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Sheldon Adelson: The Plutocrat’s Plutocrat

David Macadam

American elections have always been hugely and increasingly expensive, each one setting fresh records. Now even these obscene sums pale into obscurity in the face of a true game-changer; the SuperPAC. These groups are legally sanctioned by two cases in 2010, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission and Speechnow.org v FEC. These decisions bizarrely held that cash equals free speech and corporations are people, therefore the 1st amendment freedom of speech protects unlimited non-disclosed contributions.

Since then, the floodgates have opened and unimaginable funds are flowing into American politics largely through SuperPAC’s, which can be funded by individuals, corporations, unions, and ‘groups’ who tend to be collections of like minded billionaires. There is no legal limit on the size of the donation.

While this has given a green light to oil companies, mega banks, and other massive corporations to corrupt the political system and thwart regulatory action, we also witness the return of the political baron. For the first time since the nineteenth century there has been the rise of the family plutocrat, the independent man, rather than some corporation that directly influences politics.

Now strutting the stage are men born of rich families: Donald Trump, the Koch brothers, and Rupert Murdoch. Sheldon Adelson, the plutocrat’s plutocrat, is a different breed.

Sheldon Ashton is no shrinking violet, never hesitating to forcefully advocate his views. Unlike the aforementioned plutocrats, he embodies the plutocratic ideal more than Trump, Koch or Murdoch in that he is genuinely self-made. He is currently the eighth richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of $31.6 billion, yet he grew up a poor Ukrainian Jew in a down beat suburb of Boston. After a series of indifferent business ventures, he got into gambling. His company Las Vegas Sands Corporation has casinos in Las Vegas and Pennsylvania which are immensely profitable, though the really big money comes from foreign interests in Singapore and Macao.

Being Jewish who are generally socially liberal, Adelson may more disposed to support Democrats. However, he had major disagreements with them over Israel and Obama’s economic policies. Never lacking subtlety, during the 2012 Republican Presidential Election primaries he openly played one candidate off another. He first backed Newt Gingrich in the primaries against Mitt Romney, only to support Romney in the General Election.

Republican candidates will make the obligatory pilgrimage to Las Vegas to make obeisance at the feet of their new master; no longer the people, but Adelson. A series of one-on-one chats with a slew of possible candidates including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and John Kasich may be in the beauty parade line, between April 24th and 26th at Adelson’s resort and casino The Venetian Las Vegas.

So the first real primaries of the 2016 election will be held behind closed doors, and only after the master has decided who serves him best will the people be able to see the candidate.

Naturally people want to keep a close eye on where Sheldon puts his chips. So far $100 million has gone into this round of campaigning. Much, much more will be coming.

We may chose to see this small group of rich men as poker players, gathered round the table seeking to play God with elections that should rightly be decided by the people. And why not, they would argue? In a country which believes that the money you make is due to your inherent virtues and merits. The more you have, the more you must be heard and obeyed. If, like Adelson, you really have come from nowhere to be a Napoleon of capitalism, it is a vindication of God’s beneficence and one’s all but divine right. Adelson is a power to be reckoned with, and has more prominence because as a rougher figure ready to speak with, and confront journalists in a way that the shyer Kochs would not.

Nowhere else do we see this sense of his paternalism more clearly than with his involvement with foreign policy. A Zionist by conviction Adelson has long been involved in supporting Israel.

To some he is a hero, a proud Jew standing up for his people and causes he feels are right and putting his money where his heart is. In the wake of the holocaust, Jews of Adelson’s generation feel that in world realpolitic, Jews have few friends. Adelson is therefore a more conflicted and nuanced figure than the crude caricature suggest. Certainly he is not in the game entirely for pure greed like the Koch brothers.

Adelson has a vision of Israel as a militarily strong, Zionist, right wing, settlement-supporting Israel, that will have no truck with weak-minded negotiations or talks. He sees a two state solution for Israel and Palestine as the destruction of Israel and the end of the Jewish people. He most certainly does not want an Israel that would negotiate with Iran.

Adelson has set up his own newspaper, Israel HaYum (Israel Today). If you can imagine a sort of USA Today mated with The Metro and handed out free every day by thousands of eager young people on trains and buses, you’ll have an idea. It doesn’t simply support Likud, the right wing party in Israel, but wholeheartedly campaigns every day for Benjamin Netanyahu personally. Many on the left in Israel without access to this immense largess see HaYum as a foreign threat to their democracy.

Adelson may also be a physical threat to their country. His is not a political animal and his meddling has led to an open split between the Obama administration and Netanyahu. In 2005 Adelson had one-time American Republican Ron Dermer appointed as Israeli Ambassador to Washington. It was Dermer who arranged the recent visit by Netanyahu to Washington to deliver that scolding anti-Obama speech about Iran to both houses of the American Congress. The rumour is that any Senator or Representative not attending would become the focus of Adelson’s personally funded wrath.

However Dermer had not informed John Kerry of this visit when they met recently and the result was that Obama was kept out of the loop.

Of course Adelson isn’t just doing this for the sake of politics. Like all political plutocrats, Adelson wants a tangible return on his expensive investments. So despite his arguably more noble sentiments seen above, Benjamin Netanyahu while on an recent official State Visit to Japan lobbied the Japanese government to approve a casino bid by Adelson.

Among contenders for the crown, Adelson is the avatar of America’s broken political funding system.