Political Animal


December 03, 2012 9:38 AM Whatever Sheldon Wants

By Ed Kilgore

One of the things about the pace of contemporary American politics is that it’s dangerously easy to get used to outrageous developments. That’s how I feel, anyway, about the post-Citizens United atmosphere for campaign finance, and the ability of super-donors to exert a degree of influence that would have embarrassed Mark Hanna.

At HuffPost, Peter Stone has a piece on Sheldon Adelson that kind of illustrates this point. It seems Adelson’s then-preposterous claim early in the 2012 cycle that he’d spend $100 million personally to beat Barack Obama wasn’t so preposterous: he may have actually spent $150 million. We’ve all gotten used to Adelson and his eccentricities since it became obvious he was personally keeping Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign afloat long after it had reached its natural expiration date. But I encourage you to forget all preconceptions and just read Stone’s piece and ask yourself if Sheldon’s the sort of guy whose preoccupations—which Stone at least believes affected Mitt Romney’s policy positions and political strategy tangibly—are likely to have a healthy or unhealthy impact on his beneficiaries.

Indeed, one of the good things about Adelson—his relatively high degree of transparency about his political donations and why he provides them—makes this issue kind of unavoidable. Adelson fears prosecution in connection with the overseas gambling business that has made him so insanely rich; he hates unions; and he is deeply committed to a particular political faction (and an important political journal) in a foreign country that receives crucial financial and military support from the United States. If you look at immensely rich political donors over the years, some have been politically very naive and essentially just like to be known as players and/or want access in case they ever need it; most others have been happy to identify with the party that represents their general interests. Adelson has very, very specific wants and needs, and particularly so long as there is an open Republican presidential nomination in the immediate future, he’s in a position personally to bankroll a candidate or two who is certain to pay attention to them.

For a reminder of that reality, check out this passage from Kenneth Vogel’s Politico piece on 2016 prospects sucking up to big donors:

A week after Election Day, three Republican governors mentioned as 2016 presidential candidates — Bobby Jindal, John Kasich and Bob McDonnell — each stopped by the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino to meet privately with its owner Sheldon Adelson, a man who could single-handedly underwrite their White House ambitions.
Planning a presidential campaign used to mean having coffee with county party chairs in their Iowa or New Hampshire living rooms. The courting of Adelson, a full four years out from 2016, demonstrates how super PAC sugar daddies have become the new must-have feature for White House wannabes….
While he hasn’t indicated a favorite for 2016, Adelson has told people close to him that he prefers a candidate with “executive experience” — potentially ruling out support for possible campaigns by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who visited Adelson days after being tapped as Romney’s vice presidential running mate, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

If you are Jindal, Kasich or McConnell, backing from Adelson could instantly create a viable presidential candidacy—not to mention align them with a rainmaker who’s proven he’ll stick with a candidate even when they have been left for dead multiple times.

So it’s pretty safe to say that Sheldon Adelson’s influence on American politics is very likely to increase rather than decrease over the next four years, and again: we’re talking about him because he’s willing to talk about his motivations. Lord only knows what we’d find out if other super-donors were as forthcoming.

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.


  • c u n d gulag on December 03, 2012 9:56 AM:

    The old coot is also almost 80 years old, so if I were a Republican Presidential hopeful, I'd be trying to figure out how to tastefully ask for my campaign money sooner, rather than later.
    Call it a "Lay-away Plan," or something.

    Also too - Shel might also be watching the 2016 race from inside a Federal or International prison.

    And that's an additional reason to ask for the money now!

    Also three - Having $150 million dollars of couch cushion money lying around to spend on influencing elections, is exactly why we need to tax the living shite out of the super-rich.
    Ike's 91% on that bracket sounds about right.

  • Altoid on December 03, 2012 9:56 AM:

    "Adelson has very, very specific wants and needs"

    So did Rupert Murdoch. And he got exactly what he wanted back in the day, ramrodded by Newt Gingrich; complete overhauls of rules on media concentration and cross-platform ownership. That may be the ur-deal of this kind, at least in the contemporary era.

  • Fess on December 03, 2012 10:34 AM:

    c u n d gulag: best post you've ever written!

  • Celui on December 03, 2012 10:37 AM:

    Let's see: "The finest government money can buy" now needs to be amended with the postscript: "...but only for the wealthy." Citizens United has to go, and the voting public has to be educated about the vast corruptive influences that buying power creates. Let's re-read accounts of Boss Tweed et al.

  • MuddyLee on December 03, 2012 10:52 AM:

    On the other hand, center-left groups can use Adelson's high profile against the republicans - and it could start NOW. Internet ads such as "Why would one man spend $150 million of his own money to fight against minor changes in the tax laws of America?" and "Why does this American spend huge sums to provide a free newspaper in Israel whose main purpose is to criticize the Obama administration?". Adelson should be demonized, along with Norquist, Rove, the Koch Brothers, and the Swift Boat guy. Shine enough light on these guys and ultimately even the mainstream media has to start talking about how they have corrupted the political process - and no, union spending isn't the same thing. Unions have members who are people.

  • Melissa on December 03, 2012 10:57 AM:

    In the penultimate paragraph, I think you mean McDonnell, not McConnell.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on December 03, 2012 11:19 AM:

    What MuddyLee said , You can't start too soon .
    See: Romney, Willard and Bain
    Defined early and often .
    I saw it work in Florida with the Republicans getting out in front in the gubernatorial defining the Dem candidate and all Dem house and senate candidates long before the primary handed us Rick Scott.
    We all know how that worked out.

  • Jeff In Ohio on December 03, 2012 11:23 AM:

    Oh please, Mr. Sheldon, take John Kasich.

    Ohio begs you.

  • freelance writer on December 03, 2012 11:37 AM:

    The idea behind this article is excellent, and for me the first item is the real gem here: most of the people spend their entire lives only consuming what is created by others, and creating nothing themselves--or never sharing what they create, which is better than not creating at all, though not the best they could do. http://writerscash.com/

  • Robert on December 03, 2012 11:47 AM:

    I seem to remember that old saying "That giant sucking sound you hear, are our jobs going to Mexico". Now, that giant sucking sound you hear is the 2016 wanna be's sucking up to the teat...the elbowing and eye gouging starts in 3..2..1.

  • low-tech cyclist on December 03, 2012 12:07 PM:

    For those who didn't get the reference, Mark Hanna was a Gilded Age multimillionaire industrialist and U.S. Senator who was second to none during that era as a political kingmaker and mover and shaker.


    It's hard to imagine how much influence-peddling it would have taken to embarrass Mark Hanna.

  • Citizen Alan on December 03, 2012 12:15 PM:

    It's ironic to see that Citizen's United turned out to be a double-edged sword for the GOoPers. Yes, it gave them a big cash advantage over the Dems, but it also sabotaged them by allowing every nutjob billionaire in the country to fund a boutique candidate who has no chance to win but who can promote said billionaire's crazy pet ideas. Romney was damaged goods by the end of the primary because he spent months debasing himself in order to compete with a pack of morons and lunatics all bankrolled by a few rich crackpots. The GOoPers have always struggled with being the "rich man's party," but if conventional wisdom redefines that term as being "the party of one specific rich man," that's just going destroy the brand completely. I mean honestly -- can anyone look upon the face of Sheldon Adelson and not be repulsed?

    On a related note, one wonders how things would have played out if, say, George Soros or Bill Gates had funded Jon Huntsman or some other quasi-moderate Republican as lavishly as Adelson funded both Gingrich and later Romney.

  • nycweboy on December 03, 2012 12:18 PM:

    Look, I'm no fan of oligarchs, but it seems to me that Adelson is a remarkable example of throwing enormous of good money after bad, to little real result. All of that money he gave in the 2012 cycle... and Romney lost. In fact Gingrich, who Adelson preferred and showered with funds, lost first. Adelson shows little real understanding of what moves the electorate en masse to elect people,, comes across terribly in interviews, and operates in a business sphere not particularly held up as one of the brighter, or enlightened places to do business. Gambling is an ugly business, and Adelson in many ways is example A of what you become when your life is spent taking things from people in such a bald, unpleasant way. That Jindal and others feel the need to court his funding is probably a pretty distasteful enterprise for them, and I'm not convinced they dream of a world where their success depends on Adelson and he, in turn, gets favors back. At least not in some way that can be attached to them. I think Adelson is more a story about how wealth does not provide brains or wisdom, and more money often means more creative ways to waste it. I'm also a believer of karma enough to believe that nothing good will come to Adelson or his heirs, in the long run. Not that I wish ill for them... but I'm kind of old fashioned in my views of people who make their money from such... well, soulless, endeavors.

  • DCSusie on December 03, 2012 12:34 PM:

    What are Mrs. Adelson's political leanings? Because from the looks of ol' Shel, I think there is a good chance that the Mrs. is going to be making the decisions come 2016.

  • schtick on December 03, 2012 12:41 PM:

    My idea of political heaven would be for a limit of campaigning to one year from the date of the vote, citizens united repealed, automatic raises for office holders, benefits and retirement held until 65 or 70 and the poticians not receiving them until they are actually retired, and last but not least, politicians punching a timeclock for their pay, with a camera to be be sure THEY are the ones punching the clock. Let them live at least close to the rest of us and maybe they would actually do their job for a change.

  • jjm on December 03, 2012 12:47 PM:

    Umm. What exactly did he win for his huge expenditures?

    Not the presidency for Romney. Not the nomination for Gingrich.

    What he got was a great public backlash against him and his billionaire ilk.

  • paul on December 03, 2012 1:09 PM:

    For his expenditures, he got the fact that The Village is still talking about deficit reduction and austerity instead of jobs and taxing people like him properly (which is not 39%). He would have like more, but then again he may still get it.

  • TCinLA on December 03, 2012 1:52 PM:

    Since Meyer Lansky's, er, I mean Sheldon Addledson's record of political success is so outstanding, let him continue to support the talentless wannabe circus clowns that are Republican office holders. The man should be commended for his daily effort to debunk the ancient anti-Semitic slur that all Jews are geniuses.

  • James E. Powell on December 03, 2012 1:54 PM:


    The fact that it didn't work in this presidential election this year doesn't give me confidence that it won't work in other elections in other years.

    After all, it is people like Adelson who gave us governors like Brewer, Walker, and Kasich, along with vote-suppressing state officials like Husted.

    They aren't always going to lose.

  • Steve P on December 03, 2012 2:22 PM:

    Quite possible that none of these people have the slightest intent of being President; they only want to board the lucrative, exciting gravy train that is Running For President--and Sucker Adelson with his track record of backing laughable losers like Newt and Rmoney is just the right touch.

    You could almost think it was like a political reboot of "The Producers": grifters getting money from suckers to run for an office they can never achieve, making promises they know they'll never have to keep.

  • boatboy_srq on December 03, 2012 2:42 PM:

    What really sticks in my craw is this:

    When, exactly, did casino moguls, long (and with at least reasonable cause) reviled as scum for encouraging gambling and for fleecing their "customers" simply by the nature of their business, suddenly become righteous, upstanding "job creating" citizens? There was a time when the likes of Adelson couldn't get near any self-respecting pol, who couldn't stand to be near them for the stench of theft and chicanery. Now it seems they can buy their Very Own Candidates™ and nobody so much as utters a peep.

    I realise NV is a special case, and that casinos employ thousands of folks nationwide, but neither of those things is an excuse.

  • exlibra on December 03, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Adelson looks like, and is, a poisonous toad. Check out "his" entry in Wikipedia: