Aspen on campaign money trail
September 30, 2008
ASPEN As the campaign warchests of candidates Barack Obama and John McCain continue to grow leading up to the November presidential election, the U.S. economy is faltering to the tune of a potential $700 billion bailout by the government.Taking a back seat to Wall Streets woes are the war in Iraq, national security, health care, and a host of social issues. All of which begs the question: Who is the best choice to lead America through this fiscal mess? Obama or McCain?Were Aspen residents to answer that question, the towns liberal leanings would put it squarely in Obamas corner, at least when it comes to campaign contributions. Through Sept. 1 of the 2008 election cycle, Obama had attracted $188,070 from contributors with addresses in Aspens two zip codes 81611 and 81612. Thats more than four times the $43,551 McCain raised in the same zip codes, based on data gleaned from the website opensecrets.org, which monitors campaign finances. While national polls suggest the two are in a dead heat, Obama has registered more than $450 million in contributions since he entered the race last year, compared with McCain’s $224.3 million, according to published reports. Even so, some prominent Aspen business figures are throwing their money behind the Republican senator. Among them is Sheldon Friedstein, a vice president of Goldman Sachs, which last week was rescued Warren Buffets $5 billion cash injection. A number of locals in the real estate/development community are also anteing up for McCain including John Provine, a partner in the Wienerstube development, real estate developer Constantino Clemente, and Anthony Mazza of M&W Properties. Aspen resident Melanie Sturm, whose family owns American National Bank, said she is backing McCain, partly because she has more confidence in him than Obama when it comes to fixing the economy.We need to re-ignite this economy to get people to buy real estate, Sturm said Friday, the day after Washington Mutual crashed, marking the largest bank collapse in U.S. history. One way to do that is to lower taxes, lower capital gains taxes so people have the incentive to buy real estate.If Obama were elected, Sturm argues, the Illinois senator would launch expensive government programs at a time when the U.S. economy is too fragile to sustain them. Government isnt the best manager of business, whether its health care or education, she said. John Cooley of Cooley Investments Inc. is another Aspen business type who gives McCain the nod. Cooley, like Sturm, noted that some three years ago, McCain co-sponsored the Federal Housing Regulatory Act of 2005, which went through the House but was blocked by the Senate. It was never voted on and maybe if it was this whole thing would have been averted, said Cooley, a real estate investor.If anything, the recent crisis of Wall Street has proven that McCain was correct in his 2005 speech about the demise of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We knew this was going to happen and Congress did absolutely nothing, Cooley said.Democrats, however, have stung McCain with criticism that economics is one of his shortfalls. Count Aspen resident James DeFrancia, an executive with Los Angeles-based real estate development firm Lowe Enterprises, as one of them.Senator McCain is not suited to deal with the economy and Im fearful that he would represent more of the Republican nonsense we have now, said DeFrancia, who has given Obamas campaign $6,900 over the course of three separate election cycles. DeFrancia said he has seen Obama speak in person several times, and is confident he would be better armed to turn around the economy.My view is that Obama and the people he would bring with him are far better suited to deal with this, he said. DeFrancia and Cooley do agree, however, that while a bailout is simply bad policy, it might be better than watching Wall Street collapse entirely.If you bail out Wall Street, whats next, the auto industry? DeFrancia said. And if you bail out the auto industry, do you bail out the homeowners, and then people who bought cars who cannot afford them? Its very bad policy and precedent.At the very least, the days of lofty salaries and bonuses for corporate managers should come to an end, DeFrancia said.They have been making money that no living human deserves, he said.Perhaps the worst consequence of the pending bailout is the message it will send, Cooley said.Its tragic but theres no question we have to do it, he said. The problem is every time you do this, people will say, Theres no risk because the federal government will bail us email@example.com
This article is a feature of Inside Business, published Tuesdays in The Aspen Times.