Whatever Sheldon Wants

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.