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Adelson unleashed

E.J. Dionne proposes an alliance of public-spirited citizens to offset big super PAC spenders and destroy incentives for the very rich to buy the election. But could there ever be an alliance spirited enough to discourage a buyer like Sheldon Adelson?Adelson on Wednesday gave $10 million to the pro-Romney Super PAC Restoring Our Future. But Forbes reports the casino billionaire is now so intent on seeing Barack Obama defeated that further donations might be limitless. Thats presumably more than the $100 million he was willing to part with to put Newt Gingrich in the White House, and its all to keep the country from turning any more socialist than it already has in the past three-plus years.Socialism, or what some decry as redistribution of wealth, has clearly been good for Adelson. Forbes own figures show that since Obama took office, Adelson has made more money than just about any American.

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Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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See this: every one of the SPIEGEL correspondents spoken with throughout the country to discuss Obama's achievements and to paint a portrait of the current state of the United States put it this way: America's internal divisions have reached a new, worrisome stage. Proposed legislation that would normally be uncontroversial has been blocked for years, while senior positions in the judiciary and in government agencies have remained unfilled. Necessary supplementary budgets are only being approved at the last minute, and only because not approving them could result in a national bankruptcy.In this climate, no president stands a chance of shaping the world according to his platform. In 2011, Obama is dealing with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that refuses to budge even a single millimeter. The civil, democratic concept of compromise has been ruined, the concept has become a taboo for Republicans. The Republicans have become so stubborn that they are even blocking bills identical to legislation they proposed in the past.As a result Washington, already long disparaged as an aloof, out-of-touch capital, has become an object of hate for many citizens, and the epitome of mediocrity and incompetence. The sharp-tongued comedians and commentators on US television blame blatant racism, conjuring up a Republican front against the black man in the White House. It's a malicious accusation, but there are some indications that it might be true.

Americans of good will need to unite to defeat Republicans in as many races as possible.Remember that Jerry Brown was elected governor in California even though he was out-spent by his opponent.

thanx jimmy mac. That article is a great analysis if where we are. i intend to use it to call my extended family to the values of their immigrant forebears

Hello, Dominic Preziosi,Have we met? Are you new at Commonweal?

Are Anna Wintour & Sarah Jessica Parker part of Dionne's alliance? I guess only if you have $40,000?

Taking Jeff Landry's comment above (6/15, 12:06 am) to mean that Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker each gave $40,000 to the Obama campaign (someone please correct me if I'm wrong about that), I think that actually helps illustrate the magnitude of the threat to democratic self-rule posed by the combination of the "Citizens United" decision and our current extreme levels (by historical standards) of wealth and income inequality.If Wintour gave $40,000 to the Obama campaign, that means it would take equal donations from another 249 glossy magazine editors to equal Adelson's check this month. Similarly, it would require $40,000 checks from another 249 of Parker's Hollywood peers to equal Adelson's $10,000,000.To put it in terms closer to the experience of most of us, Adelson's net worth is about $25,000,000,000. That means his $10,000,000 check to Romney's campaign is the equivalent of someone with a net worth (not an annual income) of $100,000 writing a check for $40. To equal Adelson's $10,000,000 donation would require 250,000 individuals with $100,000 in wealth to write $40 checks. To give some idea of that magnitude---Lincoln NE, Trenton NJ, Fort Wayne IN, Jersey City NJ and St. Petersburg FL each has a total population of roughly 250,000.Adelson has recently said he's prepared to give up to $100,000,000 to Romney's campaign. It would require 2,500,000 individual $40 contributions to match that---or roughly the entire population of Chicago IL. And the majority of American households (not individuals) have a net worth less than $100,000.When even the obscenely wealthy like the Parkers and Wintours are mere bit players in the financing of our elections, it gives you some idea of how badly distorted our political economy is.

I'm troubled by the way that political funding has morphed, too - not least because the wall between Super PACs and campaigns doesn't strike me as a healthy situation. But, just to play devil's advocate ... if, say, George Soros was to counter Adelson by donating $10 million to an Obama Super PAC with the promise of $100 million and/or unlimited funding, we'd still have the problem (if it is a problem - I suspect it probably is) of disproportionate funding by billionaires, but at least the playing field would be leveled. I have no idea whether and how much Soros has donated or will donate. What I am 100% certain of is that Obama operatives are canvassing billionaires for funding. Romney just happened to land a whale.

@Jim Pauwels (6/15, 9:13 am) Just to be clear, I wasn't making a partisan point. I was making a broader point (that I think we share) about the toxic combination of extreme wealth inequality and unlimited campaign financing on our democracy.(The partisan point is that such a situation disproportionately benefits the party that most identifies itself with the interests of the obscenely wealthy.)

In response to Luke Hill's point @6:10 am:The point isn't that Wintour and Parker each personally gave $40,000; nay, the point is that just to get in the room with the President, each person who was invited (and you can imagine that crowd) had to give $40,000 to get in to the room. $40,000 for a dinner. That is the key distinction, in my view. The Campaign fiance laws (McCain-Feingold) are not structured to proscribe spending for spending's sake, but rather spending for the sake of influence or "the appearance of corruption". The Wintour/Parker mdoel is, in my view, more prone to the appearance of corruption because access to the President is being auctioned off. However, IF the Citizens United ruling is strengthened so that the independent expenditures are, truly, independent, then I think that it is a preferable model to the Wintour/Parker model because you avoid the unseemingly spectacle of, say, the President's campaign releasing an ad re: Bain Capital on the same night that he is glad-handing in the home of Blackrock Capital's managing partner. Or jetting from a speech in Cleveland extolling his economic vision to hobnobbing with a bunch of rich Hollywood types. In other words, let Sheldon Adelson spend as much money as he can on any losing horse he wants (Mr. Gingrich), so long as those expenditures are independent. Let George Soros spend as much as he wants on any losing horse he wants, so long as those expenditures are truly independent. Let Apple spend as much as it wants on any losing horse it wants, and let the AFL-CIO spend as much as it wants on any losing horse, so long as those expenditures are truly independent. I trust my own, and my fellow citizens', intellects enough to think that they'll see through the fluff.The key, I recognize, is if the expenditures are truly independent (and I recognize that they are not in reality very independent right now); if they are, then I think you can avoid the compromising appearances that we have now of access to the President (among others) being auctioned off.Regarding your last point in response to Jim Pauwels: "The partisan point is that such a situation disproportionately benefits the party that most identifies itself with the interests of the obscenely wealthy." Which party are you referring to? Last I checked, campaign donations at, say, Bain Capital were running 2-1 to Obama over Romney.

To clarify, the $40,000 for last night's dinner was just to get in the room; it doesn't include the campaign contributions over and above that amount that he collected. Then there is the "bundler" issue.

In 1972, I contributed $25 to some guy's campaign and got no access at all, just two decades of solicitations for more money. At that rate, they'll keep after Sheldon for eight million years.

@Jeff Landry (6/15, 10:10 am) Thanks for the reply, and for explaining how a $40,000 contribution is somehow a greater threat to democracy than a contribution 250 times that size.As for which party most identifies itself with the interests of the obscenely wealthy? That strikes me as one of those questions that if you have to ask, then it's likely that no reasonable answer will satisfy you.Finally, as for campaign donation from Bain Capital, perhaps it's time to check again. According to*: "Employees of Bain Capital and Bain & Company have given more than $152,000 to Obama's campaign and the joint fundraising operation he runs with the Democratic National Committee. The analysis accounts for those donors giving $200 or more.... Obama has also collected $16,000 from employees of Bain & Company, the consulting firm that started Romney's career and helped spawn Bain Capital."Continuing, "Okay, it's all a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.5 million given to Romney's campaign or Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting him, by employees of Bain Capital (the private equity company founded and run by Romney) and Bain & Company (the business consulting firm where Romney got his start and where he returned as CEO, briefly, in the early 1990s). We found that employees of the firm have given the Romney campaign at least $154,000, and the Restore Our Future super PAC received at least $2.4 million. Employees of Bain & Company have chipped in another $123,050 to his campaign. "*

His 10 million was to buy access for a foreign country. I bet China is wondering if 10-100 million will do them any good. Let's keep remembering some of the Supreme Court justices can't project the consequences of their decisions beyond two weeks. Partisan lite weights.

"Thanks for the reply, and for explaining how a $40,000 contribution is somehow a greater threat to democracy than a contribution 250 times that size."Thanks for completely sidestepping the argument with a strawman.

@Jeff Landry (6/15, 12:43 pm) Actually, I thought I was getting to the heart of the matter. You want access to a presidential candidate? Sheldon Adelson has it...far beyond what Sarah Jessica Parker does.If you have suggestions for a situation in which "the Citizens United ruling is strengthened so that the independent expenditures are, truly, independent", I for one am all ears. Given that Senate Republicans blocked discussion (let alone passage) of the DISCLOSE Act*, bonus points if you've got a meaningful proposal that has demonstrated support from 20% of the Republican caucus in Congress.P.S. I thought the information was more or less straight to the point too, but of course YMMV.*

Jeff =-Do you actually think that saying "Hi!" at a cocktail party can have more influence on a professional politician than giving $10M "independently? You jest, surely. No way will $40K buy you the right to corner the President for even 5 minutes at a party to lobby your pet political cause. Look at it this way -- suppose you were the rich guy and truly wanted to contribute "independently" -- wouldn't you do it anonymously? That would be the only truly independent political gift. Or why do you think it would be necessary that the candidate know who you are for you gift to be independenet? (And, yes, if it were really independent, it would be a pure gift.)

"But, just to play devils advocate if, say, George Soros was to counter Adelson by donating $10 million to an Obama Super PAC with the promise of $100 million and/or unlimited funding, wed still have the problem (if it is a problem I suspect it probably is) of disproportionate funding by billionaires, but at least the playing field would be leveled. "And that would be $200 million between the two of them that could have been so much better spent going to charity or any number of more useful purposes .In NYC, we know all about how wealth can buy an election. Our Mayor Bloomberg, though I think he turned out to be a better than average mayor, essentially bought his first term. He also spent more than $100 million of his own money to buy a problematic 3rd term (we voters had not that long ago twice approved a referendum imposing term limits; he found a technicality to sidestep the law we all passed. So we passed it a 3rd time in 2010, hopefully he won't able to get around it again). The Governor of Montana wrote an op-ed describing how special corporate interests are already undermining democracy in his state in the aftermath of Citizens United.

"@Jeff Landry (6/15, 12:43 pm) Actually, I thought I was getting to the heart of the matter. You want access to a presidential candidate? Sheldon Adelson has itfar beyond what Sarah Jessica Parker does."Adelson's donation goes to the super PAC, not the Romney campaign, and in theory there is a firewall between the two. I don't know if SJP's $40K goes to a Super PAC or to the campaign. Just speaking for myself, it would reassure me about the future of democracy if Sarah Jessica Parker *isn't* able to pick up the phone and get President Obama or any president on the line.To keep all the numbers in perspective: I've read that the Obama campaign's fundraising goal - and I believe this is exclusive of super PAC donations - for the 2012 election was $1 billion. I read a couple of months ago that they may not make it - but they may end up around $750 million. I believe the Romney campaign is not expected to get that much, although that may have changed recently. When we're tossing around numbers like that, $10 million is still a lot of money, but it's not a game changer.

@Jim Pauwels (6/15, 4:53 pm) Thanks for the response. To my mind, the finest explication of what the Citizens United decision has done to our politics, and what it means for campaign financing, and how separate SuperPACs are from candidate campaigns has been done by one of our own, Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.Anyone who's watched even a fraction of Colbert's SuperPAC skits knows that the line between candidate campaigns and SuperPACS can be, and often is, virtually nonexistent. I agree: $10 million is in the neighborhood of 1% of the total likely to be expended by either campaign. Of course, Mr. Adelson has said he may contribute as much as $100 million towards the Romney campaign's SuperPAC(s). If he does, then he'd be solely responsible for roughly 10% of the GOP financing of the campaign.The "game changer" is the Citizens United decision. The greater damage will not be done in the presidential campaigns---which are such high-profile campaigns with such well-known candidates that there's a limit to money's influence on the outcome. The greater damage will be done in Congressional campaigns where a $1 million check can have an outsized impact on the result, not to mention the impact on state legislative and judicial races.In all cases, the beneficiaries are the obscenely wealthy. It is yet another example in our politics that reminds me of Archbishop Tutu's observation: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. "

Luke - I'm pretty sure that's a mistranslation, and Archbishop Tutu actually said, "... if a *donkey* has its foot on the tail of a mouse ..." :-)I don't want to come across as a defender of Citizens United, but it didn't invent the problem of outsize influence of and access to politicians and government officials by the rich. It may (or may not - cf Newt Gingrich's campaign as Exhibit A for the defense) have exacerbated an already-existing problem.Ultimately, the currency of any election is not money but votes. The Tea Party figured this out in 2010. There is a connection between money and votes, but as you note, money may experience diminishing returns after a certain point. What's more, it's not always clear which is cause and which is effect; quite a bit of political money seems to follow, rather than spur, political success (which suggests that access may be what is really being purchased). My view of the current presidential election is that both candidates and parties will raise gargantuan sums of money, and both are playing by the rules set by McCain-Feingold and Citizens United. I think it's too early to determine whether the playing field has been tilted in one direction or the other. And some day, somehow, we may figure out how to build a better campaign-funding system than what we've got.

Where is unagidon? I bet he'd have something interesting to contribute.

@Jim Pauwels (6/15, 5:40 pm) Thanks for the response (and the wit).I'm not sure how Gingrich's campaign would be Exhibit A for the defense of Citizens United when it seems pretty clear that the only thing keeping him in the race for his last few weeks was Adelson's checkbook.Furthermore, one needn't think that Citizens United invented the problem of outsize influence by and for the rich to come to the conclusion that it exacerbates that problem.I'm not sure how the Tea Party, financed by the likes of Dick Armey, the Koch Brothers and the Club for Growth, is an example of electoral success in the absence of money. It's not a partisan point I'm making. As I've tried to point out multiple times now in this thread, the playing field *has* been tilted by Citizens United---in favor of the obscenely wealthy.

Hi, Luke, my only point about Adelson and Gingrich is that all that money resulted in very few electoral votes. I don't think it was a good investment.

John McCain, on the NPR newshour on Thursday, made the point that since much of Adelson's tidal wave of cash comes not so much from Nevada as from Macao (which out-Vegases Vegas, even to the point of stealing their Venetian gondoliers with high salaries), we now have the prospect of foreign money making its way into the elections of God's Own Country. He might have added (though he didn't) that the money is not just foreign, but un-American, corrupt, Chinese communist money. What hath Mao wrought? I hope John Roberts et al. were listening.

The Wikipedia profile of Adelson is suggestive. His early career certainly includes elements of up-by-his-own-bootstraps entrepreneurial success, and he shares that curious trait of a number of famously rich people: he's a college dropout. But what catapulted him from the merely super-rich to the grotesquely wealthy - he is said to be the eighth richest person in the United States - are his ventures in the gaming industry. He used his first pile to buy the old Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, extended that brand to a new convention center (no doubt in part to help him further cash in on the enormous Las Vegas-based trade show he owned, COMDEX), then sold off COMDEX, knocked down the Sands, and built the Venetian. He then leveraged his wealth and status as a gaming player to open other casinos and resorts in Bethlehem, PA, then Macau, then Singapore. According to the Wikipedia article, the Macau project has increased his personal wealth by a factor of 14.Certainly, in the Eyebrow-Raising Coziness Between Private Industry and Government League, the gaming industry is a perennial World Series winner. Government issues the gaming licenses, which frequently amount to a de facto monopoly; the casino rakes in the cash, quite a bit of it from regular joes; and then government collects a slice of the revenues that the gambling activity generates. As state and local governments become ever more ravenous for income, the importance of state-licensed gambling increases. If I submitted a proposal to open a casino in Illinois (we are about to expand our number of gaming licenses), I would be laughed out of the building, because I don't know anyone. Like the young Abner Mikva, I'm a nobody that nobody sent. At least in Illinois, you have to be a player just to play. Those requirements, and the type of behavior it fosters, may extend beyond Illinois: the Wikipedia article reports that Adelson's company is under federal investigation for bribery in the Macau project.He also founded and owns a newspaper in Israel, which he gives away for free. Apparently it now leads the Israeli newspaper industry in weekday circulation. The article doesn't indicate whether it's profitable, but if he's figured out a way to make money in that business by giving away content - more power to him. Anyway, my take on him is that he has figured out the magic formula for profiting via government connections. It's really a very old type - a sturdy perennial.

Nickolas Clifford points out the Macau connection is really a China connection with China money. . The US investigation of Adelson bribery, rates with the shock of gambling in Casablanca. His investment made 14 times? When the Chinese expropriate the Casino he'll call on US carriers to threaten China so I have a Hallmark card I'll send him. Romney has five sons to send.

Gov. Edwin Edwards of Louisiana went to jail for years for selling a casino license. He just got out. Power corrupts . . .

"John McCain...made the point..."He has got to get over the 2008 election. Nobody forced him to use the public financing system. And despite what he thinks he did not lose because his opponent outspent him by a quarter-billion dollars. He lost for other reasons, not the least of which is his apparent hawkishness towards our most important creditor and trading partner.

@Luke Hill (and others):The starting point for my comment is existing campaign finance law (McCain-Feingold, primarily). That law is written with the intention of stopping corruption or the "appearance of corruption." The single most corruptible part of money in politics, I would think everyone would agree, is paying for access to policy makers. In that vein, I think the types of fundraisers that Wintour/Parker hosted the other night are ripe for the "appearance of corruption" (or maybe in your view, only when Republicans host them). $40,000 may not be a lot to some people, but I sure as hell don't know many folks that have that kind of cash to drop for a dinner. So let's not minimize it, huh?I am not denying, as I said in my original post, that the present scheme re: independent expenditures needs to be strengthened and given real teeth. I would start by prohibiting the giver from affiliating with the campaign in any way, i.e. attending rallies, etc. I would police the access such persons have to the candidate.Bottom line: I just don't buy the histrionics about SuperPACs being, in essence, an existential threat to the future of democracy, or some such nonsense. First of all, that view seems to assume a very low trust in our fellow citizens' abilities. Take the recent WI recall election. Many (primarily liberals) bemoaned the SuperPAC money flowing into WI, yet at the same time, the exit polling showed that most voters (even a large number of union households) voted as they did based on their view of the fairness of recalls. The latter point suggests, to me, that money played very little in shaping public opinion (and I say that as someone who agrees with Scott Walker). Secondly, Adelson's record is pretty dim - he didn't get Gingrich, and I'm still not convinced he'll get Romney into the White House. So what will your take be in that case? Is the current system ideal? By no means. But I simply see no evidence that it poses the threat to democracy that you are posing, at least as opposed to paying for direct access to candidates.

By the way, Luke, I'm just wondering - are you comfortable with the President glad-handing in the home of the managing partner of BlackRock? And here is my source for the assertion that Obama has outraised Romney:

" I would police the access such persons have to the candidate."There is a Constitutional right of free assembly.

@Jeff Landry (6/16, 4:50 pm) I'm surprised you'd use that article as a source to back up your assertion that Obama has raised more money from Bain than Romney has when the author writes, "...Romney himself has received more contributions from his former firm than Obama has...".There's very little about our current campaign financing system with which I'm comfortable.I agree with you, and Jim Pauwels and others that there are limits to the impact money can have on election campaigns. I think that's particularly true for high visibility campaigns, because voters then receive all sorts of information from all sorts of additional sources. Where I expect the Citizens United ruling to have the greatest impact is in lower profile races: Congressional seats in medium to large states, where each individual House race receives far less media coverage, state legislative races, judicial races (in states where judges are elected). So, for example, it's entirely possible that $25 million (say) from one or a handful of wealthy, like-minded individuals, strategically targeted on close House races could determine control of the House of Representatives.I'm not predicting that outcome, or saying it's likely. I'm just saying the obscenely wealthy are more likely to determine the outcome of those races than they are a presidential race.

P.S. What Ann Olivier said (6/16, 5:45 pm). Sheldon Adelson has the same constitutional rights we all do. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Luke -1. At the time I looked at the article, the numbers were different. Of course, if we're picking quotes, I'm interested you skipped this: "Democrats have accepted more political donations than Republicans from executives at Bain Capital, complicating the lefts plan to attack Mitt Romney for his record at the private-equity firm." And then there are the numbers showing Obama has accepted more contributions from Wall St. than any other GOP candidate - and leads W. by $5,000,000.2. There is, of course, a meaningful legal distinction between the term "police" and the term "prohibit".3. I find it ironic, indeed, you and Ann rallying 'round First Amendment rights. That is, after all, the source for the Citizens United ruling. So you can associate with whoever you want with, but can't spend your own money as you see fit?4. Re: your concern of big spending in "lower profile" cases, call me crazy, but wouldn't the fact that a race garners someone like Adelson's attention (and hence the accompanying media coverage of his spending) likely imply that such a race isn't quite so low profile, at least not for long? Furthermore, I actually find people more educated and involved in smaller races, where you can meet the candidate and press them on, say, their plan to fix New Orleans' decrepit sewer system.

Jeff --The problem with Citizens United is not the Constitutional provision that citizens/persons have the right of peaceable assembly. The problem with Citizens United, as I've said ad nauseam, is the statutory definition of corporations as persons.

"The problem with Citizens United, as Ive said ad nauseam, is the statutory definition of corporations as persons."Citizens United didn't establish that definition. I think it worth revisiting a comment by Prof. Rick Garnett on a prior related comment thread:"More generally, it strikes me that the Citizens United that exists in the minds of its critics tends not to actually resemble the case very closely. The decision did not, for example, invent a new and controversial corporations are people doctrine; it has been true for ages (and correct) that the Constitution constrains the government when it regulates the activities of corporations, or of natural persons acting through the corporate form. The decision did not depart from a hundred years of precedent, as one sometimes hears, but instead overruled a 20-year-old case that was itself an outlier. It did not, as is sometimes charged, invalidate restrictions on contributions to candidates. It certainly did not (and was not decided in order to) benefit Republicans or opposed to Democrats, or big business as opposed to Main Street; there are corporate entities tribes, labor unions, advocacy organizations . . . not to mention newspapers, magazines, and networks engaging in political speech and spending across the political spectrum."

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