As I pointed out recently in a Street.com column, Occupy Wall Street is faced with the continuing challenge of keeping itself from being exploited, whether by street criminals or crackpots.
Apart from the Young Turks program on Current TV, which obviously didn't check too carefully into Byrne's background, the latest publicity stunt drew attention only in the blogosphere. It's a shame, I think, because this must surely be the most bizarre visitor to glom on to the OWS movement.
After all, this is a "libertarian who was fond of the economic ideas of Milton Friedman," a Raw Story blogger noted. In other words, an advocate of soak-the-poor economic policies is....endorsing Occupy Wall Street?
Hey, if he was genuinely in favor of OWS's agenda, more power to him. But his aim is not to reform Wall Street or resolve income inequality, but to pursue his tiresome crusade to get Wall Street off the hook for the financial crisis, which Byrne lays at the foot of a nefarious conspiracy of "naked short sellers."
Byrne told the Young Turks that "Wall Street had Washington, D.C. 'by the throat' and was not allowing the government to properly regulate the financial sector."
"'That core message, which is what I understand to be the core value of ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ is right on the money,' Byrne noted."
However, what OWS is protesting is the real Wall Street, the Wall Street that is responsible for foreclosures and runaway derivatives and economic collaphse, and not the conspiracy theories that Byrne has been promoting for the past six years.
Indeed, OWS wants business to be regulated, and that runs counter to Byrne's libertarian philosophy and his business practices. His FUBAR accounting is the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and California prosecutors are suing Overstock, seeking $15 million from the company for systematic consumer ripoffs.
The other OWS core issues don't exactly work in Byrne's favor, either.
He is a member in good standing in the 1%, and favors economic policies, and politicians, that would entrench economic inequality. Where it gets even more interesting concerns the other OWS core issue, which is the influence of money in politics. Byrne is a poster boy for that cause.
Thanks to the trust fund that he draws from his billionaire father, former GEICO CEO John Byrne, Patrick Byrne is chief source of funding for the school voucher movement, a libertarian, Milton Friedman-backed movement is aimed at tossing public education on the trash heap. When Utah voters rejected school vouchers a few years ago, he said that they had failed an "IQ test."
He is the single biggest campaign contributor in Utah, as the Deseret News pointed out in a rare skeptical article on Byrne back in 2006.
Byrne restricts his contributions to the hard right, and he expects results for his money. Byrne "gave $75,000 to [Jon] Huntsman's 2004 gubernatorial campaign — by far the most that any individual gave him," the newspaper reported.
"Byrne is not only the top individual donor to Huntsman, he even gave more than the Huntsman Corp. (which provided $63,634), or any of the governor's family members," said the newspaper.
Thanks to Byrne's cash-on-the-barrelhead politics, the Overstock CEO purchased a special session of the Utah legislature to consider some wacky legislation targeting his naked shorting conspiracy theories. But then Huntsman did something unusual for a bought-and-paid-for politician.
The Byrne-backed bill was so nutty that Huntsman pulled the plug on it. “There are those who believe Overstock has been using the Legislature as a distraction against its own problems. It raises serious questions,” a Utah legislator told the Associated Press.
Byrne, all class, called the legislator “a squish” and a “yellow belly.” In fact, taking on Byrne, and his bucks, showed considerable fortitude. But most of Byrne's outrage was aimed at the governor. After all, he paid good money for Huntsman. Double-cross!
Byrne has been bad-mouthing Huntsman ever since, and that has been reported by the media without a word about the reason for his ire.
So here we have one of the most noxious examples of the intersection of money and politics, whose past contributions have gone to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth - the smear campaign against John Kerry - and an assortment of far-right pols. After sinking his inherited cash into John McCain's coffers in 2008, in 2010 he funded the Tea Party Republican senate candidate from Utah, Mike Lee, and congressional candidate Jason Chaffetz, another rising star of the Tea Party.
Also in 2010 he poured thousands from his trust fund into Orrin Hatch's political action committee, as well as the campaign coffers of Mitt Romney and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The latter got $30,400. This year he has endorsed Ron Paul, the furthest off the charts Republican candidate,
So why is a far-right Republican-libertarian making nice with Occupy Wall Street? Simple. His aim is to divert OWS away from genuine concerns that don't exactly work in his favor -- income inequality and the role of money in politics -- to his nutty anti-naked-shorting campaign.
I wouldn't be surprised if Byrne writes out a big check to OWS, with the hope of promoting his message. If so, OWS has a challenge: will it take cash that stinks to high heaven? And if it does, will it have any impact?
That's a hypothetical question, but the whole thing raises tantalizing questions. One is "Who delivers the check?" My guess is that he would have the check delivered by his p.r. factotum and cyberstalker Judd Bagley, a former campaign manager for Kevin Garn, former Republican majority leader of the Utah legislature.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, they say. So does hypocrisy and cynicism, I guess.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.