealers are overwhelmingly likely to be Republicans and thus donate to Republican causes.

The National Auto Dealers Association members have given 69 percent of their donations from 1990 to 2006 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the recent election cycle, contributions went to Republicans at about a 3 to 1 margin. Among all auto dealers, experts say, the percentage is likely to tilt even more toward the GOP, Snopes.com reports.

Looking at Federal Election Commission campaign finance disclosure reports bears this out. Snopes.com and FactCheck.org point to research by FiveThirtyEight.com conducted in May 2009 that shows those who list their occupation as "auto dealer" brings up $761,742 from 546 people to Republicans and $88,870 from 72 people to Democrats. A search for "car dealer" brings up $171,328 from 141 people to Republicans and $44,175 from 42 people to Democrats. Combining those donations with those who list occupations as "automotive dealers" and "automobile dealers," a total of $1,221,447 or 88 percent was given to Republican candidates, while $161,480 or 12 percent was given to Democratic candidates.

FactCheck.org replicated FiveThirtyEight.com's searches of the campaign disclosure data and came up with the same results. FiveThirtyEight.com, named for the number of electors in the Electoral College, is a nonpartisan website that analyzes polling data.

Digging deeper

The Center for Responsive Politics looked specifically for itemized contributions that mentioned "Chrysler," the company's other brands and its corporate parents "Daimler" and "Cerberus." Of the 2008 presidential candidates, Republican John McCain of Arizona is the top recipient of such campaign cash, with $26,200, compared to Obama's $2,700. As the CRP pointed out, "That's not a lot of money to extrapolate grand theories from."

A survey of Chrysler dealership closings in Macomb County, Mich., also found no partisanship, Snopes.com reports: "In Macomb County, three dealerships were closed in the Chrysler bankruptcy process and seven were saved. The FEC records show no noticeable difference in the political leanings of the owners of the 10 businesses. The FEC records show a consistent pattern. The surviving dealers donated to Republican Michael Bouchard's 2006 Senate campaign, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican National Committee the Michigan Republican Party, [Republican Sen. Spence] Abraham and [GOP Rep. Candice] Miller."

Fox News also looked at the closure data, as reported by Snopes.com and FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan fact-finding project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. "Among the dealerships set to close, 12 percent of a random 50 selected for review donated to Republicans and 8 percent to Democrats," Fox News stated. "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."

No favoritism for McClarty

Finally, FactCheck.org clarifies the e-mail's contention that eight competitors of former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty, who co-owns some Southern dealerships, were being eliminated, giving McLarty et al. a local monopoly.

McLarty co-owns 12 Chrysler dealerships with his partners. The McLarty shops did escape closure as Chrysler shuttered about a quarter of its 3,200 dealerships. Kathy Graham, a Chrysler spokeswoman, told FactCheck.org that 132 other owners or groups of owners of multiple dealerships did not have to close any of their stores, so McLarty's situation is "not unique."

She also said that Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama, where the McLarty partnership owns two, one, one and one store respectively, there are still 120 Chrysler dealerships, making the McLarty partnership "hardly a monopoly."

The bottom line: The Chrysler dealerships that were closed included more Republican contributors because a great many car dealers overall are Republicans.
 
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