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No money for manufacturing, but plenty for failed politicians

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I was struck this morning by two stories dominating the front page of today’s Detroit News. Newspapers are on the decline in this nation, and the News, which once sold almost 700,000 copies every day, now sells far fewer than a hundred thousand.

That means even most people who live in the Detroit area don’t see it. If they did, I wonder how many people would notice the odd contrast between these two things:

FCA, the Italian-owned company formerly known as Chrysler, is going to indefinitely lay off more than fourteen hundred workers at its suburban Sterling Heights plant.

They were mainly involved in building the Chrysler 200, which auto writers tell me is a clunker of a car. The layoffs, which will begin the day after the Fourth of July, are bound to have devastating consequences for hundreds of families.

Meanwhile, mega-developer Dan Gilbert has suffered a loss of his own. He blew $1.25 million on donations to a super PAC, a political action committee supporting the Republican presidential campaign of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Christie was able to get some support from rich guys like Gilbert – but essentially none from the voters. He ended his campaign after the New Hampshire primary, and endorsed Donald Trump a couple weeks later.

Now, even though Dan Gilbert and I used to live in the same suburb when we were young and relatively poor, we don’t hang out much, or ever, and I didn’t feel comfortable about asking how he felt about having blown all that money.

In fact, you could say he effectively gave it to the Trump campaign. He’s far from alone, however. Federal Election Commission records show that various wealthy Michigan Republicans gave more than $5 million to GOP candidates no longer in the race. Roger Penske, of auto racing fame, gave a quarter of a million to Jeb Bush.

Richard DeVos, the patriarch of that famous Amway family, gave another quarter of a million to Marco Rubio’s late and mostly unlamented presidential campaign.

However, he clearly likes to hedge his bets; he gave another quarter million to a super PAC supporting Carly Fiorina, and a quarter million to one backing Bush.

My advice is that if DeVos ever invites you to the Kentucky Derby, don’t bet the way he does. This is almost enough to make me wish I had tried for the Republican nomination. I ought to have been good for at least a few thousand in pocket change.

Of course, the candidates don’t get to keep any of this; it goes largely to ad agencies and the TV stations that broadcast their commercials. The Rubio campaign, for example, spent more than a million and a half dollars on TV ads in Michigan before our primary.

That netted him few votes and no delegates. This orgy of spending was all made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision six years ago, which essentially says you can put no limits on millionaire giving or super PAC spending.

There are some people who think we need a constitutional amendment to overturn that. Personally, I think we ought to ask ourselves if we are indeed getting the best politics money can buy.

Or maybe we should ask one of the soon-to-be jobless Chrysler workers instead.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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