The Republican presidential debate on December 15th will be held at the Venetian Hotel, a casino owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife Miriam, are top donors to the Republican Party.
The debate comes as there’s growing public anger about the influence of big donors like the Adelsons in our political process. Eighty percent of Republicans say money has too much influence in politics and 81 percent believe our current system needs fundamental changes or completely rebuilt, the New York Times found in June. In August, 91 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa said they were disappointed or “mad as hell” about the amount of money in politics. And, from Donald Trump to Jeb Bush, nearly every GOP candidate has talked about the issue in some way on the campaign trail.
But so far, aside from instigating a brief fight between Trump and Bush at the CNN debate in September about whether Bush is a “puppet” of his big donors, moderators have not brought up the issue of money’s role in our political system and voter anger about it.
With the next debate literally being hosted by two of the party’s top donors, who could very well be in attendance, the moderators must address the issue.
Here are 15 reasons the moderators--Dana Bash, Wolf Blitzer, and Hugh Hewitt--should ask candidates about money’s influence in politics and how they will work to ensure everyday people can be heard in the political process.
- Adelson and his wife Miriam are top donors to Republican candidates and committees. The pair spent nearly $100 million on the 2012 elections, $6 million in disclosed contributions in the 2014 cycle, and hundreds of thousands so far this year to candidates and party committees while still holding off on a presidential endorsement that would lead to millions more.
- Adelson wants to use his leverage to define the primary: "This time, the Adelsons are plotting their investments based not on personal loyalty but on a much more strategic aim: to help select a Republican nominee they believe will have broad appeal to an increasingly diverse national electorate..
- Adelson has a stake in the outcome of policy debates in Congress. Las Vegas Sands, his casino company, has 16 lobbyists registered in Washington. The company has spent $1,050,000 on lobbying so far in 2015, exclusively on issues related to Internet gambling. These lobbyists have donated a combined $297,125 to federal candidates and committees since 2009, according to Every Voice analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
- The next president will oversee the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission, agencies that have both looked into Adelson's foreign dealings. His company basically admitted it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
- There's suspicious timing between Adelson's donations and official actions by Senators running for president. Just months after Adelson hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the South Carolina Senator introduced an Adelson-backed bill to ban Internet gambling. Sheldon and his wife Miriam donated to Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) campaign two weeks before the Florida Senator joined Graham in co-sponsoring the legislation. Weeks before the Internet gambling bill was introduced, the wealthy couple donated a combined $453,600 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
- He gets face time with elected officials (who aren't running for president) when he goes to Washington: "After lunch, he was spied riding through the tunnels at the Rayburn House Office building with a coterie of aides and security."
- Rubio and Adelson "have grown increasingly close, with the senator phoning the billionaire several times a month to provide in-depth updates on the state of his campaign."
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), said to be a favorite of Sheldon's wife Miriam, "now makes frequent phone calls to the Adelsons." A lobbyist for Adelson in Nevada is Cruz's state director there
- After appointing a national security adviser Adelson didn't like, Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) was forced to make amends with the mogul. In May, before Jeb officially announced his campaign for president, he "made a personal pilgrimage to the Venetian to pay his respects.
- In 2012, Adelson lent Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) his private plane for a "trade mission" to Israel. In 2013, Christie traveled to Las Vegas to meet with Adelson ahead of his re-election. In 2014, the same day Christie gave a speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting that angered Adelson and others, Christie apologized to him during a private meeting.
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) met with Adelson in March while he was in Washington and "Mr. Paul said that Mr. Adelson had assured him he would not fund an effort by Republicans to defeat him."
- Carly Fiorina met with Adelson in August and "he was favorably impressed."
- Donald Trump even tried to woo the casino mogul by sending him a glossy booklet of photos from a Jewish event he attended.
- In the past two years, five of the Republican candidates have attended a meeting of the Adelson-backed Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas--Bush, Christie, and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) in 2014 and Cruz and Graham in 2015. Kasich was especially grateful for the invitation.
- Some Republican candidates are themselves worried about Adelson's influence over the debate: "Top campaign officials on Monday pressed the Republican National Committee on whether Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson would receive an extra block of tickets for next month's GOP debate at his Venetian hotel -- and potentially stack the crowd for his favored candidate."
In our current political system in which candidates are forced to travel the country hat-in-hand schmoozing with the wealthiest Americans, people like Sheldon Adelson get a lot more influence than everyday Americans.
With so much public anger about Washington politicians and people's belief that their elected officials no longer work for them, this debate is the perfect opportunity to quiz candidates on the influence of big donors in politics and what they plan to do about it.