It's not often that The New Yorker bothers with auto dealers. But it loves a good political story, and the latest issue considers how dealers got themselves exempted from regulation by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The magazine calls dealers the "unexpected masters of Capitol Hill" and adds that they "won their exemption the old-fashioned way, by lobbying the hell out of Congress."
But its point goes deeper: "The fact that they succeeded where bigger, more powerful companies didn't reveals something important about the politics of influence on Capitol Hill: Lobbying isn't just about money."
It reflects that "companies that lobbied most successfully around the financial-reform bill didn't necessarily pay the most. Instead they were able to bring the grass-roots pressure to bear on individual congressmen and to present themselves as remote from Wall Street."
The fact that about 18,000 car dealers are strewn throughout the nation made them "perfectly placed to make this pitch," the magazine says. "The dealers leveraged their power by defining themselves as clean-living Main Street businesses rather than plutocratic Wall Street ones. It seemed like every communique from the dealers' association included the phrase 'Main Street auto dealers.' "
The magazine dismissed that as a "disingenuous argument," since a high percentage of auto loans are securitized or financed by Wall Street -- "but rhetorically effective."
The article says: "Auto dealers may collectively make up a huge industry, but most of them are small businessmen, just the kind of regular Americans that congressmen like to be seen as standing up for."