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Dealergate 4: What we have so far

'Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.'

Since we last checked in, here are the latest developments in the rope line of strange occurrences Doug Ross has dubbed Dealergate (Some bloggers prefer Mopargate, but many non-motorheads won’t get it. Dealergate it is).

In another of the many pesky coincidences to be found in this story, car czar Steven Rattner, the real head of President Obama’s auto task force, is married to Maureen White, a former fundraising chair for the Democratic National Committee. Need dealer donor data? No problem…

Chelsea Schilling examined the political donations made by dealers on Chrysler’s closing list, data for whom are now in a spreadsheet database, and found that of the majority owners of dealerships who made contributions to candidates in the 2008 election, less than 10 percent donated to Democrats, while 90 percent gave generously to Republicans:

The listed franchise owners contributed at least $450,000 to Republican presidential candidates and the GOP, while only $7,970 was donated to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and $2,200 was given to Sen. John Edwards’ campaign.

Obama received a combined total of only $450 in donations – $250 from dealer Jane Baldock in Wenatchee, Wash., and $200 from Waco, Texas, dealer Jeffrey Hunter.

Many of the majority owners who donated to Republican campaigns last year also contributed additional thousands to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2004 and to help elect GOP representatives.

With the closing list now in spreadsheet form, all sorts of analyses are being run on the data. The format lends itself well to graphical representation, and a side-by-side comparison of maps of closing dealers and congressional districts is worth more than just a thousand words.

Even though the “safe list” of Chrysler dealers remaining open is not yet completely plugged into spreadsheet format, at least four Democrat-donating major dealer groups owning dozens of dealerships have already been found.  They were spared the executioner’s axe, while their nearby competitors received letters which began, “We regret to inform you…”

One of those groups, Lithia Motors has 29 dealerships. It will lose just two of these, but will gain 5 more, leaving it with a net increase of 3 outlets. Lithia chairman Sidney Deboer donated over $14,000 to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY).

The Obama administration denies that the president’s auto task force is playing politics with the Chrysler dealership network:

“We don’t make those decisions. Ok (sic)?,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. “Chrysler makes those decisions. So I am sure you can send Chrysler the address of the blog that you refer to.”

The armies of the Left are also deploying to defend the president and his auto panel. Nate Silver threw up some numbers in an attempt to justify his contention that car dealers are all mostly Republicans anyway, and so they will therefore donate to Republican candidates. His choice of a source for donor information, however, was not the non-partisan, independent and non-profit OpenSecrets.org, but the partisan and very biased Huffington Post. Silver’s hasty conclusion, “There’s no conspiracy here, folks…,” is hilariously akin to that old pearl, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.”

Even “fair and balanced” Fox News pulled random samples of 50 dealers from each list, compared them and found no significant differences. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? A sample size of 50, however, is not the statistical stuff from which small margins of error are derived.

Whether the Obama administration is trying to punish auto dealers who supported the president’s opponents in the 2008 election or not doesn’t matter, according to The Other McCain:

The point is, there was evidence to suggest that the Obama administration may have been wielding its economic power — gained at future taxpayers’ expense — to punish political enemies. The accusation was serious enough to call for very thorough reporting, but the major media tried to dismiss the accusation before actually doing the reporting.

While the so-called mainstream media is too busy defending the object of its affection, at least two members of the Democrat-controlled congress are beginning to ask some questions of the president’s auto task force, a government entity which has so far been free of any congressional oversight and has failed to demonstrate even a grain of transparency. At least one state’s bipartisan senatorial delegation has written the auto task force on behalf of Chrysler and GM dealerships that are being closed:

“Many Missouri dealers are asking us why certain profitable dealers, costing the auto companies nothing, were selected for closure,” [Claire] McCaskill, a Democrat, and [Kit] Bond, a Republican, wrote to White House car czar Steve Rattner. “From this perspective it appears an arbitrary standard may have been used to make these decisions … these dealers deserve a little more than just a pink slip in the mail.”

On the House side, at least one U.S. congressman is also asking questions, and with good reason. Even before receiving his notice from Chrysler, Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan was told by a House colleague that his own Florida dealership is on the chopping block:

“It’s an outrage. It’s not about me. I’m going to be fine,” said Buchanan, the dealership’s majority owner. “You’re talking over 100,000 jobs. We’re supposed to be in the business of creating jobs, not killing jobs,” Buchanan told News 10, a local Florida television station.

Where does it all go from here? The tedious and time-consuming work of slamming the safe dealer list — the complete list, not just a random sample — has to be completed. Then, and only then, will we have statistically significant answers to the many questions that have been raised by the footloose and fancy free manner in which the Obama administration and MOPAR management appear to have handled the task of pruning down the chrysler dealership network.

We would suggest that if the auto task force and Chrysler want their criteria and methodology to be believed, both should immediately release transcripts — or at least the meeting minutes — of their deliberations on the matter of the dealer closings. But don’t hold your breath…

Addendum: We almost overlooked one of the most incredible chapters in the story so far. Almost a month ago, even before the closing Chrysler dealers got their notices, the company said that it was looking for new dealers to replace its “underperforming” dealers in small markets. Underperforming, like the many Five Star dealers (previously touted by Chrysler as its very best agencies) that are being closed.  Before the pinks slips were even printed. You can’t make this stuff up.

- JP

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