Sheldon Adelson Gains National Media Attention for Political Activism
The CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation is beginning to receive attention from mainstream media for his ties to the Republican political candidates. After four days in which Sheldon Adelson hosted several GOP candidates for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, The New York Times, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, CNN, and the Huffington Post ran stories about the gambling executive.
The coverage was largely negative. As one can see from a recent Huffington Post op-ed piece, much was made of powerful and influential politicians bowing and scraping at the foot of a rich gambling executive. Sly references were made about the party of family values wooing a gambling executive ensconsed in Sin City. While the Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO received media coverage for his 2012 campaign donations, the coverage seems more focused on the LSV executive this time. The recent attention might be a preview of media coverage to come in the 2016 presidential election. If so, Sheldon Adelson will be portrayed as a symbol of what is currently wrong with the electoral system.
Chris Christie in Trouble
Several news items discussed the troubles New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the most pro-gambling member of the GOP pack, had with Sheldon Adelson at the annual Jewish Republican Coalition spring event. Few would disagree with the statement that Christie is having a trying 2014 so far, due to the Bridgegate Scandal. Christie was out front on the fight to legalize online gambling in New Jersey. So coming into the Las Vegas event, he was certain to be at odds over a major issue for the Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s chief executive officer: online gambling.
Sheldon Adelson wants Internet gambling outlawed completely throughout the United States, because he says iGaming encourages problem gambling. In Adelson’s opinion, land-based gambling does not encourage gambling addiction in the same way online casinos, poker sites, and sportsbooks do.
The national media reported another gaffe by Chris Christie, though.
Christie is said to have described the West Bank as “occupied territories“, which suggests Israel is–at the very least–an aggressor in its longstanding troubles with the Palestinians. Sheldon Adelson is a firm supporter of Israel, going so far as to say he believes Israel should launch a nuclear strike on Iran, in order to stop the Iranians from building their own nuclear weapons. None can say how much Christie’s slip of the tongue hurt his chances, though most agree it was a bad performance for the New Jersey governor.
Other GOP Candidates
Jeb Bush, John Kasick, and Scott Walker also were welcomed by Sheldon Adelson to Las Vegas. Each of these governors or former governors had a chance to impress America’s most powerful gambling executive. Each of them no doubt sought to find common ground with the head of LSV.
McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission
Those unfamiliar with the new political donation laws might be wondering why a gaming executive’s activities are important. In fact, those Americans with large sums of money have far greater say in the electoral process than they have in decades–perhaps in all of US history. For the first time, virtually unlimited campaign contributions have been wedded to the power of the 21st century media.
In a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court voted 5-4 to allow unlimited political contributions. This is an expansion of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which expanded the soft money contributions. Both times, the 5 Republican appointees outvoted the 4 Democratic appointees, expanding the power of corporations, corporate CEOs, and billionaires to affect elections.
Free Speech Concerns Were Key
In either case, the reason previous campaign reform laws were struck down was concerns by the justices about free speech. If a billionaire is limited to the same size donation that an average working class citizen might reasonably be able to donate, the 5 ruling judges contend, then this undermines the billionaire’s First Amendment rights to free speech. Critics of the decision charged that Republicans justices were taking a liberal view of the First Amendment. In specific, many opponents of the ruling argued that free speech involved the ability to speak freely in our society–not pay others big money to speak on your behalf.
Whatever the case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is now the law of the land. Sheldon Adelson spent the most money of any political donor in 2012, with a sizable $90 million in contributions to help defeat Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, along with many other Republican causes. Armed with billions of dollars from Las Vegas Sands’s Chinese business and the new McCutcheon v. FEC ruling, Sheldon Adelson should be able to top the $90 million by a wide margin in 2016. Since he’s expected to spend more money than anyone else on Republican candidates, prospective GOP presidential hopefuls flocked to Las Vegas to win the donor’s sympathies.
Is It Good for the Gambling Industry?
The question many in the gaming industry are asking: is this good for our industry? Most people in the gaming industry tend to view gambling laws from a libertarian perspective–they believe what Americans do with their money is their own business. But a wide swath of America tends to look at gaming in any form from a moral perspective. That makes the industry as a whole somewhat vulnerable to politicians who want to legislate morality.
In such cases, it might not be wise for a gambling figure to draw so much attention to the industry. Sheldon Adelson will do fine for his company, because quite frankly, his Chinese business interests are far more lucrative than his American interests. But if Adelson becomes the poster child for greed and hypocrisy in 2016, it could reflect badly on the entire US gambling industry.
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