The Shame of American Politics:
GOP Presidential Hopefuls Trek to Las Vegas for Adelson Blessing

by Juan Cole
April 1, 2014

  A series of pro-corporation Supreme Court decisions and the latter’s disingenuous equation of money with speech, including Citizens United, have turned the United States from a democracy to a plutocracy. It is not even a transparent plutocracy, since black money (of unknown provenance) has been allowed by SCOTUS to flood into elections. These developments are not only deadly to democracy, they threaten our security. It is increasingly difficult to exclude foreign money from US political donations. We not only come to be ruled by the billionaires, but even by foreign billionaires with foreign rather than American interests at heart.

  The most frightening scenario is for corrupt money to dictate our politics. Casinos may no longer be mobbed up the way they were in the 1950s and 1960s, but they are still significantly implicated in government corruption.

  The perniciousness of this growing plutocracy was on full display on Saturday, as GOP governors Scott Walker, Chris Christie and John Kasich trekked off to Las Vegas in an attempt to attract hundreds of millions in campaign donations from sleazy casino lord Sheldon Adelson. Since Adelson is allegedly worth $37 billion, he could fund the Republican side of a presidential election (which costs $1 billion) all by himself. In the last presidential election he is said to have donated $100 million.

  There is no way to mince words here. These practices are absolutely disgusting.

  The problems with having one man have $37 billion and with his ability to buy candidates their elections are that any one man might be extremely eccentric. What if he wanted to start the Iraq War up again? Do we have to do it?

  The case of Adelson exhibits all these issues of corruption and eccentricity. Much of his current fortune is recent and derives from the Macao casino, and Adelson has admitted to “likely” breaking Federal rules against using bribes to do business in other countries. (A reference to allegations that his company was involved in rewarding legislators of the Chinese Communist Party for supporting his Macao project.) There was a time when this admission alone would put the donor off limits for mainstream politicians.

  Adelson has kooky political ideas. He is a determined union-buster.

  He actually mused in public about nuking Iran:  You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say ‘OK, let it go.’ So there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles in the middle of the desert that doesn’t hurt a soul, maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever”

  He was also a proponent of the Iraq war and of “staying the course” (staying in Iraq forever)?

  Adelson is a big backer of Israeli far rightwing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and has said that granting Palestinians their own state is akin to Russian roulette. He owns the right-wing Israeli newspaper Israel Ha-Yawm.

  What if a billionaire from a religious cult (other than the Likud Party I mean) was allowed to buy our politics, say a Moonie? What implications would that have for our policy toward North Korea?

  Adelson has a right to vote and advocate for his candidates. But the idea that he and his like should choose the next president is too awful to contemplate. One person, one vote isn’t one person, $100 million worth of votes. That isn’t democracy…


Adelson Wooed by Republican Presidential Prospects at Vegas Meet
By Julie Bykowicz Mar 29, 2014

  Three Republican governors eyeing the White House, including embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, were in Las Vegas yesterday to court Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino owner who could give any of their eventual campaigns a major financial boost.

  The governors met one-on-one with Adelson, 80, and addressed a conference of the Republican Jewish Coalition, an advocacy group that counts him as a board member and benefactor. More than 400 of the coalition’s top donors and those seeking support from them gathered this weekend at Adelson’s convention center-hotel-casino complex, part of his international Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS)

  Christie, who twice won the governorship in a Democratic-leaning state, pitched himself to the group as an example Republicans can follow in efforts to broaden the party’s appeal. He said that in his re-election victory last November, exit polls showed he received 51 percent of New Jersey’s Hispanic vote and boosted his share of African-American support to 21 percent from 7 percent four years earlier.

  “We need to go out to places where we’re uncomfortable and to listen,” he said. “Where you spend your time is the greatest indicator of respect.”

  Like Christie, Governors John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin offered themselves as exemplary Republican candidates.

  Asked about a 2016 presidential run by an audience member, Walker, seeking re-election to his post in November, said that “any Republican who is talking about anything other than” the 2014 midterm elections “is doing a disservice not only to the party but the country.”


Outsider Needed

  He added, referring to the White House race: “We need to send people from outside of Washington.”

  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addressed a coalition dinner March 27 and also met privately with Adelson.

  Kasich gave a lunchtime talk yesterday, repeatedly directing his eye contact and comments to “Sheldon,” who was in the crowd.

  Kasich concluded his remarks by thanking “Sheldon” for the invitation and said, “I don’t travel to these things much, but this one was really important.”

  The chance to curry favor with Adelson has helped draw some of the Republican Party’s major figures to RJC gatherings.

  Adelson is the 10th richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, amassing his $36.9 billion as owner of the world’s largest casino company.


2012 Spending

  He also was the biggest spender in the 2012 presidential election, investing about $93 million along with his wife, Miriam Adelson.

  The couple first helped former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s bid for the Republican nomination by pumping $19 million into a super-political action committee that backed him. When he lost to Mitt Romney, the Adelsons shifted their giving to the former Massachusetts governor while also donating to groups that backed Republican House and Senate candidates.

  “Sheldon’s a generous guy and he can attract a lot of players who want to come and hang out with him, and then they collectively attract a number of potential candidates,” Gingrich said March 28 in an interview with the National Journal.

  Gingrich also criticized an “election process that radically favors billionaires and is discriminating against the middle class,” and said campaign-finance laws should be reformed to give candidates, not super-PACs, access to bigger donations. Donors may give candidates up to $2,600 per election, while super-PACs can raise and spend unlimited sums.


Court Decision

  The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case and subsequent court rulings and regulatory actions have empowered outside groups such as super-PACs to play a larger role in campaigns.

  So far for the 2014 elections, Adelson and his wife have given about $181,000 to Republican candidates and party committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance tracker in Washington.

  Adelson recently began lobbying for a federal ban on online gaming, saying it’s a moral issue to keep children from gambling. The topic didn’t come up in yesterday’s speeches. The casino mogul’s most pressing issue, he has said in previous interviews, is U.S. support for Israel.


Bolton Comments

  John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations and another possible 2016 presidential contender, also spoke to the conference yesterday and lambasted President Barack Obama’s foreign policy as one of “drift, decline and defeatism.”

  “The perception is that American influence has declined,” he said. Peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel are “fraudulent” and “worse than a waste of time,” he said.

  Adelson missed the remarks by Walker and Bolton. He was escorted to his front-and-center seat as Christie was speaking from the podium.

  Christie told his listeners that the U.S. must return to its “active, vigorous role in the world.”

  The audience reacted more to Christie than to the other speakers -- standing to applaud as he entered and then again when he left the room.

  “All of them got a very warm and I think enthusiastic response from the attendees,” Matt Brooks, RJC’s executive director, said.


Lesson Learned

  In a brief question-and-answer session with Christie, Brooks asked what lessons he had learned from the scandal in which aides and allies disrupted traffic on a bridge leading to New York in retribution for a Democratic mayor’s refusal to endorse his re-election.

  “It is always confidence-shaking and disappointing when people that you trust let you down,” Christie said. “As a leader of an organization, you’re ultimately responsible for that.”

  U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, attended the coalition’s board meeting on March 28 and “spoke strategically” about the party’s push to maintain its majority in Congress’s lower chamber and win the six seats needed to control the Senate, said RJC National Chairman David Flaum.

  Last year’s speakers included Florida Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, as well as Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor didn’t attend this year - - his first absence in a decade, Flaum said.

  Attending for the first time this year was Tim Phillips, president of Arlington, Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit small-government advocacy group founded by billionaire energy executives David and Charles Koch.

  To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at

  To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at Don Frederick, Nancy Moran


For Adelson, Koch brothers, buying a politician is good business

By Donna Brazile
April 7, 2014

  Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

  (CNN) -- Despite Republicans' claims that they're going to shorten the 2016 primary process, the contest is already under way.

  At the end of March, potential Republican presidential candidates Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush were among those who rushed to Las Vegas to compete in the first primary for an all-important constituency of one: billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

  In 2012, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, spent at least $93 million backing Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and other Republicans in their effort to defeat President Obama and Democrats at every level. These candidates are all too eager to try to court and please the likes of Adelson, who's trying to buy the White House.

  But the problem's not just that Adelson is writing blank checks to the candidates of his choosing. The problem is that Adelson and other super-wealthy Republican donors are directing their largesse to buy elected officials who support policies that benefit their bottom lines at the expense of middle-class American families.

  People like Sheldon Adelson support candidates who are in favor of lowering tax rates for corporations and the super-wealthy -- people like Sheldon Adelson.

  But those tax giveaways aren't free. Rep. Paul Ryan's House GOP budget pays for those tax breaks by gutting funding for investments in education and infrastructure, ending Medicare as we know it, and raising taxes on middle-class families with children.

Sheldon Adelson's not alone.

  The billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and their allies have given hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Republican candidates and causes.

  And their focus isn't limited to the White House, or even House and Senate seats. They're opening their checkbook to tip the scales in local races in towns and neighborhoods across the country.

  The Washington Post and The New York Times report that the Koch brothers are investing resources in local races, such as county board and small-town mayoral elections. They're exerting their influence in debates over local issues such as property taxes. It's a tall task to stand up to, especially when people like the Kochs are spending with no end in sight.

  Even Gingrich, whose 2012 candidacy was kept alive month after month by Adelson, is now turning on his former patron and his ilk:

  "Whether it's the Koch brothers or (George) Soros on the left or Sheldon (Adelson)," Gingrich told the National Journal, "if you're going to have an election process that radically favors billionaires and is discriminating against the middle class — which we now have — then billionaires are going to get a lot of attention."

  According to a George Washington University Battleground Poll, about half of Americans know who the Koch brothers are. Considering the lengths that they have gone to keep their involvement in local affairs secret, that figure is a victory for watchdogs and government sunshine groups, not to mention Democrats. But it's alarming for anyone disturbed by their ability to exert disproportionate influence with millions of dollars that represent little more than pocket change to them.

  The Koch brothers are legally allowed to flood "dark money" into your town, influencing who represents you in Congress or the Senate, or who sits in your mayor's office. They can do so anonymously, thanks to a ruling by the Supreme Court in Citizens United.

And with the court's recent ruling lifting the cap on the number of candidates Adelson, the Kochs and others can give money to, there seems to be little left in their way.

  Even though it's only April, the Koch brothers are already breaking spending records. Americans for Prosperity, one of the Kochs' front groups, has spent more than $30 million since last August running ads in at least eight states. According to The New York Times, AFP has more than "200 full-time paid staffers in field offices in at least 32 states."

  It's no coincidence that these targets tend to follow Koch Industries' business interests.

In Michigan, Rep. Gary Peters has called attention to the toxic mountain of petroleum coke -- a byproduct of refining oil sands -- that stands in Detroit and is owned by Koch Minerals. Also called petcoke, the substance poses environmental and public health concerns when the dust blows into the air and water.

  Peters called out the Koch brothers in a news conference at the restaurant of Jacques Driscoll, who lives near one of the petcoke storage sites in southwest Detroit and said he was fearful for the health of his then-pregnant wife and then-unborn child.

  In return for his efforts to represent the well-being and safety of his constituents, Peters's bid for the United States Senate has been targeted with millions of dollars in attack ads from the Kochs and AFP. And like the petcoke, the commercials play dirty.

  One such ad featured Julie Boonstra, who has cancer, claiming that she lost her doctor under the Affordable Care Act and that insurance became "unaffordable." A fact check showed that neither claim was true and noted that she even experienced "substantial savings" under the law.

  No community is too small. AFP's Wisconsin chapter flooded Iron County, home to fewer than 5,000 voting-age residents, with a thousand brochures attacking seven county board candidates as "anti-mine radicals." Another full-color mailing supported the organization's preferred pro-mine candidates.

  The dispute? A debate over new mining regulations friendly to Gogebic Taconite and their proposal to construct a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in Iron and Ashland counties. David Fladeboe, state director of Americans for Prosperity, recently admitted, "the mining issue has been a big one for us."

  One candidate attacked by AFP told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "I have a hard time understanding why the Koch brothers think I am such a threat to their well-being — that they single me out in poor little Iron County?" Sure enough, on Election Day, four out of the seven Koch- and AFP-backed candidates won.

  Whether billionaires are buying federal candidates who will lower their taxes or local officials favorable to their business interests, their outsized influence is a threat to our democracy, particularly when it is obscured in the form of "dark money."

  Middle-class Americans -- who can't afford to buy a school board seat, let alone a U.S. Senate seat -- deserve elected officials and a system that will ensure their voices are heard.


GOP Jews, Candidates, Gather for Vegas Event

By: Anthony Weiss, JTA
April 2, 2014

  LAS VEGAS — The GOP Jewish faithful descended in force on Sin City, turning out in record numbers and striking a feisty, combative tone at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference.

  According to organizers, some 400 people attended the gathering, where they were feted with poker and golf tournaments, and wooed by presidential hopefuls.

  “In Jewish crowds, I’m tired of keeping my political views quiet,” said Barry Sobel, an asset manager from College Park, Ga. “It’s nice to be in a room of like-minded people.”

  Jewish Republicans make up a distinct minority of American Jewry — President Obama won 69 percent of Jewish votes in the 2012 elections, according to exit polls — and a tiny proportion of the national electorate.

However, they wield a political clout that far exceeds their numbers, in large part because Jewish Republicans are some of the GOP’s most important donors. And no donor is more important than the host of this year’s conference, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

  The conference was held in the Adelson-owned Venetian hotel and casino, and his presence loomed large over the gathering.

  National media dubbed this year’s conference the “Sheldon Primary,” in recognition of the many potential Republican presidential candidates who arrived not only to address the crowds but for private sit-downs with Adelson, who spent a reported $93 million on the 2012 presidential election and has announced he will spend much more on 2016. He also is backing an effort to bring the 2016 Republican National Convention to Las Vegas.

  Along with a Shabbat dinner address by Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, and a scotch-tasting with Israeli venture capitalist Jonathan Medved, this year’s conference featured a cattle call of sorts for GOP presidential hopefuls. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush spoke at an exclusive dinner held in Adelson’s private airplane hangar on Thursday.

  On Saturday, Govs. Chris Christie, Scott Walker and John Kasich, as well as John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressed attendees.

  As they gathered beneath the Venetian glass chandeliers, painted ceilings and gold leaf ornaments of the hotel’s palatial surroundings, conference-goers echoed many of the hot-button concerns that have dominated the GOP discourse — creeping socialism, the IRS, Benghazi. But one issue consistently stood out: Israel.

  Conferees could be overheard sharing tales of Democrats’ fecklessness toward the Jewish state, and it was invocations of Israel that drew the loudest applause during the speeches.

  Adelson, too, has long declared that Israel is his top political issue, above even banning online gambling.

Sensitivities surrounding Israel landed Christie in a bit of hot water during his otherwise well-received speech. The New Jersey governor was holding his audience spellbound with a rapturous description of his recent trip to Israel when he tripped a rhetorical landmine.

  “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt, personally, how extraordinary that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day,” Christie told the crowd.

  Although Christie received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, his use of the phrase “occupied territories” upset some attendees who felt that such wording casts aspersions on Israel’s claim to the West Bank.

  “Chris Christie either does not understand the issues affecting Israel or he’s not a friend of Israel,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

  Klein said he brought up the remarks with Adelson, and Politico subsequently reported that Christie had later apologized to Adelson in a private meeting.

  The RJC’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, dismissed Christie’s remark as “a slip of the tongue.”

“I have every confidence that Gov. Christie is an unabashed, unequivocal supporter of Israel,” Brooks said.

  Christie was not the only candidate making an effort to connect with the crowd on a Judaic level. Walker spoke of how his son’s name, Matthew, translates from the Hebrew as “a gift from God,” and of lighting menorah candles at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion. Kasich described his effort to build a Holocaust memorial on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse.

  Bolton brought the crowd to its feet with his fierce denunciations of the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy and his call for the United States to firmly back the Jewish state, even if Israel should choose to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

  But the candidates also touted their broader appeal, with Christie and Walker citing their experience as governors of traditionally Democratic states and Kasich defending his decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, though without explicitly referencing Medicaid or the act known as Obamacare.

  All the speakers also pledged, with varying degrees of specificity, to pursue a muscular and assertive foreign policy.

  The more isolationist strain in the GOP is particularly associated with a presumed presidential hopeful who was not at the Las Vegas conference, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Brooks said that Paul had been invited to attend but had declined in favor of a family commitment.

  Some of the politicians in attendance seemed to be tailoring their pitches more narrowly. Kasich made it clear that he had a particular target in mind as he concluded his speech to the conclave: “Hey listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.”