There are no current kings in Israel. But there are kings in politics — and Jewish kings as well. Most prominent of these is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who, with his fortune, is the financial backbone of the Republican Party, along with the non-Jewish Koch brothers.
Last weekend, a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas became an Adelson love fest, as one potential Republican presidential candidate after another made his case before 400 Jewish Republicans. The main target of each presentation was Adelson, who spent a reported $93 million on the 2012 presidential race. Indeed, Ohio Gov. John Kasich made no bones about it and frequently directed his remarks to “Sheldon.”
If this smacks of political brownnosing — with presidential hopefuls focused on the money — it was. But that’s nothing new. Virtually everybody does it.
Since the Supreme Court struck down Citizen’s United in 2010, the pay-to-play voices belonging to the richest and most powerful have drowned out those of ordinary people. Public election finance is essentially dead. What is left are mega-givers, who hope to buy election results with their dollars.
It isn’t just the Republicans, of course — although Adelson and the Kochs are particularly prominent. The Democrats are just as addicted to big money. The fact is, big money is just about the only way to get elected. And although there may be fewer super-rich mega-givers in the Democratic Party, the liberal side does benefit from the deep pockets of George Soros and others.
Having to spend most waking hours in the “soul-crushing” pursuit of money is a situation no politician wants. Moreover, that process shortchanges the public.
There are some campaign finance proposals circulating that are designed to address the problem. Last year, Rep. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced the Grassroots Democracy Act. It would match every donation of $100 or less with $5 in public matching funds. In addition, it would provide voters with up to a $50 tax credit for contributions to a political candidate.
That same public-private concept is behind legislation proposed by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. David Price (D-N.C.). Among its provisions is a 5-to-1 match on the first $250 of any contribution up to $1,250 for congressional candidates.
The problem is not a shortage of solutions. The problem is that no one knows when the public will get angry enough at the current state of affairs to demand that the system be changed. Last week’s Sheldon Spectacle should hasten that day.