Money's power even bigger in elections

Posted: June 19, 2012

There are significant points in every election. Sometimes, they're not immediately obvious. Other times, their impact feels as if the earth has moved.

A tectonic shift occurred last week with news that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife had dropped a $10 million donation into a super-PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Add to that amount the $21 million Adelson spent to keep Newt Gingrich's campaign on life support after his bid for the GOP nomination had unraveled, plus smaller donations to others, and he is by far the largest single contributor in this election cycle.

The donation to Romney bolstered Adelson's boast that he'd give up to $100 million to deny President Obama a second term.

The Adelsons' campaign contributions to Republicans thus far have surpassed those of Texas billionaire Harold C. Simmons and his wife. But does anyone think a self-respecting Texas billionaire is going to let someone beat him in an unrestricted show-of-wealth contest?

Partisans and good-government activists alike had been warning that this day would come, following frighteningly naive Supreme Court rulings that opened the floodgates for a deluge of political donations and spending with scant accountability.

Early reports analyzed by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics show a mere 19 super-wealthy individuals have anted up $1 million or more each for super-PACs supporting candidates in both parties. But Congress and the president have done little to stop the money wars.

Bills that grovel for more frequent disclosure from the super-PACs, and ask meekly that shadow groups funding the PACs disclose their donors, are not likely to be passed in time to referee the 2012 federal races, if at all.

Disclosure was never going to be enough anyway, considering the size of the huge donations occurring now. Contribution sizes must be limited to take away the unfair advantage that the rich have in the democratic process.

In fact, the rich are on track to own the 2012 federal elections. Most candidates without wealthy patrons will be out of the mix. Voters' choices will be limited to those candidates who are most beholden to a tiny group of the most influential donors.

Even Adelson sees a problem with the affluent's rapidly evolving takeover of elections. He told Forbes Magazine as much in February: "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it's doable I'm going to do it. Because I know that guys like Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades. 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."

Adelson was referring to George Soros, a billionaire who favors Democrats and spent a fortune in the 2008 elections.

Adelson, Simmons, Soros, the oil-rich Koch brothers, and a few others with big feet in politics know the advantages of playing on an uneven field. Today's field of play was created by bad court decisions on campaign financing, and the billionaires won't stop taking advantage until Congress and the president make them.

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