Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson Shops for Next GOP Candidate

The Washington Post reports today that Sheldon Adelson – the casino magnate who spent, with his wife, more than $92 million in the 2012 elections – is in the market for a 2016 GOP presidential candidate to support.

After throwing reams of money at losing candidate Newt Gingrich in the last election, Adelson is now looking for someone he believes will be seen as electable by a country with swiftly changing demographics. He is already being wooed by GOP presidential hopefuls:

The change in attitude comes amid early jockeying by a lengthy list of aspiring Republican presidential contenders to win the affections of the billionaire, who is in the beginning stages of assessing the field.

“The bar for support is going to be much higher,” said Andy Abboud, Adelson’s top political adviser and an executive at the Adelson-run Las Vegas Sands Corp. He added, “There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny.”

This strategy would favor more established 2016 hopefuls such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. All four will descend this week on Adelson’s luxury hotel in Las Vegas, the Venetian, for an important step in what some are calling the “Sheldon Primary.”

Funny, I don’t remember learning about the “Sheldon Primary” in my high school civics class. But in our Super PAC-filled, post-Citizens United world of unlimited election spending, this seems to be the reality of how candidates who have a real shot are chosen. As Harvard law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig puts it,

We have a general election, but only after the funders have had their way with the candidates who wish to run in that general election.

With Adelson essentially interviewing potential candidates, it begs the question: will our presidents be working for the people who elected them, or will they increasingly serve as the puppets of billionaire benefactors? 

When a tiny fraction of the country’s wealthiest people are able to hand-pick candidates, it’s doubtful that we’ll have a government that focuses on the priorities of everyday Americans. A democracy simply doesn’t work if the voices of those of us who aren’t having swanky private dinners with presidential hopefuls are drowned out by the few who are.

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Dirty Money Underwriting Pro-Romney Super PAC?

Although he voted to block the Senate from considering the DISCLOSE Act yesterday, Senator John McCain is usually a supporter of campaign finance reform. In an interview on PBS Newshour, McCain said that the astronomical contributions of Mitt Romney’s major financier, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, are particularly problematic because those contributions amount to foreign money influencing U.S. elections:

MCCAIN: Mr. Adeleson [sic], who gave large amounts of money to the Gingrich campaign and much of Mr. Adeleson’s casino profits, that go to him, come from this casino in Macau.

WOODRUFF: Which says what?

MCCAIN: This which says that obviously, maybe in a round-about way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign, political campaigns.

Regardless of where Adelson acquired his billions, a new report by ProPublica and PBS reveals that Adelson’s business dealings may have been improper or even illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, complete with shady dealings with the Chinese mob and crooked politicians. As Think Progress summarizes, Adelson’s operation in Macau may have been made possible because of payments to Chinese organized crime figures:

Among the junket companies under scrutiny is a concern that records show was financed by Cheung Chi Tai, a Hong Kong businessman.

Cheung was named in a 1992 U.S. Senate report as a leader of a Chinese organized crime gang, or triad. A casino in Macau owned by Las Vegas Sands granted tens of millions of dollars in credit to a junket backed by Cheung, documents show.

Cheung did not respond to requests for comment.

Another document says that a Las Vegas Sands subsidiary did business with Charles Heung, a well-known Hong Kong film producer who was identified as an office holder in the Sun Yee On triad in the same 1992 Senate report. Heung, who has repeatedly denied any involvement in organized crime, did not return phone calls.

Because Nevada gambling authorities forbid doing any business with organized crime, Sands’s Las Vegas gambling licenses could hang in the balance. (Adelson and his company refused to comment for the PBS story.) But Adelson has other issues with his China operations.

Sheldon Adelson has pledged to give up to $100 million to unseat President Obama. But according to one of Adelson’s friends, he could spend far more than that: “We think ‘$100 million, wow!’ But it’s a meaningless amount of money to [Adelson].”

The system we have today allows for single individuals to give as much potentially money – clean or dirty – as they want to buy an election. This isn’t how democracy is supposed to work. Some sunlight is beginning to shine through on how Mitt Romney is benefitting from Sheldon Adelson’s shadowy dealings, but the extent of unaccountable money in our elections runs even deeper. Without a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the people will be unable to stop secret contributions by special interests, no matter where the money comes from.

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Context for the Effects of Citizens United

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is commonly criticized by good government advocates because it has led to countless wealthy individuals and corporations making unlimited contributions in unprecedented amounts to groups attempting to sway electoral outcomes, often anonymously. As a result, those with means are able unfairly amplify their voices above that of average Americans.

To appreciate the magnitude of the ruling’s anti-democratic effects, it is important to consider the sheer amount of money that it takes to be a player in the Super-PAC game.

Sheldon Adelson, one of the world’s richest men with a far-right personal political agenda, plans to contribute upwards of $71 million in this election cycle, according to the Huffington Post. He is so determined to unseat the president that, after sinking $21.5 million on Super PACs supporting Newt Gingrich’s failed run, he is ready to refocus his efforts and spend similarly astronomical sums to support groups in favor of Mitt Romney and Republican congressional candidates.

His influence is real – $71 million can buy a lot of TV advertising, and ads funded by Super PACs and 501c4 groups can be particularly nasty because they are not officially “accountable” to a candidate. Average Americans, even those who can afford to contribute toward their preferred candidate, simply cannot compete on this scale. According to a friend of Adelson, “We think ‘$100 million, wow!’ But it’s a meaningless amount of money to him.”

In an interview with Forbes, Adelson acknowledged the reality that his extraordinary wealth allows him to influence elections in ways he otherwise couldn’t, in ways which ordinary Americans cannot. He doesn’t even think it’s a good thing, but that hasn’t stopped him: "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections," he said. "But as long as it's doable, I'm going to do it."

The only way to make hijacking our elections no longer “doable” is with a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. To anyone without a spare $100 million, the need couldn’t be clearer.

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Federal Courts - A PAC-Free Zone

Federal courts are where the 99% and the 1% stand as equals before the law.
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