Is There Any Limit To Super-PAC Spending?

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.”

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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.