Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Long Read: By The Rich, For The Rich

Illinois GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner is showing the way how to turn a blue state into a red one, and he's got enough money at his back in a post-Citizens United America now to pull it off...because the real people running Illinois are only concerned with one color:


The richest man in Illinois does not often give speeches. But on a warm spring day two years ago, Kenneth C. Griffin, the billionaire founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds, rose before a black-tie dinner of the Economic Club of Chicago to deliver an urgent plea to the city’s elite.

They had stood silently, Mr. Griffin told them, as politicians taxed too much, spent too much and drove businesses and jobs from the state. They had refused to help those who would take on the reigning powers in the Illinois Capitol. “It is time for us to do something,” he implored.

Their response came quickly. In the months since, Mr. Griffin and a small group of rich supporters — not just from Chicago, but also from New York City and Los Angeles, southern Florida and Texas — have poured tens of millions of dollars into the state, a concentration of political money without precedent in Illinois history.

Their wealth has forcefully shifted the state’s balance of power. Last year, the families helped elect as governor Bruce Rauner, a Griffin friend and former private equity executive from the Chicago suburbs, who estimates his own fortune at more than $500 million. Now they are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions.

“It was clear that they wanted to change the power structure, change the way business was conducted and change the status quo,” said Andy Shaw, an acquaintance of Mr. Rauner’s and the president of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan state watchdog group.

The families remaking Illinois are among a small group around the country who have channeled their extraordinary wealth into political power, taking advantage of regulatory, legal and cultural shifts that have carved new paths for infusing money into campaigns. Economic winners in an age of rising inequality, operating largely out of public view, they are reshaping government with fortunes so large as to defy the ordinary financial scale of politics. In the 2016 presidential race, a New York Times analysis found last month, just 158 families had provided nearly half of the early campaign money.

Many of those giving, like Mr. Griffin, come from the world of finance, an industry that has yielded more of the new political wealth than any other. The Florida-based leveraged-buyout pioneer John Childs, the private equity investor Sam Zell and Paul Singer, a prominent New York hedge fund manager, all helped elect Mr. Rauner, as did Richard Uihlein, a conservative businessman from the Chicago suburbs.

Most of them lean Republican; some are Democrats. But to a remarkable degree, their philosophies are becoming part of a widely adopted blueprint for public officials around the country: Critical of the power of unions, many are also determined to reduce spending and taxation, and are skeptical of government-led efforts to mitigate the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.

The robber barons are splitting up the country among themselves with their billion dollar fortunes and have been so successful that there are only a handful of blue states left to break.  Illinois is in the ringer now.  Massachusetts, Maine, and the rest of New England are next, Minnesota, New York, and the West Coast are holding out.

But what does that matter when the vast majority of the country is controlled by the ultra-elite anyway, and all of them are dedicated to making themselves richer?

Especially since there is nothing we can do to stop them?

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