by Eli Clifton
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, President Donald Trump’s biggest donor, just secured his role as the GOP’s top 2018 funder with a $25 million contribution to Senate Republicans midterm election efforts. In all likelihood, he also bought himself a direct line to any Republican whose ear he wants to bend.
Adelson is outspoken about his priorities—a hawkish U.S. policy towards Iran and unwavering U.S. support for Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Likud Party—and House and Senate Republicans, as well as the Trump White House, have largely delivered on Adelson’s foreign policy wish list.
Adelson, alongside with his wife Miriam, already contributed $30 million to House Republican efforts to maintain a majority, bringing the casino magnate’s direct investment in the GOP’s 2018 House and Senate election efforts to over $55 million.
Politico did the math and found:
The Adelsons’ $25 million contribution constituted almost the entire haul of $26 million that the Senate Leadership Fund brought in last month and more than half of the $44 million it’s raised this year. The super PAC had $45.2 million in cash on hand on July 31, according to the most recent filing.
On the House side, the Adelsons’ dual $15 million donations ($30 million in total) count for nearly one-third of the total donations to the Congressional Leadership Fund and are by far the Fund’s largest individual contributions. Corporations, such as Chevron ($1.9 million), and 501c4s, like the American Action Network, comprise the majority of the Leadership Fund’s other seven-figure contributions. Timothy Mellon, chairman and majority owner of the Pan Am Systems, a New Hampshire-based transportation company, contributed $10 million, making him the Fund’s largest individual donor after the Adelsons. Hedge funder Ken Griffin was the Fund’s next largest individual donor, contributing $1.5 million.
Adelson and the recipients of his largesse are clear about why he is active politically and, presumably, why he is effectively making the Republican Party dependent on his campaign funds.
Newt Gingrich, a recipient of Adelson’s supporting during his failed 2012 campaign, described Adelson’s “central value” as Israel.
Donald Trump, before winning the GOP nomination and receiving $35 million in outside election spending from Adelson and his wife, described Adelson as seeking to “mold [Florida Senator Marco Rubio] into the perfect little puppet,” via campaign contributions.
After winning the election, Trump campaign CEO and future White House chief strategist Steve Bannon reportedly spoke explicitly about Adelson’s foreign policy agenda. Michael Wolff wrote as much in his book, Fire and Fury:
Pivoting from Trump himself, Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon”—Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender—“is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”
“Where’s Donald on this?” asked Ailes, the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.
“He’s totally onboard.”
Adelson reportedly pressured the administration to follow through on campaign promises about moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, to replace National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton (with whom Adelson enjoys a closer relationship), and to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal.
Indeed, Trump has brought the U.S. closer to a conflict with Iran via withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s apparent embrace of a de facto regime change agenda towards Tehran, and Trump’s threatening July 22nd tweet at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Trump warned (his caps):
NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
With rhetoric like this coming out of the Oval Office, it is worth recalling that the President’s largest donor once suggested using nuclear weapons against Iran as a negotiating tactic.
Were Trump to back up his tweets with action, it’s safe to assume his benefactor wouldn’t be opposed. And if GOP members of the House and Senate were of a mind to criticize Trump’s aggressive posture towards Iran, they might have second thoughts if they’re concerned about their own campaign finances.
With the Adelsons’ latest contribution to Senate Republican election efforts, an octogenarian casino mogul and his Israeli born wife have effectively cemented their roles as the Republican Party’s most important donors in the 2018 election cycle.
Mainstream reporting consistently avoids discussing the Adelsons’ foreign policy motivations for their political giving, instead focusing on the corporate and estate tax aspects of the Republican agenda that might further enrich Adelson and his heirs. While that’s certainly a nice bonus, Adelson has made no secret of the fact that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is his primary concern, and has made no public comments about tax reform.
In June, Adam Entous wrote in The New Yorker:
No Republican candidate can easily afford to ignore him. Adelson considered Obama an enemy of Israel, and, in the 2012 election, he and his wife, Miriam, contributed at least ninety-three million dollars to groups supporting the G.O.P. Officials in the U.S. and Israel said that they learned from American Jewish leaders that Adelson had vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to prevent Obama from securing a peace agreement while in office.
Adelson has clearly not stopped spending “whatever it takes.” But with the Obama administration in the rear-view mirror, it’s worth closely examining what Adelson is asking the Republican to do. Whatever it is, his wallet has surely bought him the ears of both the White House and Congressional Republicans.