2012 Campaign

The Presidential Candidates Rake in Millions from Rich Donors, While Decrying the Influence of Rich Donors


The Presidential Candidates Rake in Millions from Rich Donors, While Decrying the Influence of Rich Donors

Photograph by Jerome Favre/REA/Redux

Sheldon Adelson, the 78-year-old casino billionaire who is single-handedly keeping Newt Gingrich’s up-and-down campaign alive, thinks it’s terrible that rich executives like him can have such sway over the Presidential campaign. “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he told Forbes reporter Steven Bertoni in a new profile.

Mind you, Adelson doesn’t intend to act on this conviction. Instead, he says, he “might give $10 million or $100 million to Gingrich.”

It’s not that he wants to. He has to. “Because I know that guys like [George] Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades,” he tells Bertoni. “And they stay below the radar by creating a network of corporations to funnel their money. I have my own philosophy and I’m not ashamed of it. I gave the money because there is no other legal way to do it. I don’t want to go through 10 different corporations to hide my name. I’m proud of what I do and I’m not looking to escape recognition.”

Let’s take a look at this statement a piece at a time.

If Soros is trying to conceal that he’s a big-time donor to liberal candidates and causes, he’s really, really bad at it. The man talks about it constantly—so much so that there are various conspiracy theories on the right claiming Soros is bankrolling a shadowy worldwide movement to undermine … something. The details are kind of sketchy, but it’s apparently bad.

That aside, Adelson’s explanation that he’s giving millions to Gingrich to counter the millions Soros is giving to Democrats still doesn’t make much sense. The money he’s put into Gingrich’s Winning Our Future super PAC isn’t being used to combat Democrats but other Republicans, namely Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. One could argue Adelson is inadvertently aiding and abetting the Soroses of the world by doing Barack Obama’s work for him, free.

Adelson deserves credit for this, at least: As he points out, he’s giving his money in the open and not using tricks to conceal his influence. And we shouldn’t pick only on Adelson. He’s just the latest in a long line of people during this campaign season who have deployed the “everybody’s doing it” defense in an attempt to have it both ways—to self-righteously protest the corrupting force of money in politics and then avidly embrace the corruption, while feigning disgust at having to do so.

Gingrich called super PACs “totally irresponsible” just a few months ago, but hasn’t shunned the $11 million (and counting) Adelson has pumped into Winning Our Future.

Mitt Romney said he’d “like to have Super PACs disappear,” even as he benefits from the more than $30 million his supporters have put into the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC.

And then there’s President Obama. No one has more eloquently stated opposition to the power that big donors and corporations have over politicians. It is, Obama said, “a threat to our democracy. Every American business and industry deserves a seat at the table, but they don’t get a chance to buy every chair. We’ve seen what happens when they do. They put the entire economy at risk and every American might end up suffering.” The President’s advice? “You can’t let it happen. Don’t let them hijack your agenda.”

As it turns out, that was just talk. Obama now says it’s just fine for campaign staff and members of his cabinet to help his own super PAC, Priorities USA, rake in millions from wealthy donors. Following the script, the President says he wishes he didn’t have to, but everyone is doing it, so he has no choice.

“The challenge is, we’ve got some of these super PACs that have pledged to spend up to half-a-billion dollars to try to buy this election and what I’ve said consistently is, we’re not going to just unilaterally disarm,” Obama told WBTV in Charlotte, N.C.

At last, the President and the men who would replace him have found something they can agree on.

Kosova is Washington editor for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Later, Baby
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