I don't know how many of you had to sit through the political ad linked below but if there was a competition for the most ridiculous waste of money, this would be a strong contender. This multi-million dollar ad buy was solely funded by a gentleman named Thomas Peterffy who evidently fancies himself as an individual SuperPAC. It was played over and over on cable news stations in the weeks leading up to the election. It basically implied that a vote for Barack Obama or the Democratic Party would lead to a Soviet-style dictatorship.
Peterffy, the head of Interactive Brokers, a NASDAQ listed brokerage firm, helped form the Boston Options Exchange, a tiny mom and pop shop no doubt close to Mitt Romney's heart. Having emigrated from Hungary in 1965 he struck it rich here, and now is worth 7.6 Billion. According to Wikipedia, Peterffy is the 77th richest person in the United States. His message is a dire one, warning against the pernicious effects of "badmouthing success" (the ad contains still shots of what appear to be Occupy Wall Street protesters) which he says will lead the country into a sepia-colored socialist death spiral, filled with workers who lack motivation: "People will lose interest in really working hard." He expounds that under this coming socialism, the rich will get poorer but the "poor will also be poorer."
Politico reported that the ad was "being hailed as one of the best spots this election cycle", and said that it could be influential in Ohio due to its large Hungarian population.
It's not clear how Ohio's Hungarian population received Mr. Peterffy's musings, although the election results don't suggest they made as apocalyptic an impact as he may have intended:
Peterffy believes the country is on a "slippery slope" and headed toward a cycle of recurring poverty because "it seems like people don't learn from the past." By this he means Americans have not absorbed the harsh lessons of 1950's Communism, which he claims left an indelible impression on him. Peterffy has also funded SuperPAC attacks against Connecticut State Democrats in opposition to raising Estate taxes; somewhat paradoxically he claims he helps the needy by "paying taxes."
But if Peterffy's concern is really about the plight of the poor he needn't have looked so far back to illustrate his point. In fact, in the very recent past Peterffy's firm, Interactive Brokers, ran the rather tasteless ad embedded below, mocking Occupy Wall Street protests and urging them to "join the1%." The ad was shown repeatedly on CNBC.
The New York Times, which spotted the ad, points out that even comedy shows have been careful to balance mockery of financial bureaucrats and the Occupy movement itself. But here, it seems the gloves have come off.When he's not mocking income inequality, Peterffy, like any busy billionaire, also has his pet causes to stave off the inexorable boredome of being fabulously rich. As discussed in Bloomberg/Business Week, Peterffy's is Teach For America, a non-profit that specializes in placing teachers in underperforming schools. Teach For America has been roundly criticized for displacing existing, older and more experienced teachers (coincidentally those who are members iof the teachers' union) and replacing them with fresh-faced rapidly trained replacements at bargain basement salaries:
In Boston, TFA corps members replaced 20 pink-slipped teachers, says Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman. "These are people who have been trained, who are experienced and who have good evaluations, and are being replaced by brand-new employees."TFA has also been criticized for promoting lesser qualified teachers as "teachers of record," and for its high turnover rate. The Detroit Teachers's Union President characterized them as "educational mercenaries." In effect they are a crucial link in the chain of the privatization of public schools.
This month, he met with about 18 other local union presidents, all of whom said they'd seen teachers laid off to make room for TFA members.
"I don't think you'll find a city that isn't laying off people to accommodate Teach For America," he says.
Peterffy doesn't really explain why he feels we're on the socialist road, but it's inferable from his video ad that he believes progressive taxation and efforts to rein in rampant income inequality are the main culprits. His solution is to support the Republican Party, which makes eminent sense, as the GOP has no interest in tackling either issue. But it's hard to say which is more preposterous, a Billionaire trying to convince us that we're headed down the path of the Gulag and collective farming or the same person railing against social engineering while spending millions of dollars to influence the democratic political process of the country he purports to love.
One blessing of this election's decisive outcome is that we will hopefully silence--temporarily at least--the thoroughly obnoxious and seemingly perpetual tendency of these billionaires to foist their unwanted and unsolicited viewpoints and prescriptions on us. Most of these people were mercifully silent until the 2012 campaign began. It's not clear whether Mr. Peterffy has decided to return to his native Hungary given our impending transformation to a socialist paradise (he currently lives in Greenwich Connecticut, rubbing elbows with dozens of Wall Street Hedge Fund managers) but if he chooses to do so I highly doubt that his hyperbolic fantasies will be missed. And he will be forever safe from the looming Gulag.