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Top Philly donor moves on from Anthony Rand Paul

Scenes from a broken political system: Philly guy who spent a couple of million dollars trying to elect next mayor now spending millions trying to elect the next president.

You'd think that Bala Cynwyd-based equity options trader Jeff Yass might want to sit out the rest of 2015 when it comes to campaign contributions. After all, it was just this spring that the Montgomery County billionaire -- along with two of his partners in the Susquehanna International Group, Arthur Dantchik and Joel Greenberg -- invested $7 million or so in a political action committee to make state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams the next mayor of Philadelphia. Instead, Williams and his libertarian-approved brand of charter-school boosterism were soundly rejected by voters in a landslide Democratic primary win for the now-mayor-elect, Jim Kenney.

But Yass, a limited-government zealot who sits on the board of the libertarian Cato Institute think tank, jumped right back on the horse of big-money politics -- only to ride an even bigger longshot, the Kentucky GOP senator Rand Paul, who trails badly in the latest primary polls. Today, a bombshell New York Times expose on billionaires and their tax breaks suggests that Yass may be particularly enthusiastic these days about a certain kind of limited government -- getting the IRS off the back of a Susquehanna subsidiary.

Here's the relevant excerpt:

Another prominent donor is Mr. Yass, who helps run a trading firm called the Susquehanna International Group. He donated $100,000 to the Club for Growth Action fund in September. Mr. Yass serves on the board of the libertarian Cato Institute and, like Mr. Mercer, appears to subscribe to limited­government views that partly motivate his political spending.

But he may also have more than a passing interest in creating a political environment that undermines the I.R.S. Susquehanna is currently challenging a proposed I.R.S. determination that an affiliate of the firm effectively repatriated more than $375 million in income from subsidiaries located in Ireland and the Cayman Islands in 2007, activating a large tax liability. (The affiliate brought the money back to the United States in later years and paid dividend taxes on it; the I.R.S. asserts that it should have paid the ordinary income tax rate, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars more.)

In June, Mr. Yass donated more than $2 million to three super PACs aligned with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has called for taxing all income at a flat rate of 14.5 percent. That change in itself would save wealthy supporters like Mr. Yass millions of dollars.

Mr. Paul has suggested going even further, calling the I.R.S. a "rogue agency" and circulating a petition in 2013 calling for the tax equivalent of regime change. "Be it now therefore resolved," the petition reads, "that we, the undersigned, demand the immediate abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service."

From my reading of the Times article, there's no suggestion that Yass did anything illegal or improper. But isn't that the thing that makes this type of behavior so outrageous -- that there's nothing illegal about a billionaire giving a couple of million dollars to try to elect the mayor of a big city like Philadelphia and another million or two to hopefully elect a president? And all to enact policies that will personally benefit him -- while screwing over working parents and the middle class.

Indeed, the Yass excerpt is just one small element of a stunning indictment of the American system in which several hundred of the super-rich are able to use their lobbyists and their unlimited campaign contributions to rig the game in their favor. Once upon a time, the 2016 presidential election was going to be about fixing this problem -- until fear and loathing and a short-fingered vulgarian with orange-hair stole all the oxygen from the room. Maybe in 2020, right?