The Gingrich campaign is giddy like it’s new staffer day on the news that Sheldon Adelson has given them five million dollars. Of course, Adelson didn’t give it directly to Gingrich; that would violate federal campaign finance laws one thousand times in a row. The billionaire casino magnate and Chinese bribery defendant gave $5 million to the Winning Our Future Super PAC, which is of course not controlled by the Gingrich campaign in compliance with US law. As of yesterday, Winning Our Future had bought $3.4 million worth of advertising time in South Carolina. Presumably, the ads will urge each voter to read about the candidates and make a list of which leadership qualities he or she considers most important. Or they’ll call Mitt Romney a pussy.
The important thing is that one elderly billionaire did not just personally alter the course of the 2012 election. Winning Our Future is not controlled by any candidate or campaign, which is why Adelson’s $5 million gift is a form of free speech. In this regard, Winning Our Future should not be confused with American Solutions for Winning the Future, a 527 organization founded and directed by Gingrich that dissolved in July. As you can see from their About page, Winning Our Future is completely different. And I quote:
Winning Our Future means nominating Former Speaker Newt Gingrich for President in 2012. And advancing that goal is what Winning Our Future is all about.
An ordinary person might call that the objective of a campaign organization, but an ordinary person does not have one billion dollars. Coincidentally, not a lot of ordinary people are friends with Newt Gingrich. Sheldon Anderson sure is, though; as the Times notes, “the relationship between Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Adelson dates to the mid-1990s and first centered on their common animosity for labor unions.” A lot of people play golf, but to each his own, I guess.
Gingrich the US Representative found that he had a lot in common with Adelson the casino owner, particularly in the area of hating people who worked in the casino. At the time, Adelson was struggling with the Las Veas culinary union, which was trying to organize the workers in his new Venetian* hotel. His relations with that local did not improve “when Mr. Adelson helped finance a campaign in Nevada to pass legislation curtailing the ability of labor unions to automatically deduct money from members to finance political activities.”
So the food might be mishandled, but the irony is delicious. Adelson’s crusade against the influence of union dues on elections is an acknowledgement of the power of money in politics that renders his own monster donation not so much naked as flayed. “His friend needed his help”—said a “close associate” of both Gingrich and Adelson who might have been made up by the Times reporter—so he wrote a $5 million check to the PAC whose express purpose is to elect Newt Gingrich.
But that’s not unlimited campaign contribution. That’s speech, according to a Supreme Court whose assenting justices assured us that such multimillion-dollar theses would be addressed to independent organizations and not individual candidates. Citizens United v. FEC was decided less than a year ago. Perhaps there was some period when it worked as the Supremes said it would, but as of yesterday it allowed a union-busting candidate who happens to be friends with a union-busting billionaire to buy most of the airtime in South Carolina.
That candidate finished a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses, possibly because he looks like he would sell the average voter to a hobo in exchange for candy. His performance in South Carolina will probably not be a good test case for the effects of Citizens United, since it’s a southern state and Gingrich is a Georgia son. Chances are, Newt would do better in South Carolina without $5 million. We’ll never know, though, because a guy who owns a casino in China is certain that Gingrich is the best man for the job.
The rest of us are welcome to say otherwise. How loudly we say it will depend on how many millions of dollars we have, but maybe we should have thought of that before we elected the son of a previous President and allowed him to choose several Supreme Court justices. Maybe we should have thought of it before we made an economy that was essentially a big casino and bet our houses on it. Maybe we should have thought of all of this, back before it was too late.