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Sugar Daddies

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During the primaries, the Republican sugar daddies fanned out to support various contenders, gladly bestowing tens of millions in mad money on the vainglorious crusades of Newt, the Herminator, and the two Ricks. But today these donors are starting to coalesce around Mitt. In retrospect, Romney, a one-percenter incarnate, is their natural candidate. And, for all intents and political purposes, they will own him if he makes it to the White House. The Center for Responsive Politics has calculated that just 10 percent of Romney’s donors for 2012 have been from among the hoi polloi (those contributing $200 or less)—compared with 52 percent for Santorum, 48 percent for Gingrich, and 45 percent for Obama. The only Americans fired up and ready to go for Mitt are those who can and will give to the max, all keenly mindful of the dividends certain to accrue to them in a Romney administration.

Though the sugar daddies do differ on some issues—in some surprising cases departing from conservative orthodoxy on immigration, same-sex marriage, and abortion—those anomalies are trivial next to the convictions they share with one another and with Romney. Indeed, the sugar daddies fill in the vacuum of core beliefs that so many have found elusive in the Etch-a-Sketch candidate. Many of them have in common the practice of “vulture capitalism”—to use the term Rick Perry wielded when attacking Mitt’s record at Bain Capital. The fundamental principles of vulture capitalism, whatever the respective business arenas or prey, are inviolate: Anything and anyone is expendable in pursuit of a profit, starting with the powerless, and any brushes with the law along the way, not to mention civil or criminal financial penalties, are simply the price of doing nasty business. Like corporate donors, sugar daddies tend to seek favors to serve their particular special interests (notably the golden oldies of oil and finance) and dedicate themselves to fighting and avoiding taxes. But their ethos departs from the corporate model. Precisely because they are lone wolves responsible to no one but themselves—not independent shareholders, let alone the communities they plunder—they can be “more ruthless than Wall Street,” as the Newt Gingrich super-PAC put it in its ad attacking Romney’s Bain career. Vulture capitalists are throwbacks not so much to the relatively modern bankers and industrialists whom FDR set out to police in the Great Depression as to the more primitive titans and robber barons of the Gilded Age that Teddy Roosevelt took on a generation earlier.

As many have noted, it was ludicrous of Perry and Gingrich to pillory the man from Bain when their own campaigns were backed by sugar daddies whose ruthlessness (and fortunes) far surpassed Romney’s. Adelson, who with his family showered more than $16 million on Newt, is not only an entrepreneur in the business that wrote the Ur-text of vulture capitalism—gaming—but runs a company that is under scrutiny from both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission over bribery accusations in his casino outposts in Macao. Simmons, a career-long Perry backer, was not only a pioneer in the corporate sport of hostile takeovers just as Romney was getting in the game, but then went on to become the “king of Superfund sites.” His greasing of Texas legislators earned him the right to dump nuclear toxins wherever he damned well pleases. Another sugar daddy—a home-construction tycoon named Bob Perry (unrelated to Rick except by donations)—leveraged millions in political contributions to influence the creation of a Texas Residential Construction Commission, a sham state “regulatory” agency that shielded shoddy home builders from lawsuits until the Texas legislature finally killed it in 2009. Bob Perry is only the 24th-biggest home builder in America, but he has had the means to donate some $72 million to political causes since 2000. You have to wonder what mischief some of the 23 ahead of him might be up to.

Mitt’s own coterie of Wall Street vulture capitalists is second to none in rapaciousness—starting with the hedge-fund gambler John Paulson, who collaborated with Goldman Sachs on his megabet against the entire American housing industry before the crash. Another Romney hedge-fund patron, Paul Singer, is notorious for slick trafficking in Third World debt, with results that leave the destitute masses of countries like the Congo in a far sadder state than the hapless Goldman clients (those “muppets” we’ve been hearing about) on the losing end of Paulson’s big score. Romney also has an affinity for fellow Mormons who’ve made sugar-­daddy fortunes by peddling dubious “health products” sold by “multilevel marketing” schemes (a.k.a. pyramid selling) in which retail sales are secondary to the commissions tied to roping more suckers into the sales force. In addition to Lund of Nu Skin, there’s Frank VanderSloot, the Professor Marvel behind Melaleuca, an ­Idaho-based company that promises to help “moms be moms” and “earn a corporate income from home,” even if they don’t have the financial cushion of, say, Ann Romney. Though a promotional video on its website features women who claim to have earned as much as $500,000 selling goods like dietary supplements (which purport to remedy clogged arteries and arthritis), the average Melaleuca peddler makes just $87 per year. An industry critic, Robert L. FitzPatrick, elucidated for Mother Jones how companies like Melaleuca and Nu Skin are perfect examples of the vulture-capitalist business model: They set “the average person upon his neighbor to get at his assets, savings, and investments.” Romney, meanwhile, has applauded VanderSloot for having “vision and sense of social responsibility” that are “second to none.”


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