On Tuesday, more than a dozen senior citizens will travel from Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and other states to Chicago to attend the shareholder meeting of Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS), which owns their manufactured home lots. These seniors are going to confront the company’s chair, billionaire Sam Zell, who has refused to hear their concerns over practices driving them into hardship. They’re going because, as the Center for Community Change points out:
“ELS is the country’s largest corporate owner of manufactured housing communities. Most of these communities are marketed to senior citizens. ELS has been increasing the lot rents that families have to pay (the amount of money that people pay per month to rent the land their home resides on) at an alarming rate, and the company’s ‘highly touted’ customer service has lost what Pam called their ‘sense of respect’ for the homeowners that reside there.”
But ELS isn’t just bankrupting senior citizens at home, Sam Zell (who also bankrupted the Chicago Tribune), is also spending big money to elect candidates that will cut vital programs for senior citizens and create policies that benefit the top one percent—something that will do even more harm to these folks. For example:
- Zell has given $100,000 to American Crossroads, Karl Rove’s super PAC that will run attack ads to elect candidates that support legislation like the Paul Ryan plan that ends Medicare as we know it and those that want to privatize or cut Social Security.
- He has also given $70,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC working to elect Mitt Romney and $2,500 to Romney’s campaign. Romney, like Zell, is often seen as out-of-touch with regular Americans—he hired a lobbyist for his vacation home, has said that “corporations are people,” and talks about having friends that own NASCAR and football teams.
- He has donated money to House Republican leaders John Boehner ($20,000), Eric Cantor ($20,000) and Paul Ryan himself ($5,000), who would rather cut vital programs for middle class families than require the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes.
- Overall, Zell has donated at least $327,800 to federal candidates and committees this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It’s an example of the growing divide between billionaires and regular Americans. They’re gouging everyday people while raking in record profits, and then using that money to buy off politicians who’ll craft and support policy that makes them richer.
On Tuesday, this courageous group of people will confront Zell and we can’t wait to hear what he has to say.