Obama almost certainly not using “enemies list” to close Republican auto dealers

There has been much fretting and frowning among conservative bloggers over the question of whether Obama is using FEC reports of campaign contributions by auto dealers to shutter his political opponents.

From Mark Tapscott of the San Francisco Examiner:

There appears to be a side to the Chrysler bankruptcy that has the look of an ugly partisanship not seen in this town since Tricky Dick was in the White House composing his enemies list…

Bloggers on the Right side of the Blogosphere are up in arms over data suggesting that President Barack Obama’s White House auto industry potentates are targeting for closure Chrysler dealers with records of contributing either to Republicans like Sen. John McCain or to other Democrats in the 2008 presidential primary.

Posts at RedState, Reliapundit, American Thinker, Gateway Pundit, Joey Smith and Doug Ross pointed initially at the remarkable number of closed Chrysler dealerships whose owners happen to have been contributors to Obama opponents, mainly Republicans.

But those observations were all couched with important qualifiers, particularly that all conclusions were necessarily preliminary…

That said, when multiple dealers who have been closed are found to have contributed millions to Republicans and mere hundreds to Obama, the serious number-crunching cannot be completed too soon.

I have little if any insight or thoughts on the method used to determine which dealerships should be closed. But since we’re talking about the potential use of disclosure reports to compile an “enemies list” it seems appropriate to weigh in with a few thoughts.

First, the claim is almost certainly not true. While things may have changed somewhat since the days I was raising money for a Republican member of Congress, auto dealers are almost overwhelmingly Republican. Pretty much by definition, if you’re going to be closing down auto dealerships, you’re going to be closing down an awful lot of Republican-owned auto dealerships. A quick look at the giving by the National Auto Dealers Association PAC consistently shows contributions going to Republican candidates by about a 2 to 1 margin, and nearly 3 to 1 in one recent cycle.

More telling, however, is the fate of minority-owned auto dealers under the closings. If the Obama administration were targeting political opponents for closure, it would seem likely that political allies, or at least those the Obama administration presumably favors, would have a lower closure rate than others.

It’s speculation on my part, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that minority-owned dealerships would come out better-than-expected if the Obama administration were using auto dealership closures as a tool of political revenge.

So what do the numbers show? From an article in the Seattle Medium:

Of the 789 Chrysler dealers who were notified that their contracts will not be renewed, 38 are minority owned…

At the end of April, there were 154 minority dealers in Chrysler’s 3,181 total U.S. dealer body network…

According to my trusty calculator, before closings 4.84% of Chrysler’s dealers were minority owned. What percentage of auto dealers receiving closure notices are minority owned? 4.82%

At this point, the case for Obama’s use of campaign disclosure reports to compile an “enemies list” for use in the closure of auto dealerships pretty much falls apart, unless someone wants to really make a big deal of the two one-hundredths of a percent where minority-owned dealerships come out ahead.

That is not to say, however, that such concerns about the use of disclosure are unwarranted or paranoid. Politicians have a long history of using government power to go after their opponents. The escapades of ex-governor Blagojevich in Illinois and his attempt to withhold state aid for the Tribune Company unless they fired certain editorialists is just one of the more recent examples.

And the abuse, threats, and punishments delivered to donors on both sides of California’s Prop 8 battle certainly highlight the concerns raised by disclosure. Given this recent history, it’s understandable why some might fear the use of donor disclosure lists to compile an “enemies list” and then go after political opponents.

We’ve long recognized at CCP that public disclosure of contributions enables vindictive politicians and rabid extremists to harass, abuse, and punish those who dare to hold a different opinion. It’s now become clear that, in the aftermath of such abuse, disclosure can also help feed paranoia and conspiracy theories about the use of donor information.

Disclosure of contributions to political candidates and parties seems to be a permanent fact of campaign finance regulations, and we recognize that there actually may be some limited value to disclosure of such contributions (the same is emphatically not true of contributions to independent groups or ballot initiatives). But perhaps it’s time to think about at least raising the disclosure threshold for contributions to candidates and political parties, to at least lessen both the abuse to donors and the subsequent paranoia it can feed?

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.