It is mostly unanimous that Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl ad appearance was a stirring and emotional tribute to America and Detroit. The ad was heartfelt, despite the fact that bailed out Italian-owned auto company, Chrysler, paid for it. Unless NBC offered some significant discounts to their ad rates, the ad cost Chrysler about $14 million. Considering the political nature of the ad and the fact that Chrysler vehicles were not touted in the ad, I must ask the cynical question; what’s in it for Italian-owned Chrysler?
Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne, is a pretty smart guy. I don’t think he would cavalierly spend $14 million just to pay tribute to America and Detroit. An article in Businessweek touches on one possible ulterior motive when it states, “Chrysler continues to seek low-interest loans from the U.S. Energy Department to develop and produce fuel-efficient cars. The company sought $3.5 billion in such loans last year, and that amount has been reduced, Marchionne said. ‘I’m not ready to give up,’ Marchionne told reporters Feb. 4 at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas. ‘The department has not indicated an unwillingness to lend.'”
Well, I’m guessing that “the department’s unwillingness to lend” has just been reduced further as Chrysler’s ad serves as a campaign boost to President Obama. The Administration seemed pleased as they continued with their campaign to run on the perceived success at Chrysler and GM; as noted in the piece, “…the president’s lieutenants praised the ad on Twitter.” And, “‘Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on,’ Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in a post on Twitter.”
There is a dangerous precedent in having a US President campaigning on the success of an industry that the same Administration has an investment stake in (as in taxpayers’ stake in General Motors) that continually raises the question of conflicts of interest. When else has a company receiving billions of taxpayer dollars like GM, owned partially by the government, run an ad disparaging an American company, like non-bailed out Ford, as happened in another Super Bowl ad?
As long as President Obama refuses to exit the taxpayers’ ownership stake in GM while he continues campaigning on a platform of their success, there will be those of us who are suspicious of the actions involving both the company and our government. I find it hard to believe that many others are not questioning the ethical issues of having our President have such a vested interest in the auto sector while government agencies, like NHTSA, are responsible for overseeing the industry. And as far as Chrysler and Marchionne are concerned, let’s see just how much influence the Eastwood ad bought them when the Energy Dept., or any other federal division, decides to dole out more taxpayer cash as payback for the campaign help.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.