The rest of the class got the assignment in on time. Only Alex Lasry made an excuse for why he couldn’t. I guess the dog ate his homework.
Let me begin by acknowledging that everybody I know who knows Lasry says that he’s a good person. Decent, hard-working, likable. That’s fine and the quality of a person’s character is not to be underestimated (see Trump, Donald), but for me the only real question about the race for the nomination to take on Sen. Ron Johnson is which candidate has the best shot at beating him. For a few reasons, I don’t think that’s Lasry.
For starters, what does it say about a candidate who is so wealthy that he needs another three months to figure out just how much he’s worth? Last week Alex Lasry got an extension on filing paperwork that would detail his extensive wealth. While the three other top Democratic contenders to take on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in November were able to meet the deadline — including another multi-millionaire, Sarah Godlewski — for some reason Lasry just couldn’t pull all his numbers together in time.
With the extension, Lasry won’t need to file his report until August 15th, a week after the August 9th primary. Other candidates have missed the deadline in the past (including two of Lasry’s opponents in previous years) but this is significant because it’s an election year, because now primary voters won’t get a chance to vet whatever will be in Lasry’s report while Johnson will have any ammo that might there for November, and because Lasry’s wealth is a legitimate issue in the campaign.
What we do know about Lasry’s wealth comes from last year’s report, for which he also received an extension. A year ago he was worth somewhere between $100 million and $273 million. He was being paid $300,000 as an executive for the Milwaukee Bucks, of which his father is a co-owner. Lasry was also gifted a $50 million stake in the team. To add insult to injury, that $50 million share gained enormous value thanks to the $250 million in corporate welfare that went to the Bucks to build their new arena. That’s right. An already rich kid saw his inherited wealth increase thanks to your tax dollars.
Also last year, it was reported that Lasry took a $24,000 property tax break on his homes in both New York and Wisconsin. That was illegal, as a person can claim primary residence in only one state. Lasry’s campaign blamed his New York property manager and said that he was going to pay back the money. There was no further reporting of any penalties or other consequences stemming from the violation. But it does suggest that Lasry’s commitment to Wisconsin is so tenuous that he could claim primary residency in either New York or Milwaukee.
Let’s give Lasry the benefit of a doubt and say that he really couldn’t get his numbers together in time for the filing even as Godlewski, with similar wide-ranging wealth, could. What does that say about his position in life? Well, the most generous interpretation is that the guy has wealth so vast that it would take another three months to figure out just how much he’s worth. That reinforces the impression one got last year when he mistakenly (apparently) took tax deductions worth $24,000. How many Wisconsinites wouldn’t notice a $24,000 tax benefit until it was brought to their attention?
The overall picture we’re getting here is of a man, rich since birth, who has no concept whatsoever what it is like to live as an average person. At a time when Americans are struggling with inflation, high gas prices, skyrocketing housing costs and more, can Alex Lasry feel your pain?
Congress is already dominated by people who are far wealthier than the people they represent. Some of that is understandable. Just serving in Congress by itself pays $174,000 when the median household income in the U.S. is about $70,000. In addition, most people who have the time and wherewithal to run for office have that luxury because of their success in law, business or some other field. So, the system self-selects for the more well-to-do.
And, in fact, that’s not all bad. If you’ve worked hard to be successful, isn’t that the kind of person we want in Congress anyway? I think of Herb Kohl, the former Wisconsin senator who was the richest man in the Senate for a while. Kohl inherited a successful local business, but he worked hard into making it an incredibly successful national business. He was also born and bred in Wisconsin, he was a generous philanthropist and had spent decades working the vineyards in the Democratic Party. He was in his 50s and had developed a personal gravitas when he first ran for the Senate in 1988.
Contrast that with Lasry, who at 34, only came to Wisconsin when his father bought the Bucks and who has accomplished nothing without the help of his parents. They got him a job as an intern in the Obama White House and a job on Wall Street and made him an executive in the Bucks organization. Kohl bought the Bucks himself. Lasry’s dad bought the team from Herb and gave his son a piece of the action.
And now Lasry can’t so much as even file the paperwork to give voters more information about his inherited wealth in time for the primary.
If he wins the nomination we’ll have a choice between a challenger who inherited his wealth and an incumbent, Johnson, who married into it. If that’s the case, of course I’ll vote for the Democrat, simply because the Party of Trump in general and Johnson in particular are so odious.
Democratic — and even some Republican — insiders I talk with think Lasry is the guy who can beat Johnson. They sort of back into Lasry. First, they see Godlewski (who, in fairness, is also mostly a credible candidate because of her husband’s wealth) and Mandela Barnes as fatally flawed because of their history and past statements. They agree that Tom Nelson could be a good candidate, but they dismiss him out of hand because he’ll have less money in the primary than the other three. They don’t take into account the fact that any candidate to get the nomination will have national money pouring in the day after the primary as Johnson is a prime Democratic target. So, in essence, they back a candidate less electable than Nelson because of Lasry’s money — which only matters in the primary and which is an actual liability against Johnson.
And Lasry inadvertently demonstrated his weakness among rank-and-file voters earlier this spring. He spent $4.4 million of his personal fortune on TV and other advertising and the net result was that he’s still in second place and still at only 16%. And this while Godlewski was spending a fraction of what he spent and while Barnes and Nelson were spending nothing.
Look folks, it’s hard enough for any Milwaukee-based candidate not named Herb Kohl to win statewide and Lasry is a New Yorker by way of Milwaukee. That will be just deadly against Johnson. Whatever baggage the others have, none of it is as heavy as Lasry’s addresses.
A version of this piece originally appeared in Isthmus.
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