Conservative Bloggers Charge Obama's Auto Task Force With Playing Politics on Chrysler Dealer Closings

The White House denied Thursday charges by conservative bloggers that President Obama's Auto Task Force, which is overseeing the restructuring of the U.S. auto industry, targeted for closure Chrysler dealers who have contributed to Republicans.

"We don't make those decisions. Ok?," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "Chrysler makes those decisions. So I am sure you can send Chrysler the address of the blog that you refer to. ... We're not involved in making those decisions I would think your question would be appropriately dealt with by the company that is."

Chrysler disclosed in bankruptcy court this month its plan to close 789, or about a quarter, of its 3,200 U.S. dealerships by June 9, provoking a public outcry over the impact.

"In the case of Chrysler I think 75 percent of the auto dealers remained open; that encompasses about 87 percent of annual auto sales," Gibbs said Wednesday.

Chrysler has said the process for selecting which dealerships the company would keep was based on sale volume, location, local market share and potential, customer satisfaction indices and warranty repair availability.

But bloggers say politics was also part of the formula. Among the Chrysler dealers targeted for closure are Florida Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan and competitors to a dealership chain partly owned by Mack McLarty, who served as chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.

Bloggers have also found that some of the dealers have donated nearly $150,000 to GOP candidates and organizations.

"If this data can be validated, it would appear to be further proof that the Obama administration is willing to step over any line to advance its agenda," blogger Doug Ross wrote on his page. "It bodes poorly for America and the rule of law."

A preliminary study by FOXNews.com found that the data do not support the charges. Among the dealerships set to close, 12 percent of a random 50 selected for review donated to Republicans and 8 percent to Democrats. Of the dealerships remaining open, 14 percent of a random 50 selected donated to Republicans and 10 percent to Democrats. In both samples, the average size of donations was similar for both parties.

According to the sample, one major factor in determining whether a dealership was closed or not was the size of the dealership, measured by the number of product lines carried (the four lines are Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Dodge Truck). The average store that will be closed in the FOXNews.com sample carries 2.5 of those product lines whereas the average store that will stay open carries 3.64.

A Chrysler representative said part of the decision on consolidating dealerships was to reduce overlap and have the remaining dealers sell all three company brands.

"It makes sense to have all three brands under one roof," Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham told FOXNews.com.

Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin suggested that more Republican-leaning businessmen gravitate toward the car dealership business. She added that many dealerships deserved to be closed down.

"In any case, it's too early to start painting them all as victims of a politically motivated witch hunt," she said before encouraging the bloggers to keep digging.