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Democrats try to poke holes in Georgia’s ‘top biz’ ranking from CNBC

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Updated: Within hours of CNBC’s announcement that Georgia was its pick as the best state for business in 2014, Democrats began probing the decision for weaknesses.

Consider it a sign of how important these rankings could become in a fall campaign for governor.
Late Wednesday, the progressive group Better Georgia – a pro-Democratic policy/attack group headed by Bryan Long – produced some paragraphs that attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the ranking.

In essence, Better Georgia outlined a conspiracy. A spokeswoman for CNBC this afternoon called the idea preposterous. The Deal campaign, also this afternoon, chose to respond with ridicule.

“Next stop is Time’s Person of the Year. We appreciate this group giving Georgia voters such a good laugh, to suggest that NBC is in the pocket of a Republican governor,” said Deal spokeswoman Jen Talber.

But allow Better Georgia to make its case:

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blog… CNBC based its rankings on data provided by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness. The chairmen of both organizations have close ties to Gov. Nathan Deal, including giving political donations to the governor and receiving millions of dollars in tax incentives from the state.

Proceed, Better Georgia:

Doug Oberhelman is the Chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers….Oberhelman is also the CEO of Caterpillar, Inc., which benefitted from a $44 million tax break from Governor Deal’s administration to open a new Caterpillar factory in Georgia. Even though Oberhelman is personally benefiting from a tax incentive from the governor, CNBC did not disclose the connection….

Then there was this:

Samuel Allen is the chairman of the Council on Competitiveness, and he has demonstrated a vested financial interest in keeping corporate Republicans in office through his political donations. Allen is the CEO of John Deere, whose PAC has donated $10,100 to Nathan Deal’s campaign and at least $140,650 to Georgia Republicans since 2011.

Here’s the charge:

“Gov. Deal’s most recent ranking claiming that Georgia is No. 1 in business is hardly unbiased,” said Bryan Long, executive director of Better Georgia. “In fact, the data used was fabricated by his own donors and political allies who have received millions of dollars in tax benefits from the state.”

That’s the whole of Better Georgia’s case. Here’s the gist of the response from the aforementioned CNBC spokeswoman:

“CNBC’s America’s Top States for Business is determined from a very clear methodology scoring states based on publicly available data on 56 different measures of competitiveness and ten broad categories. Neither the National Association of Manufacturers nor the Council on Competitiveness provided any of the data used in our study, nor have they ever. CNBC consulted with both organizations in structuring the study in 2007. They have not been involved beyond that, and had no involvement in this year’s study whatsoever. “

Let’s think this through. First of all, economic development is largely about corporate relocation. Business executives are involved – which means Republicans are involved. This should surprise no one, but occasionally it does.

As to Oberhelman of Caterpillar, Inc.: He’s a Republican donor, but Federal Elections Commission records show that his cash stays in Illinois, save for a $2,500 contribution to the 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

CNBC didn’t say, but would the cable network – or more specifically, other states competing for the prize – have wanted to know about the connections that linked the NAM chairman, his Georgia factory, and a $44 million tax break? Probably so. But it would have been more disturbing if the CNBC ranking had preceded the tax break.

The people over at NAM put us on the phone with its chief economist, Chad Moutray, who said Oberhelman had no involvement in producing the data that NAM shipped to CNBC — which was all publicly available. From Lea Anne Foster, NAM’s vice president for communications:

“The National Association of Manufacturers’ has provided CNBC with data on manufacturing employment by state in the past, which we obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. … That was the total extent of our contribution to CNBC’s analysis.”

Now, as to Samuel Allen, chairman of the Council on Competitiveness and CEO of John Deere. His company’s PAC is very active when it comes to political activity in a large range of states – many in the Midwest and some in the South, as you might expect of a company that sells tractors.

Georgia is one of two Southern states whose politicians received substantial funds in 2013 from the John Deere PAC, but North Carolina received $70,000 to Georgia’s $46,000 – and the Tar Heels finished fifth in this year’s CNBC rankings.

Moreover, South Dakota finished first on CNBC’s list last year. That year, the John Deere PAC gave a total of $5,000 to politicians in that state — $5,000 to a single member of Congress. No money connection there.

Yes, the John Deere PAC has given $10,100 to Deal in the 2010-12 period, according to followthemoney.org. But the PAC has given more to other Georgia figures recently: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle ($14,000), Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black ($10,700) and state Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons ($10,400).

There’s no sign in the John Deere PAC disclosures that Deal has been singled out for special favors – or that Deal and these CEOs have “close ties.”

So are their Republican-oriented connections in the economic development game? Absolutely. Are the ingredients somewhat subjective? Uh-huh. Was CNBC’s game rigged? Dotted lines aren’t evidence. No jury would convict on this.

One spare thought: Cable news networks are always happy to delve into controversies of their own making. If this story had legs, Jason Carter, the Democratic candidate for governor, would be front and center on CNBC today. He isn’t.

Meanwhile, Site Selection Magazine’s higher-ups are also claiming vindication. Adam Bruns, the publication’s managing editor, sent us a note asking whether he should expect a “full-blown investigation of how Georgia ‘bought’ CNBC’s ranking.”

In an earlier letter that came our way, the publication’s editor, Mark Arend, took a shot at both the media and the Carter campaign.

“This is not the first time such allegations have been aired by campaigns lacking their own economic development plan, nor by media outlets that do not take the time to learn how ranking methodologies are constructed.’

***

Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura slipped into Atlanta last night for a quiet Buckhead fundraiser to benefit the Bush Institute, which includes the Bush presidential library and a policy institute on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Hosts of the event were longtime GOP operatives Eric Tanenblatt and Fred Cooper. Also there: Jimmy Blanchard, Tom Johnson, David Ratcliffe, former U.S. Sen. Mack Mattingly, Nancy Coverdell, widow of the late senator, Virgil Williams, and longtime Bush ally Mercer Reynolds and a number of others.

***

Valdosta’s Moody Air Force Base is getting a new mission to train Afghan soldiers. From our AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin:

MoodyAFB_GAU.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Georgia Republicans, announced Wednesday that Moody is the Air Force’s preferred location for 120 Afghan pilots and maintenance service personnel, 14 U.S. Air force instructor pilots and 21 U.S. maintenance support personnel involved in the mission.

Moody was one of three air bases under consideration for the A-29 Afghan Light Air Support training mission. Moody’s infrastructure, range access, weather, and community support stood out, the senators said. The Air Force will conduct an environmental assessment to validate Moody’s selection later this summer.

The importance here is twofold. First, bringing jobs and economic benefits to Georgia is always something members of Congress will crow about. But it’s also about positioning Moody as essential, to keep it off any future Base Realignment and Closure list.

The Georgia delegation and others have already moved to block the Pentagon’s retirement of the A-10 aircraft — which Moody houses — to make sure the base stays well-populated and relevant.

***

Chambliss, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, offered CNN’s Wolf Blitzer some chilling analysis on the spread of ISIS in Iraq:

“Now we have a terrorist organization that controls more territory than any terrorist organization that we’ve ever seen. It gives them a perfect breeding and training ground for operations as well as other terrorists that will seek to kill and harm Americans. and the real fear that we have, of course, is that it will bleed over to Jordan next. …

“Who knows where it’s going next? These folks want a caliphate. They want to control Jordan. They want to control Lebanon, Israel. They’re a large, nasty group of folks.”

But Chambliss is not on the McCain train wanting a big military action:

“If we went in with airstrikes right now we would kill too many civilians along with military. That’s gonna cause more problems than it will solve. The advisers that are on the ground are going to report back to the president when they gather the intel they are sent there to gather.

“They are going to talk about command and control with ISF and see if they cannot garner some spine among the troops that we spent so much money and so much time training to fight theses guys to stand up to them. And if they will do that, then obviously that would be the solution. And it would be without an American military presence.”

***

The National Rifle Association is getting behind state Sen. Buddy Carter in the First Congressional District GOP runoff. Carter passed along the NRA’s letter:

“Based on your leadership on Second Amendment issues in the Georgia State House of Representatives and Senate, you (Buddy Carter) have earned an “A” rating from NRA-PVF in the July 22nd Republican primary runoff. An “A” is reserved for a candidate who has supported NRA positions on key votes in elective office.

“Again, thank you for your unwavering support of the Second Amendment. We urge our members, gun-owners, and sportsmen in Georgia to vote for Buddy Carter in the upcoming Republican primary runoff on July 22nd.”

***

We told you yesterday about the likely temporary ascension of U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, to lead the conservative Republican Study Committee. That’s still on track, but the vote has been put off until after Congress’ July 4 recess.

***

Here’s your sign that tea party forces were really, really ticked off by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s victory in a Mississippi GOP primary runoff on Tuesday:

debbiedooleyclip3Tsk. Language, Debbie.

***

One factor boosting Sen. Thad Cochran — beyond crossover African-American votes — in Mississippi was an endorsement ad from football great Brett Favre. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spot was a spinoff of one that aired in Georgia featuring another gridiron legend. From Politico:

The idea came to Chip Pickering on the evening of June 12. The former Mississippi congressman was sitting in the Hay-Adams Hotel with Tom Donohue, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Scott Reed, the Chamber’s top political strategist. A dogged operative who hates to lose, Donohue pressed his colleagues for fresh ideas on how to help Cochran.

It was Pickering, now the head of a telecom trade association, who first mentioned the former Green Bay Packers quarterback. The Chamber had aired ads in the Georgia Senate race featuring football giant Herschel Walker – why not call upon Favre, a Gulfport native who now lives and coaches in the Magnolia State?

Politico reports that Favre swiftly agreed to do the ad, apparently a much easier decision than whether or not to retire.

***

Newt Gingrich is still hip to pop culture. And he knows how to get attention with a soundbite. From ABC News:

“Bill [Clinton] is to politics what Fred Astaire was to dancing. He’s just automatically amazing. And he wants to have a Ginger Rogers out there dancing. … Instead, [watching Hillary] is a little bit like watching Kim Kardashian get kicked off the set by Prince,” Gingrich said on CNN, apparently referring to an incident in which the pop star pulled Kardashian onto the stage, then pushed her right back off when she wouldn’t dance.

Bill Clinton “takes several days in a row going, ‘Come on honey, you can do it,’ and he watches her go and there and she goes, womph,” Gingrich continued, pantomiming the candidate falling flat on her face.

“I think there’s a big problem because I don’t think as a candidate, she dances very well,” he added.

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