Money in Politics: The Adelson Dilemma

© Josh Sager October 2013

Campaign finance regulations in the United States have been cut back to the point where individual super-donors are legally allowed to donate virtually unlimited amounts of money to political groups. These super-donors donate to super-PACs, which then spend unlimited funds running “independent” ads.


Unfortunately, the ability of those with resources (whether they be individuals, corporations, or unions) to spend in the political sphere has given them unbelievable amounts of influence over those who are elected to office. Donors who give significant amounts of money to candidates and PACs are able to compel policy concessions out of the elected officials who are reliant on their funds (ex. the oil industry gives to both parties in order to stop them from increasing regulations on their business).

The rise of the super-donor is extremely worrying, particularly considering the fact that many big-money political donors support extreme policies which are not supported by the American majority. Wealthy interests with extreme views are able to force their preferences on the American people, simply due to the fact that many politicians feel the need to court these interests for election funds—in no case is this clearer than that of Sheldon Adelson.


The Adelson Dilemma

During a recent talk at New York’s Yeshiva University, Israeli-American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson said the following when asked about how the USA should negotiate with Iran:

“What are we going to negotiate about? I would say ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ … You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ And so there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all, and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes.”


In effect, Adelson is promoting the idea that the US should violate all international convention by preemptively launching a nuclear strike into the most volatile region on the planet. Even if nobody were killed in such a strike, it would set a terrible precedent and result in extremely damaging fallout (both literal and political). A preemptive nuclear strike on Iran would, at best, obliterate any chance of a peaceful resolution to the Iranian/American conflict and, at worst, could cause global thermonuclear war.

The idea that the USA should initiate a preemptive nuclear strike is obviously an opinion of the extreme minority (unsurprisingly, most people wish to avoid an apocalypse). Unfortunately, this minority includes Sheldon Adelson, who also happens to be the largest right wing super-donor.

During the 2012 election cycle alone, Sheldon Adelson spent $150 million in support of right wing candidates. Not only dies this expenditure by Adelson give him the crown as the top individual donor in American history, but Adelson has declared that he is ready to double his spending next time.

Put plainly, if the GOP candidate had won the 2012 election, Adelson would have been given extraordinary influence over American international policy.


If Adelson had influence over a sitting president, it is very likely that his extremist stance on the Iranian situation would be translated into the US’s actual foreign policy. While it is unlikely that a nuclear strike would be utilized (I doubt that even a potential president Gingrich would go that far), it is possible that strikes with conventional weapons would be implemented and it is unlikely that negotiations would even be attempted. Adelson’s influence over the president would translate to the United States taking hawkish, overly-aggressive, and violent actions where diplomacy would likely be a far better choice.



Fortunately, the GOP lost the last presidential election cycle, thus Sheldon Adelson was denied significant control over America’s Middle East policy. That said, Adelson has money and devotion to his cause, while the US has no legal framework that will prevent him from spending even more money next time—eventually, he may get lucky and pick a winning candidate.

The Adelson example is extreme, both because Adelson is the largest political donor and because he supports policies which could result in nuclear war, but it is not unique. American politics is filled with corrupt politicians and moneyed interests who would love to gain power over said politicians.

If we want any hope of preventing wealthy extremists and exploiters from hijacking our public policies, we must reinstitute strong campaign finance regulations. Campaign finance laws will not eliminate wealthy extremists, but they will reduce the ability of these extremists to affect policy in a significant manner—in effect, these regulations will turn the views of these extremist to just another voice in the crowd, which is easily drowned out by the more moderate voices of the general public.

Campaign finance laws will only be achieved through a constitutional amendment and there are already numerous groups working to get such an amendment passed. Personally, I support the plan of Wolf-PAC (, but groups like Move to Amend ( and Get Money Out ( are also working on similar efforts. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who gets money out of politics, merely that it happens as soon as possible.


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