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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Playing Favorites With Chrysler Dealers?

Q: Did the Obama administration target Chrysler dealerships for closure according to their political contributions?

A: The best evidence shows that dealerships with Republican donors weren’t disproportionately targeted – auto dealers overall tend to lean overwhelmingly Republican.


Is this true?

This could be a scandal of epic proportions and one that makes Nixon’s Watergate or Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky affair pale by comparison. Why was there neither rhyme nor reason as to which dealerships of the Chrysler Corporation were to be closed?

Roll the clock back to the weeks just before Chrysler declared bankruptcy. Chrysler, like GM, was in dire financial straights and federal government graciously offered to “buy the company” and keep them out of bankruptcy and “save jobs.” Chrysler was, in the words of Obama and his administration, “Too big to fail,” same story with GM.

The feds organized their “Automotive Task Force” to fix Chrysler and GM. Obama, in an act that is 100% unconstitutional, appointed a guy named Steve Rattner to be the White House’s official Car Czar- literally, that’s what his title is. Rattner is the liaison between Obama, Chrysler, and GM.

Initially, the national media reported that Chrysler had made this list of dealerships. That is not true. The Washington Examiner, Newsmax, Fox New and a host of other news agencies discovered that the list of dealerships was put together by the “Automotive Task Force” headed by no one other then Mr. Steve Rattner. Now the plot thickens. Remember earlier we said earlier that there was neither rhyme nor reason why certain dealerships were closed? Actually there’s a very interesting pattern as to who was closed down. Again, on May 27, 2009, The Washington Examiner and Newsmax exposed the connection. Amazingly, of the 789 dealerships closed by the federal government 788 had donated money, exclusively, to Republican political causes, while contributing nothing to Democratic political causes. The only “Democratic” dealership on the list was found to have donated $7,700 to Hillary’s campaign, and a bit over $2,000 to John Edwards. This same dealership, reportedly, also gave $200.00 to Obama’s campaign. Does that seem a little odd to you?

Steve Rattner, the guy who put the list together. Well he happens to be married to a babe named Maureen White. Maureen happens to be the former national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As such, she would have access to campaign donation records from everyone in the nation, Republican or Democrat. But of course, this is just a wacky coincidence, we’re certain.

Then comes another really wacky coincidence. On that list of dealerships being closed down, a weird thing happened in Arkansas , North Louisiana , and Southern Missouri . It seems that Bill Clinton’s former White House Chief of Staff, Mack McClarty, owns a chain of dealership in that region, partnered with a fellow by the name of Robert Johnson. Johnson happens to be founder of Black Entertainment Television and was a huge Obama supporter and financier. These guys own a half dozen Chrysler stores under the company title of RLJ-McClarty-Landers. Interestingly, none of their dealerships were ordered closed – not one- while all of their competing Chrysler/Dodge and Jeep dealership were! Eight dealerships located near the dealerships owned by McClarty and Johnson were ordered shut down. Thus, by pure luck, these two major Obama supporters now have virtual monopoly on Chrysler sales in their zone. Isn’t that amazing? Go look in The Washington Examiner, the story’s there, and it’s in a dozen or so other web-based news organization, this isn’t being made up.

Now if you thought Chrysler was owned by Fiat, you are truly mistaken. Under the federal court ruling, 65% of Chrysler is now owned by the federal government and the United Auto Worker’s union- Fiat owns 20%. The other 15% is till privately owned and presumably will be traded on the stock market. Obama smiles and says he doesn’t want to run the auto industry.

As horrifying as this is to comprehend, and being as how this used to be the United States of America , it would appear that the president has the power to destroy private businesses and eliminate upwards of 100,000 jobs, just because they don’t agree with his political agenda. This is Nazi Germany stuff, and it’s happening right here, right now, in your back yard. There are voices in Washington demanding an explanation, but the “Automotive Task Force” has released no information to the public or any of the senators demanding answers for what has been done. Keep your ear to the ground for more on this story. If you’ve ever wanted to make a difference about anything in your life, get on the phone to your national senator or representative in the House and demand an investigation on this.

Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said, “All that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Car Czar No More

An amazing thing happened as this story was going to press. Obama’s Car Czar, Steve Rattner, resigned on July 13 and was promptly replaced by former steel workers union boss Ron Bloom. According to CBS News, Rattner left “to return to private life and spend time with his family.” Treasure Secretary Tim Geithner said, “I hope that he takes another opportunity to bring his unique skills to government service in the future.” By the way, Rattner is under investigation for a multi-million dollar pay-to-play investment bank scandal in New York . Uh-oh! But, we’re certain that had nothing to do with his resignation. And, according to several news sources out there, there are rumors he’s being investigated for what could be pay-to-play scandal involving the closing of Chrysler and GM dealerships. Really? Again, that couldn’t have anything to with his resignation- that’s ridiculous! Like CBS said, this guy just wants to spend more quality time with his family. Obama has thirty-two personally appointed “czars” that answer to no one but him, all of whom are acting without any Constitutional authority. But hey, we’re sure they all have “unique skills,” as Tim Geithner likes to say.


There are a couple of nuggets of truth in this broadly distributed e-mail, but its main point is dead wrong on a couple of counts.

Chrysler announced the planned closing of some dealerships back in February 2008, months before Obama was even nominated, let alone elected. The list of 789 dealerships to be shuttered wasn’t announced, however, until more than a year later. Both Chrysler and the Obama administration say that investment banker Steven Rattner, who had been brought in as head of the White House’s Auto Task Force to make some tough decisions about the U.S. auto industry at a time when it was running on fumes, did not select which dealerships would live and which would die. The list was a Chrysler product and was based, according to the company, on such factors as sales volume, local market share and location.

Rattner, who was nicknamed the “car czar,” is married to Maureen White, who is a former Democratic National Committee finance chair. Did that give her, and perhaps him, “access to campaign donation records,” as the e-mail states? Actually, all that information and more is available to anyone who wants to look, at free sites such as those of the Center for Responsive Politics (which has also looked at the Chrysler allegations and found little support for them), Fundrace and the Federal Election Commission.

As we noted in our earlier post on this subject, car dealers are quite a Republican bunch. The Web site FiveThirtyEight.com used Fundrace to find that 546 presidential campaign donors who identified themselves as “auto dealers” gave to Republican candidates in 2008, and just 72 gave to Democrats. Of those who said they were “car dealers,” 141 gave to the GOP hopefuls and 42 to Democrats. (We replicated FiveThirtyEight.com’s searches and came up with the same results.)

Similarly, FoxNews.com (which is rarely thought of as part of the allegedly liberal media conspiracy) took a random sampling of the Chrysler list and found no evidence that the closures were politically skewed:

FoxNews.com: 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.

If anything, the percentage of Republican auto dealers on the list is smaller than their percentage among car dealers generally, or at least self-identified auto dealers who contributed to presidential candidates in the last election. We find the Fox News study especially convincing because it compared a sample of dealerships set to close with a sample of dealerships that were allowed to remain open. That procedure follows the accepted scientific method of using a control group to determine whether a set of data in an experiment is significantly different from what one would find normally, or by chance. In this case, Fox News found the answer was a solid “no.”

On another point, the e-mail claims there are “rumors” that Rattner is “being investigated for what could be pay-to-play scandal involving the closing of Chrysler and GM dealerships.” We haven’t heard any such rumors, except in this e-mail. The fact is that Rattner resigned from his administration post in July during a federal-state investigation of his former firm and others for payments they made to middlemen who helped them get business from a state pension fund, a probe that has nothing to do with auto dealerships.

And finally, the e-mail claims that Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff, Mack McLarty, and Obama supporter Robert Johnson now have a “virtual monopoly on Chrysler sales in their zone” because none of their dealerships were closed, while eight nearby dealerships were shut down. McLarty does co-own half a dozen Chrysler dealerships with a partner, Steve Landers, and Johnson has a financial interest in them. The dealerships did escape closure. But the company was only closing down about a quarter of its 3,200 dealers. According to Chrysler spokesperson Kathy Graham, 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.”

Graham also told us that in the states of 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.”

–Viveca Novak


Chrysler Seeks Further Consolidation Through Project Genesis.” Carseek.com. 11 Feb 2008, accessed 16 Sep 2009.

Conservative Bloggers Charge Obama’s Auto Task Force With Playing Politics on Chrysler Dealer Closings.” FOXNews.com. 28 May 2009, accessed 16 Sep 2009.

Chrysler says it wants to close 789 dealerships.” Associated Press. 14 May 2009.

Silver, Nate. “News Flash: Car Dealers are Republican (It’s Called a Control Group, People).” FiveThirtyEight.com. 27 May 2009, accessed 16 Sep 2009.

Car Czar.” Snopes.com. 8 Sep 2009, accessed 16 Sep 2009.

Whoriskey, Pete and Tomoeh Murakami Tse. “Rattner Resigns as Obama’s Point Man on the Auto Industry.” The Washington Post. 14 Jul 2009.