by Eli Clifton
President Donald Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), appears to have fallen in line with the views espoused by several of his top donors. These funders believe that Iran poses an apocalyptic threat only addressable through military action, including the use of nuclear weapons.
Two years ago, every Republican in Congress opposed the JCPOA. With the future of the agreement now in the hands of a GOP-controlled House and Senate, those same billionaire Iran hawks may hold a powerful influence over any Republican lawmaker contemplating voting against legislation designed to harm the JCPOA.
Indeed, the influence of these key donors—Sheldon Adelson, Bernard Marcus, and Paul Singer—over U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regards to Iran, doesn’t stop at the White House, where combined they contributed over $40 million to various pro-Trump political groups and causes.
Those three donors also contributed $65 million at the congressional level. That represents nearly half of the individual contributions made to the Senate Leadership Fund (CLF) and Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), Super PACs dedicated to maintaining Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Those contributions provide a considerable incentive for Hill Republicans to stake out a hawkish position on the JCPOA.
Trump’s decision to punt the decision to Congress about whether to reimpose sanctions or attempt to unilaterally rewrite the JCPOA, a multilateral agreement, threatens to unravel the nuclear deal and/or put the U.S. into noncompliance with the accord.
Republican members of Congress owe a great deal to the CLF and the SLF. In the 2016 election cycle the two GOP Super PACs were some of the biggest sources of independent expenditures in House and Senate races. The SLF was the biggest spender in the 2016 election cycle after Priorities USA Action (a Hillary Clinton-supporting Super PAC) and Right to Rise USA (a Jeb Bush-supporting Super PAC).
The CLF raised $50 million in individual contributions and the SLF raised $90 million in individual contributions in the past election cycle. That is in no small part thanks to Adelson, Marcus, and Singer, three of the Republican Party’s biggest donors. They also provide millions in funding to hawkish think tanks like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which regularly promotes military intervention against Iran. Adelson and Marcus, in particular, have been outspoken in their opposition to the JCPOA and expressing their extreme hostility toward Iran.
Adelson, who actually suggested firing a nuclear weapon at Iran as a negotiating tactic, alongside his wife, Miriam, are the biggest overall donors to both the CLF and SLF as well as Trump’s largest campaign donor. They contributed $20 million to the CLF and $35 million to the SLF. Adelson, via John Bolton, may have helped inject language into Trump’s speech last week decertifying the JCPOA. Politico reported (my emphasis):
The line was added to Trump’s speech after Bolton, despite Kelly’s recent edict [limiting Bolton’s access to Trump], reached the president by phone on Thursday afternoon from Las Vegas, where Bolton was visiting with Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson. Bolton urged Trump to include a line in his remarks noting that he reserved the right to scrap the agreement entirely, according to two sources familiar with the conversation.
Trump wound up saying that the agreement “is under continuous review, and our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time.” Bolton declined to comment on any conversation with the president.
Singer, who was the second largest source of funds supporting Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) campaign, contributed $1.9 million to the CLF and $6 million to the SLF.
Cotton, an outspoken critic of the Iran deal and proponent of pursuing a regime-change strategy in Iran, reportedly advised the White House on decertifying the agreement. He is the cosponsor of legislation that would institute automatic reinstatement of sanctions if Iran comes within a year of a nuclear weapons capability and eliminates the JCPOA’s sunset clauses, effectively rewriting the agreement and potentially putting the U.S. in violation of the accord.
Marcus contributed $500,000 to the CLF and $2 million to the SLF. He is Trump’s second biggest campaign donor after the Adelsons and contributes tens of millions of dollars to FDD and other groups opposing the JCPOA.
In a 2015 Fox Business interview, he compared the JCPOA to “do[ing] business with the devil” and, in case he wasn’t clear about who “the devil” was in his metaphor, clarified “I think Iran is the devil.”
Adelson, Singer, and Marcus’s combined contributions account for 44% of individual contributions received by the CLF and 47% of those received by the SLF. Marcus and Singer are already spending on the SLF for the 2018 cycle. Singer contributed $1 million and Marcus contributed $2 million, providing over a quarter of the $11.13 million the Super PAC has raised for the coming election.