(Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Marco Rubio, the billionaire whisperer: How he became the plutocrats' favorite candidate (and why we should be scared)

Rubio got the backing of yet another mega-donor last week. Here's why he's so attractive to the richest of the rich


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Heather Digby Parton
November 2, 2015 6:00PM (UTC)

The Sunday shows yesterday featured pretty much nothing but Republicans rehashing their debate and celebrating the ascension of Paul Ryan as Savior of the Republican Party. The GOP pundits were a little bit more subdued than usual, but everyone agreed that the Republicans are the party of youth and vigor and the future But for the fact that young people overwhelmingly support the Democrats, that might even make some sense.

But despite all the big political news of the week, there was a another political story that garnered no attention on the SundayMorning GOP love fest: The decision by vastly wealthy hedge fund manager Paul Singer to back Marco Rubio.

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Now it must be noted that so far Rubio has not shown any real strength with voters. He's still mired down with the pack, usually somewhere around 3rd, 4th or 5th place. By comparison with Bush he's holding his own, but in the field still dominated by the outsider weirdos, he doesn't seem to be registering all that effectively in the polls. But there is one group of GOP voters who have been dazzled by him for a while: the billionaires.

He seduced one mega-donor by the name of Norman Braman, a wealthy South Florida car dealer, early on. (Yes, car dealers now become billionaires -- amazing what your millions can do when they're allowed to make money for you.) Braman came out for Rubio before he'd even announced saying, "I just think he's the candidate of today and tomorrow, and he's the only one, the only candidate that has come up with specific proposals dealing with the issues facing this nation. Read his book and you'll see." Braman hasn't shared exactly what proposals and what issues to which he's referring, but the fact that he's is known as an"eclectic" donor, offering financial support to both Democrats and Republicans over the years, told the party that Rubio had fully shed his early doctrinaire Tea Party image (which had been fraying for some time) to become the kind of establishment candidate who could win the general election.

But Braman isn't the only octogenarian billionaire who finds Rubio's smooth charm alluring:

Since entering the Senate in 2011, Rubio has met privately with the mogul on a half-dozen occasions. In recent months, he‘s been calling Adelson about once every two weeks, providing him with meticulous updates on his nascent campaign. During a recent trip to New York City, Rubio took time out of his busy schedule to speak by phone with the megadonor.

Rubio was amongst those who traveled to Las Vegas to kiss the gambling magnate's ring and by all reports was very impressive. It's been rumored for some time that Adelson was ready to back him but it's rumored that it's about to become a formal arrangement.

In Adelson's case there is no mystery as to what he wants. All you have to do is look at Rubio's positions on the issues that are important to Adelson to know how hard he's worked to get that endorsement:

Adelson, who spent $100 million on the 2012 campaign and could easily match that figure in 2016, has told friends that he views the Florida senator, whose hawkish defense views and unwavering support for Israel align with his own, as a fresh face who is “the future of the Republican Party.”

Also too, Rubio can be counted upon to be unwaveringly hostile to unions and help Adelson with any pesky legal problems he might have with his unusual gambling issues. Adelson is worth something like 27 billion dollars so he can afford to be generous.

Rubio has also performed like a prized Lipizzaner stallion at the various Koch-fest auditions. Last spring, Ken Vogel of Politico reported, "in an informal straw poll of some conference donors, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida came out ahead of four other would-be GOP presidential candidates who had been invited, according to an attendee familiar with the results." This past summer, he was also said to be a big winner at the Koch Summit, "delighting" big donors as he stood sweating in the California sun railing against the EPA in the middle of an epic drought. What's not to like?

The Kochs haven't formally endorsed anyone but their network is highly valuable to any candidate and Rubio has the inside track.

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But bagging the "vulture" fund kingpen Singer, one of the biggest old bulls of the billionaire herd was a real coup. Singer is the man Fortune magazine described as "a passionate defender of the 1%" who is "determined to put a candidate who shares his views back in the White House." They were talking about Mitt Romney, the candidate he backed in 2012, but it's fair to assume that he hasn't changed his mind. Unlike most of the billionaire mega-donors, Singer is very systematic about his advocacy. He chooses the candidate he believes will be most beneficial to him personally. Obviously, he thinks Marco can deliver the goods.

This article from Hedgeclippers.org, via Down with Tyranny, spells out Singers methodical approach to buying the government for his own benefit:

Perhaps not surprisingly, recipients of Paul Singer’s cash have gone to bat for him on various legislative issues. Recently, twelve members of Congress signed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, urging him to side with Singer’s hedge fund in their battle to extract profits from Argentina. The signatories of that letter received a combined $200,000 from Singer and his connected PACs.

Singer's "debt vulture" model, which his bought-and-paid-for politicians dutifully defended, was described by The Guardian this way:

“Vulture funds operate by buying up a country’s debt when it is in a state of chaos. When the country has stabilized, vulture funds return to demand millions of dollars in interest repayments and fees on the original debt. … It has been 16 years since most of the world began writing off the debts of the world’s poorest countries, but the vulture funds, a club of between 26 and 35 speculators, have ignored the debt concerts by pop stars such as Bono and pleas from the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to give the countries a break and a chance to get back on their feet... [A]ccording to the World Bank, the top 26 vultures have managed to collect $1bn from the world’s poorest countries and still have a further $1.3bn to collect. … The World Bank has described vulture funds as “a threat to debt relief efforts” and the former, Bush-era US treasury secretary Henry Paulson said: “I deplore what the vulture funds are doing” in testimony before the House of Representatives’ financial committee in 2007.”

The Hedgeclippers.org dossier is a devastating rundown of Singer's greatest hits. These debt vultures are the worst of the worst. They swoop in when poor countries are crawling out of debt and start picking at their bones, undermining the already fragile financial markets and chasing off any legitimate investors. Singer's explanation for his predatory business model?

“Every country has poverty, including the USA. Our disputes have always been with sovereigns who can pay but refuse.” He dismisses his critics as “debtors who attempt to curry populist favor by paying just what they feel like paying” and “ideologically driven people and groups who do not realize that capital goes where it is welcome.”

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All the developed democracies have issued condemnations of this business, with Britain even passing laws against in 2010. But it is so rich and influential in America that our politicians are either paralyzed with fear or overwhelmed with admiration. Indeed, Republican politicians have been falling all over themselves to get a little taste of the poor nation carrion that Singer calls his fortune. Marco Rubio is the big winner in the "who will share Paul Singer's poor people road kill contest." (Apparently Jeb Bush and company are very disappointed.)

The media does not seem to be too upset by any of this, neither the unseemly spectacle of presidential aspirants' open supplication for the anointment by billionaires or the disgusting predatory businesses of the billionaires themselves. The bagging of Singer was presented as sign of Rubio's ascent into frontrunner status sealing his reputation for seriousness rather than what it really was: a sign to the 1 percent that he has absolutely no scruples when it comes to allying himself with their most repulsive representatives. When it comes to the Republican donor primary, genuflecting to execrable capitalist predation isn't even worth noting anymore.

And by the way,  Singer has already committed himself to a couple of Super PACs bankrolled by hedge fund billionaires like himself to take down Hillary Clinton

A collection of top GOP operatives, financed by prominent Republican donors, is launching two new groups to take aim at Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

The groups—Future45, a super PAC, and 45Committee, an issue-advocacy organization—will be bankrolled by some of the biggest donors to Republican candidates and causes, including hedge-fund billionaires Ken Griffin and Paul Singer and the family of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman at the Republican National Committee, will serve as chairman of Future45, heading up the group’s fundraising efforts...

The groups say their goal is to complement work already being done by outside organizations that back Republican candidates, including American Crossroads, America Rising and entities founded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

These billionaires don't need to coordinate. They all think alike.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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