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The Democrats’ Daddy Warbucks

by JOSHUA FRANK

 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, could well be called the Democrats’ Daddy Warbucks. He’s scored bundles from war contracts. He has recently purchased a $16.5 million crib in San Francisco and along with his wife has handed hundreds of thousands of dollars over to fellow Democrats. Since the 2000 election cycle, Blum has contributed over $75,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Committee, and thousands more to individual Democrats, including John Kerry, Robert Byrd, Joe Lieberman, Ted Kennedy, and Barbara Boxer.

Richard Blum’s history as an entrepreneur began at the ripe age of 23 when he began to work for the San Francisco brokerage firm Sutro & Company. Blum quickly climbed the ranks and became a partner by the age of 30. According the San Francisco Chronicle, “Blum proved that he had an eye for fixer-upper properties when he led a partnership that acquired the struggling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for $8 million–then sold it to Mattel Inc. four years later for $40 million.”

In 1975, Blum went out on his own and formed a brokerage agency. Today, Blum’s lofty firm, Blum Capital, holds positions in more than 20 companies, including real estate giants, credit bureaus, and yes, even military contractors.

Blum sees himself as an altruistic capitalist, claims one of his ex-employees: “He likes to go after companies that are down and out, and bring their stock back to life. He thinks he’s doing good.” Blum shares a large stake in Perini, a civil construction company that is happily employed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But not all of Blum’s war profits come from Perini. In 1975, his venture capital firm went after fledging construction and design company URS when the business was about to be bought out by another corporation.

Since then, Blum has increased his stock in URS, capitalizing on its recent military contracts. Unlike Blum’s dabbling with Barnum & Bailey, his current profits aren’t so safe for child consumption.

Here are the basics to date: Blum currently holds over 111,000 shares of stock in URS Corporation, which is now one of the top defense contractors in the United States. Blum is an acting director of URS, which bought EG&G, a leading provider of technical services and management to the U.S. military, from The Carlyle Group in 2002. Carlyle’s trusty advisers, past and present, include former President George H.W. Bush, James Baker, and ex-SEC Commissioner Arthur Levitt, among other prominent neoconservatives and Washington power brokers.

URS and Blum have since banked on the Iraq war, scoring a phat $600 million contract through EG&G. As a result, URS has seen its stock price more than triple since the war began in March 2003. Blum has cashed in over $2 million on this venture alone and another $100 million for his investment firm.

“As part of EG&G’s sale price,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle, “Carlyle acquired a 21.74 percent stake in URS–second only to the 23.7 percent of shares controlled by Blum Capital.”

The Carlyle Group has long been accused of exploiting its political connections to turn a profit. And if Carlyle can come under the microscope for its government ties and war profiteering, as it did in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, than surely Blum’s URS ought to be subject to the same scrutiny.

Owen Blicksilver, Blum’s spokesman, claims his boss and Sen. Feinstein have never talked shop at home in their gated mansion: “Mr. Blum and Sen. Feinstein have never had any discussions about outsourcing, government contracts, or URS.”

If this were a Republican senator’s spouse scoring bundles off the spoils of war and passing it along to fellow Republicans, the liberals would be up in arms. But since Dianne Feinstein is a leading Democrat, mum’s the word.

Partisanship trumps ethics.

JOSHUA FRANK edits the radical news blog www.BrickBurner.org and is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, published by Common Courage Press (2005). Josh can be reached at BrickBurner@gmail.com.

 

 

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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