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By: Mark Tapscott
Editorial Page Editor
05/27/09 3:37 PM EDT

Evidence appears to be mounting that the Obama administration has systematically targeted for closing Chrysler dealers who contributed to Repubicans. What started earlier this week as mainly a rumbling on the Right side of the Blogosphere has gathered some steam today with revelations that among the dealers being shut down are a GOP congressman and closing of competitors to a dealership chain partly owned by former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty.

The basic issue raised here is this: How do we account for the fact millions of dollars were contributed to GOP candidates by Chrysler who are being closed by the government, but only one has been found so far that is being closed that contributed to the Obama campaign in 2008?

Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan learned from a House colleague that his Venice, Florida, dealership is on the hit list. Buchanan also has a Nissan franchise paired with the Chrysler facility in Venice.

“It’s an outrage. It’s not about me. I’m going to be fine,” said Buchanan, the dealership’s majority owner. “You’re talking over 100,000 jobs. We’re supposed to be in the business of creating jobs, not killing jobs,” Buchanan told News 10, a local Florida television station.

Buchanan, who succeeded former Rep. Katharine Harris in 2006, reportedly learned of his dealership’s termination from Rep.Candace Miller, R-MI. Buchanan owns a total of 23 dealerships in Florida and North Carolina.

Also fueling the controversy is the fact the RLJ-McCarty-Landers chain of Arkansas and Missouri dealerships aren’t being closed, but many of their local competitors are being eliminated. Go here for a detailed look at this situation. McClarty is the former Clinton senior aide. The “J” is Robert Johnson, founder of the Black Entertainment Television, a heavy Democratic contributor.

A lawyer representing a group of Chrysler dealers who are on the hit list deposed senior Chrysler executives and later told Reuters that he believes the closings have been forced on the company by the White House.

“It became clear to us that Chrysler does not see the wisdom of terminating 25 percent of its dealers. It really wasn’t Chrysler’s decision. They are under enormous pressure from the President’s automotive task force,” said attorney Leonard Bellavia.’s Josh Painter has a useful roundup of what has been found so far by a growing number of bloggers digging into what could be a very big story indeed. Also, see my column on this issue and how it fits into the larger context dubbed by the Examiner’s Michael Barone as “gangster government.”

As part of Chrysler’s bankruptcy agreement with the White House, the company plans to close roughly a quarter of its 3,200 dealerships. Lists of the dealerships being cut and those retaining their Chrysler franchises can be found here in pdf format. Many dealers contend the criteria being used to determine which dealerships survive is not clear and that many of those that are being closed in fact are profitable businesses, despite the current recession.

UPDATE: Auto Prophet says wait just a minute

The Auto Prophet – an anonymous engineer working for one of the Detroit automakers – is skeptical of the suggestion that political considerations are playing a role in White House car czar decisions on which Chrysler dealers are to be shuttered.

A more likely explanation is simply the fact that more Chrysler dealers in general are likely to be Republican contributors, which would mean more of the closed dealers would be seen to be GOP supporters than Democrat supporters: “My hypothesis is that Chrysler dealers, being small businessmen, are more likely to donate to Republicans than Democrats, for predictable reasons. Like any small businessmen, car dealers want lower taxes, a lower minimum wage, fewer regulations, etc.”

I have been reading The Auto Prophet for years and consider him to be among the most credible of bloggers on automotive issues. On this issue, I agree with him to the extent that a definitive, statistical analysis-driven conclusion is not possible until all contributions by all Chrysler dealers is completed.

But two points should be noted here. First, even if we accept the proposition that most car dealers are more likely to be Republican than Democratic donors, there would still be a “disparate impact” from closings on one class of dealers, compared to the other. When the federal courts see a disparate impact on racial groups, the policy or action in question is typically held to be inappropriate.

Race and car dealer closings, of course, aren’t analogous. But the lesson remains that when government makes economic decisions that ought to be left to the private market, it is impossible to avoid disparate impacts. And there is always the question of would the Obama White House be so quick to close hundreds of dealerships if the owners of those dealerships were predominantly Democratic donors?

Second, since neither Chrysler, nor the White House have made public the criteria used to select dealers for elimination – and because a significant number of those being closed were profitable – the only way to resolve the inevitable controversy about political considerations in political decisions is to make the criteria public and allow independent outside observers to assess how those criteria were applied.

I’m not holding my breath on the likelihood of that happening any time soon.

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