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June 14, 2012 11:17 AM Is There Any Limit To Super-PAC Spending?

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday it was reported that Sheldon Adelson, one-time sugar daddy for Newt Gingrich’s campaign, had donated a nice, round $10 million to Mitt Romney’s Restore Our Future Super-PAC, about the same amount that all donors have given to all progressive Super-PACs so far.

That’s a lot of money. But Adelson’s net worth, which has skyrocketed during the Obama admnistration, is an estimated $24.9 billion, which makes the $10 mil donation a rounding error. More importantly, says Forbes’ Steven Bertoni, the casino mogul may be willing to go much, much higher:

A well-placed source in the Adelson camp with direct knowledge of the casino billionaire’s thinking says that further donations will be “limitless.”
Adelson, who has built Las Vegas Sands into an global casino empire, will do “whatever it takes” to defeat Obama, this source says. And given that Adelson is worth $24.9 billion-and told Forbes in a recent rare interview about his political giving that he had been willing to donate as much as $100 million to his initial presidential preference, Newt Gingrich-that “limitless” description telegraphs potential nine-digit support of Romney.

Nine digits? Why not ten digits? Tossing a nice even billion to an actual major-party nominee would be no more imprudent than what he spent on Gingrich’s improbable campaign. And what if Adelson talked a couple of other equally motivated tycoons into making an equal commitment?

My point here isn’t to predict what Adelson is going to do, but simply to suggest that those of us worried about Super-PAC spending and the whole post-Citizens United environment for campaign finance may not be thinking big enough. What kind of impact would an extra billion or two or three have on a presidential contest, or perhaps a bunch of downballot contests where late television ads can be game-changers? We don’t know, because it’s never happened before; the only thing comparable would probably be the kind of vast financial advantage that William McKinley enjoyed against William Jennings Bryan in 1896. And there’s a reason that period is known to history as the culmination of “the Gilded Age,” or for some, the “Era of the Robber Barons.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • rea on June 14, 2012 11:29 AM:

    What would a political campaign do with a few billion? At some point, there is simply no more TV time to buy, and constant ads may become more of an irritant to voters than something that persuades them.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on June 14, 2012 11:47 AM:

    If I didn't know any better I'd say it's pretty damn crass for billionare political donors to be tossin' around multi-million dollar donations amongst themselves in the middle of a virtual depression. Is this not unseemly that donations/funding to the needy and public good have shrunk (or threaten to be axed), while donations to the cause of the Wall Street Richie Rich types have explode well beyond the barrier of good taste?

  • emjayay on June 14, 2012 11:47 AM:

    There is no substance to these worries. I distinctly remember Justice Alito mouthing the words "You're wrong" when President warned about this in his SOTU speech.

    No more TV time? There's always glossy full color mailings. Just ask Bloomberg.

  • c u n d gulag on June 14, 2012 11:53 AM:

    This - THIS - is the reason you have to start taxing these feckin' SOB's at some huge feckin' rate, so that they don't spend their feckin' money on altering political campaigns that will help them buy feckin' politicians who'll bilk the real taxpayers of their hard-earned money!!!

    Go back to the progressive tax rates back when they 'liked Ike!'
    And give them SOMETHING TO REALLY SQUEAL ABOUT!!!

    Head's up! You can start to pay us now.
    Or, you can start to pay us later. HEAD'S OFF!

  • stormskies on June 14, 2012 12:01 PM:

    Right, and as we all know, this then ends up creating exactly the situation that this putrid oligarchs want: a plutocratic country defined by an American form of fascism.

    A perfect example beyond countless others was demonstrated yesterday on capital hill where Jamie Dimon was testifying before the Senate about the 3 billion dollars loss by JP Morgan. All of the Repiglican Senators sat there essentially giving a blow job to this Zarathustra over and over. They may as well have stood up, pulled their pants down, bent over and start screaming 'me, me, me' first ........ like kids waiting to daddy to come home with a bundle of candy ..

  • Josef K on June 14, 2012 12:03 PM:

    Welcome to the new normal.

    At least until the peasants revolt and/or some particularly clever hacker empties their off-shore accounts. A body can dream, right?

  • Tess on June 14, 2012 12:14 PM:

    Yay! Sheldon Adelson for President! Anyone who thinks that he is not buying the Presidency is a fool.

    I keep hoping that there will be a backlash from regular folks concerned with who is actually going to run the country when the election is over. Maybe if we keep talking about it, keep posting the numbers, people will begin to see the difference between small donations from many people and BIG donations from one guy. We might as well be Russia where Putin can silence any controversy and appoint himself.

    I don't really think people are stupid, just busy. How 'bout we start a meme "Who's Really Running for President?"

  • emjayay on June 14, 2012 12:16 PM:

    Go Anonymous Go.

  • emjayay on June 14, 2012 12:20 PM:

    Sorry Tess, but "regular folks" know what abortion is and what gay marriage is and that Obama is against religion and also maybe an Elitist Kenyan Socialist Communist Fascist and also by the way black. Systemic stuff? Too complicated. Also, rich is good.

  • mb on June 14, 2012 12:21 PM:

    Serious question:

    What is the saturation point/level for political spending? There are only so many commercials, only so many eyeballs to watch said commercials. Surely at some point there is a limit to the amount of campaigning a constituency can absorb.

    Perhaps we should make it legal to sell one's vote which would more directly stimulate the economy. If its legal to buy elections, it ought to be legal to sell one's vote. Only seems fair.

    It would be interesting to see an analysis of who actually ends up with all the money that will be spent over the next 5 months.

  • Quaker in a Basement on June 14, 2012 12:31 PM:

    Dems need to be sure every voter knows Mr. Adelson's name, his business, and just how much Romney owes him.

  • T2 on June 14, 2012 12:32 PM:

    you see, Tess is not off base. Due to Citizens United it is entirely possible for a very rich person to actually buy public office, or buy it for a surrogate as is being done now with Romney/Adelson. At a state/local level it would be extremely easy to buy an office. I suspect that once the Conservatives achieve full power...Congress, White House (with the emphasis on White) and Supreme Court, the Citizens United thingy will be dismantled somehow to prevent it being used against them.

  • TeamAmercia on June 14, 2012 12:38 PM:

    Why not just give $1B to each campaign, hedge your bets so that you get what you want either way.

    All of this is wildly ironic, why give away $10M to keep your taxes from being raised? God forbid we just raise top marginal income taxes so that $10M goes to people that need it, rather than an already filthy rich man's election campaign.

  • Bob on June 14, 2012 12:42 PM:

    What is the saturation point/level for political spending? There are only so many commercials, only so many eyeballs to watch said commercials. Surely at some point there is a limit to the amount of campaigning a constituency can absorb.

    True, but it takes a lot of money to bribe the majority of the population to tip the balance. Rmoney will use the model so effectively used by Scott Walker in WI. "You will pay me $200 to put this sign up in my yard? What a bunch of nice fellows...."

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 14, 2012 12:59 PM:

    We're getting ready to find out. Democrats aren't going to know what hit them. And they should have been inoculating themselves against it. They haven't. Right in front of our very eyes, we are all witnessing the downfall of the country.

  • schtick on June 14, 2012 1:06 PM:

    This stuff really fascinates me. They don't want to pay their fair share in taxes, but they'll spend ten times that amount to back a loser and more of the same if they think the other dude is going to win.

  • boatboy_srq on June 14, 2012 1:11 PM:

    @T2: once again, "Shopping" by PSB. 'Nuff said.

  • g on June 14, 2012 1:13 PM:

    The amount of money surely can't be spent on TV ads 24/7, can it? Unless the ads are produced by Lucasfilms or include top-drawer casts of movie stars or special effects.

    What are they going to do with all the money?

    Maybe it will engender one-upsmanship in the quality of political advertising. Sort of like the inflation of wedding invitation, we'll soon be receiving lovely hand-crafted cedar boxes with sealed chambers holding beach sand and shells, the negative campaign rhetoric presented in caligraphy upon vellum.

  • Bob on June 14, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Like I said, they will use it for bribes to buy votes. An undecided turns into a decided when you grease his palm with pretty green...

  • TCinLA on June 14, 2012 1:24 PM:

    One can also look to history, specifically the manner in which Julius Caesar bought the Roman Senate. We all know how that turned out. In fact, I think we might all be much closer than we think to discovering what living in the world of the Caesars was like, personally. Constitutional republics are fragile things, and when the Caesars who care nothing for the rules come along, this is what one gets.

    As for Sheldon Adelson, I think we can file him under "American Kapo." He's about as "Jewish" (i.e., principled, intelligent, concerned about morality, the health of the community, etc.) as my big toe.

  • PTate in MN on June 14, 2012 1:35 PM:

    I was shocked to learn that here in MN, the Koch brothers are funding opposition to MN senators who voted recently to build the Vikings stadium. And I know at least one young Republican on the University of Minnesota campus who had a great spring break "training session" paid for by wealthy sponsors. It's a reminder of how deeply the tendrils of corruption have dug into the political system.

    Consider the math. If you are a multi-billionaire willing to spend $1 billion yearly, you could pay $150,000 per annum, on average, to ~6660 individuals willing to do your bidding. Put differently, as an individual, you could buy the fealty of ~100 - 150 well-placed people per state (and, of course, some states are already in your pocket). With that kind of influence, you can do a lot of damage. Scott Walker is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Last night, I computed that if the US government appropriated all wealth over $50 million from the top 100 richest Americans, roughly $1 trillion would become available for other uses. Imagine if that money were used to stimulate actual, useful job creation, instead of being used by a handful of reactionaries to take over the US government.

    It is clear that that the super-rich like David and Richard Koch, Stanley Adelson, Richard Mellon Scaife don't want a nation that works for the likes of you and me. So it is time to start agitating to end such concentrations of individual wealth. Inequality destroys democracy. Think of the power that Grover Norquist has achieved through his "No Taxes" pledge. Could the 99% start a "No billionaires" pledge?

  • Josef K on June 14, 2012 1:47 PM:

    I can offer only one insight: France was a (relatively) stable monarchy for roughly 1,500 years and at various times led the western world in science and culture. And that all came crashing down in barely one afternoon in 1789.

    Food for thought.

  • Eric k on June 14, 2012 2:06 PM:

    Team America and Schtick,

    It isn't taxes that are driving Adelson, and I'm not stereotyping by saying this, he has said on many occasions that he is a 1 issue voter, he will do whatever takes to keep the settlements expanding, he probably thinks BiBi is a little too soft on the Palestinians.

  • st john on June 14, 2012 2:16 PM:

    Am I mistaken, or is gambling against Mormon dogma? From What Mormons Believe:

    "Mormon prophets and leaders have counseled the members over time, to avoid gambling of any type. Doing so, leads one away from righteousness and into the hands of Satan. The Mormon belief is that it is an addictive behavior and leads only to destructive habits and practices. It undermines the value of work and motivates one to think that they can get something for nothing. In time, the gambler will deny themselves, as well as their family the basic needs of life. They will oft times steal from others to finance their addiction, which in turn leads to stealing, robbery, etc."
    Isn't Romney's accepting gambling money from Adelson a contradiction of his "values?" Why is this not a topic of discussion?

  • Felicia on June 14, 2012 2:26 PM:

    @rea said:
    "At some point, there is simply no more TV time to buy, and constant ads may become more of an irritant to voters than something that persuades them."

    I think Tom Barrett and Rick Santorum would disagree with you.

  • Anne-Marie on June 14, 2012 3:46 PM:

    Suggestion/Solution for the U.S.A. Adopt 6-week election campaigns with limits on spending (as in Canada and the U.K.) and ban political advertising on T.V. (as in Australia)

  • Architeuthis on June 14, 2012 4:05 PM:

    @st john: Because Romney's overarching "values" are dollar values.

    Romney and his ilk are a step below organized crime in that at least a mafioso has to provide goods and services to turn a profit.

  • st john on June 14, 2012 4:12 PM:

    @Architeuthis: What this proves is that Romney will not inject his religious beliefs into the campaign or his Presidency. Well, that is a relief. /snark

  • Jenny in Missouri on June 14, 2012 7:35 PM:

    Obama has repeatedly expressed his literal belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and His power to give us eternal life. Why doesn't he spend a few hundred million dollars campaigning on that? There was an article in Time Magazine on how Mitt Romney lies because the Mormon faith forces its adherents to believe things that are clearly not true. Obama should focus exclusively on proving the truth of his Christianity and showing how it only allows him to make verifiable, factual statements.

  • Dooug on June 14, 2012 7:48 PM:

    Adelson's "net worth" may be $24.9 billion, but how much of that's in cash? How much of that "net worth" is in over-valued real estate? At any rate, let him waste his money; at least some copywriters may get something out of it.
    As for the tsunami of Super PAC cash that's heading our way, I reply - so? Walker outspent his opponent more than 10 to 1. 10% of the respondents in the exit polls said the reason they voted FOR Walker was because they believed recalls should be limited to "criminal misconduct" only. Walker got 53% of the vote and 10% of THAT is 5.3%. If one is willing to accept that those respondents were telling the truth, then spending that vast amount of money only managed to tie the election (53 - 5.3 = 47.7).
    Although there aren't numerous examples to base it on, it appears to me that the Republicans, to get anywhere near the spending levels of Wisconsin, will have to spend on the order of $10 BILLION in the November general elections. And that amount may only get them a close election.
    We Democrats know that "trickle down" theory doesn't work as applied to the nation's economy, perhaps it's time for the Republicans to learn that the "trickle down" approach in political campaign spending, even when applied in tsunami-like proportions, doesn't work either?
    At any rate, a lot of advertisers, copy writers, video and sound technicians are looking to have a very nice fourth quarter this year. Let's see, Xmas in Jamaica or the Bahamas? Or maybe Australia, it'll actually be summer there...

  • GUCCI 財布 on June 15, 2012 1:59 AM:

    小さくて精巧のかわいい女の子が使うことに似合ってのGUCCI 財布新作が待望の登場!中心となっているグッチ 長財布は超人気!!品質は非常にすばらしくて!好きならば、それなら私たちといっしょに見に行くだろう!!

  • beverly on August 16, 2012 7:37 PM:

    horrible waste of money. Go help some indigents around the world