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The Curious Case of Alan Grayson

No matter what your political persuasion or what you think of him, you must admit that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL9) is a piece of work. If you were on his mailing list, you’d be receiving exciting messages like this:

When I was in college, I cleaned toilets. When the rich kids were playing varsity lacrosse, or fencing, or crewing, I was cleaning their toilets. That was my varsity sport. I made less than four dollars an hour.

I had to be very careful with money. For dinner, I often made myself hamburgers from ground lamb, because when I was in college, it was the cheapest meat you could buy. A pound of ground beef cost 99 cents; a pound of ground lamb cost only 79 cents a pound. Occasionally, just 69 cents a pound. I could make four decent lamburgers out of that. Put that together with a store-label can of corn or green beans for 27 cents (black letters on a white background on the label), and voila! — dinner.

I actually hate lamburgers. But that’s what I could afford.

I remembered this when I heard that my spoiled trust-fund opponent, Richie Rich, took SEIU’s “Minimum Wage Challenge” this week. (His name isn’t really Richie Rich, but if it were Richie Rich, that would be more real than his real name.)

Richie Rich has never worked a day in his life in any real job. He “worked” for his father’s construction company, which he refers to as “day labor.” (Maybe it was, for his chauffeur.) He owns an enormous yacht called “Cocktails.” His father was so proud that he was able to buy little Richie a Congressional seat — right after the election, he gave little Richie a $5 million “gift.”

But little Richie Rich is quite the faker, so he felt that he could con his way through the Minimum Wage Challenge. Maybe he thought that he was auditioning for Eddie Murphy’s part in the remake of “Trading Places.” So when he got to the part of the challenge about living on $17 a day for food (actually the budget for a family of four, not one out-of-touch frat boy), this is what the out-of-touch frat boy did: he went to the drug store CVS to buy his groceries, and he bought a whole lot of expensive, name-brand crap. That’s his idea of how poor people save a penny.

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And then, rather than actually eating the groceries from CVS, Richie Rich went to a $1000-a-plate, port-and-caviar-and-cigars campaign fundraiser. I’m serious. But maybe he didn’t inhale.

Help me stop this empty-suit poser from buying a U.S. Senate seat. It won’t cost you $1000, just $10 or $20 or $27. Just click here >>

Our political system is jam-packed with fakers, liars, frauds, imposters, pretenders, fabricators, cheaters, swindlers and con artists. I can beat this one. But I’m going to need your help to do it.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

More about Richie Rich in a moment. Alan Grayson doesn’t mince words. It’s rare when he has nothing to say, but that’s how he ended an interview with Steven Dennis of Bloomberg News. Dennis asked him why he invested in a Canadian mining company that extracts blood minerals from Eritrea:

Asked last week about the investment in Nevsun Resources Ltd., Grayson says he wasn’t aware of concerns expressed by human rights groups about Nevsun’s mining operations in Eritrea before the stock was sold last year.

“The fact is I didn’t know, I couldn’t have known, and I did nothing wrong, nor did my children,” Grayson said in a Feb. 11 interview at the Capitol.

“If I had known, then I would have divested,” he said. “I did actually divest, but I didn’t know when I divested, nor would I have any reason to know that, given the fact that literally thousands of different investments are involved, given the fact that nobody brought it to my attention until I’m in the midst of a competitive campaign.”

Asked whether in retrospect he regretted his family profiting off a company that invested primarily in a country known for human rights abuses, including forced labor, Grayson declined further comment and ended the interview.

How did the darling of progressives come to defending himself from charges of exploiting slave labor? Well, Grayson runs a hedge fund or three, one in Delaware and another plus the Grayson Master Fund in the Cayman Islands tax haven. He set them up on 2012 after losing his congressional seat to Republican Daniel Webster. Which is why there are ongoing ethics investigations of his finances in the House. According to Politico last June,

The House ethics rules do not allow a sitting member to “permit his name to be used” in the name or advertising material for entities like law firms, associations and financial entities. The Grayson-run funds are Delaware-based Grayson Fund LP and Cayman Islands-based funds called Grayson Master Fund (Cayman) Ltd. and Grayson Fund (Cayman) Ltd.

The Delaware fund has active investors and more than $13 million in sales, but Grayson, a likely Senate candidate, says the structure allows him to keep investor information confidential, including not listing it on congressional financial disclosure forms. He lists the funds as assets on his forms but claims no income from them.

Grayson responded that he is not actively managing the funds:

“The fund, like every investment fund, is bound by rules of confidentiality,” Grayson, who says he “complied fully” with congressional disclosure rules, said in an email.

The Orlando Democrat started the funds in 2011 after losing a reelection bid. He says they do not run afoul of congressional ethics rules that govern how sitting members can use their names because he has no “fiduciary duty” over the funds.

Hedge fund investors generally know what they’re doing. Obviously someone at Grayson’s must be performing as fiduciaries or their investors would bolt. So far, there have only been three investors, all domestic, and all in the Delaware-based Grayson Fund LLP. Grayson claims the Cayman funds have no investors, although a past filing indicated two.

Grayson may be the only sitting member of Congress who runs a hedge fund. If you asked him why that is, he’d probably tell you that he’s the only one who’s smart enough to do that. Perhaps, but besides being highly intelligent and well informed, he prepared himself well to jump into the asset management game. He sat on the Financial Services Committee and also served on the subcommittees on Capital Markets and on Oversight and Investigations. Those duties must have been instructive: Hey, I can do this. Why should I spend half my valuable time hitting up swells for swag and playing nice-nice with the Democratic Politburo? Screw that. I’ll finance myself with small donations and profits from my fund.

Grayson claims to eschew super PACs and gifts from lobbyists and to largely fund his runs for office through crowdsourcing. For someone in that position, owning a hedge fund can come in handy. It’s also useful when the party stiffs you, as it has this time around in his campaign to take Marco Rubio’s Senate seat. Grayson has openly expressed contempt for the party leadership ever since the DSCC, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and other top Dems—including Obama and Biden—all endorsed his main primary opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy (aka Richie Rich), warning Grayson away from the race. As you would expect, Grayson pulled no punches pummeling party bosses in an email blast:

And the funniest/saddest thing is that the Party Politburo does it with one excuse and one excuse only: that they are choosing “the strongest candidate for November.”

Excuse me?

These are the losers who have taken us from +20 to -8 in the Senate, in just six years. These are the losers who have taken us from +83 to -59 in the House, in just six years. Including the biggest wipeout for the Democratic Party in more than 100 years.

Six years ago, the Democrats controlled 16 state governments (House/Senate/Governor), and the Republicans controlled eight. The party bigwigs – these are the losers who now have left us with control of only seven state governments, while the Republicans control 27. They have taken us from +8 to -20, in just six years.

Our Party Politburo is so deeply incompetent that they shouldn’t even be choosing lottery ticket numbers, much less candidates. Based on their track record, I wouldn’t even trust them with paper vs. plastic. They would screw up a one-car parade.

As sadly true as this is, it doesn’t explain why several unions (the AFSCE, Carpenters, and Teamsters) have declared support for Murphy. In doing so, a Teamster VP said “Patrick Murphy is exactly the leader Florida’s working families need right now. Unlike anyone else in this race, he will put politics aside in the U.S. Senate and get things done for the middle class.” I guess he wants to ‘put politics aside’ (as if that’s possible) by supporting someone who will go with the flow rather than one whose big mouth makes him a lightning rod for partisan vitriol.

With characteristic respect and reserve, Grayson dubbed the man he called “Richie Rich the faker” a “lickspittle pillock” F2F during a recent debate. Murphy—who is only 32—is a two-term congressman and a former Republican. He sees himself as a centrist, but has voted with Republicans on key issues such as Benghazi investigations, the Farm Bill, CISPA, and excluding Syrian refugees (Grayson opposed all three). In three years, he’s voted with the GOP 17% of the time (Grayson did so 6% of the time) and sponsored 36 bills that garnered hundreds of co-sponsors. None have passed. (Since 2009 Grayson sponsored 117 with but a handful of co-sponsors. Several were enacted, and he’s passed more amendments than any other member of the House). At least $200K of Murphy’s $5.6M war chest comes from his father, Thomas Murphy, a real estate executive, via a super Pac called “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class”. In this cycle, Grayson has raised $1.7M—much of it from small contributors—and his campaign is $2.5M in debt. To whom it would be nice to know.

Unions support Grayson too, as do progressive grassroots organizations like Democracy for America and Working Families. Votesmart indicates the Electrical Workers and Food & Commercial Workers unions gave him $22K of the $56K in Labor contributions he’s received so far this time around (3% of his gross). Murphy has gotten $100K—or 1.8%—from Labor.

Here’s another strange contrast. According to opensecrets.org, Murphy, who comes from a fairly wealthy Florida family, had an estimated 2014 net worth of $5.2M. Grayson, who grew up poor in the Bronx, topped out at $60M—eleven times Murphy’s wealth, making him the 12th richest member of the House and 15th in the entire Congress. (Over half of those serving in the house are estimated to be millionaires.) If there’s one thing his opponents can’t say about Grayson, it’s “if you’re so smart why aren’t you rich?”

Although he has endorsed Bernie Sanders (but only after polling his email list), Grayson’s clearly no socialist (not that Bernie really is either). Like many prosperous people, he seems to believe he can do more good by doing well. But he probably could have done better than setting up tax haven hedge funds. If anything he’s done drags him down, that will be it.

The Florida statewide primary won’t happen until August, and a lot can go down between now and then. At the moment, Grayson holds a slim over his rival (a third candidate, lawyer Pam Keith, isn’t doing so well). Polls also show he would defeat David Jolly, a congressman who’s currently the leader in Florida’s five-way GOP senate race. So, expect the Dems to roll out their big guns and cash on Murphy’s behalf to boost his name recognition. Right now less than half of Floridians know who any of these people are. And of those who do, Grayson isn’t all that well regarded; only 16% of voters view him favorably, while 31% don’t. And to add to his woes, several key staffers recently quit his campaign, reasons unknown.

None of that will stop Grayson from playing on the edge. That, and his fearless pugnacity strike me as good things. If I were a voter in Florida, I would still come down for him, despite knowing what’s in his closet. He’s one rude progressive dude who can’t be accused of being part of the Washington Consensus. If the Politburo wants to purge him, that’s good enough for me.

 

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Geoff Dutton is an ex-geek turned writer and editor. He hails from Boston and writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Currently, he’s pedaling a novel chronicling the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, completing a collection of essays on high technology delusions, and can be found barking at Progressive Pilgrim Review.

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