A candidate for president needs some big bucks in a rush. So he goes up to a gambler and asks for help.
We use the word gambler here to refer to someone who runs games for profit, not for folks who go up to Saratoga to put a few bucks on the ponies or who play in a Tuesday night poker game. We're talking about the contemporary version of the guys from "Guys and Dolls," the folks who carry on the tradition of Arnold Rothstein, Bugsy Seigel, Frank Costello, and Lucky Luciano.
So Shelly, who apparently owns the biggest established permanent floating crap game in the world, says, "Sure, Newty, waddaya need?"
Newt says, "I'm running against this guy, who's got a couple of hundred million bucks of his own, and he's telling lies about me!" (You have to wonder why anyone who didn't like Newt Gingrich would choose to tell lies about him. What could they say that would be worse than the truth?)
Shelly says, "Will 10 million do ya?"
"That should do for South Carolina," Newt says. "Just leave it on the dresser over there, my Super Pac will pick it up."
This is all legal. All public. Indeed, it is far more open and above board than a lot of political spending these days. Yet something feels terrible wrong about the peculiar two-step of Newt asking Shelly for the money, Shelly slipping the money to "Winning Our Future"—the names of these political organizations and Super-Pacs are so perversely inverted that they're giving a bad name to the English language—the two of them winking and snarfling about it like six-year-olds who stuck their fingers in the cake and sucked off the icing, and everyone nodding along, yes, it's all OK, nobody's breaking any laws.
Let's be clear. Sheldon Adelson runs legal casinos. There is no evidence that he's a gangster or that he associates with organized crime. He's a legal man with legal money. In Nevada, brothels are also legal. Look for the rise of Super-Pimp, on line to be the next billionaire benefactor of a bereft politician.
What is implicit, but completely unspoken, is the notion that money is not inherently virtuous. Gambling is harmless entertainment for a fair number of people. Like drugs and alcohol it is massively destructive for a small percentage of people and occasionally a problem for a larger number of people. A paper from the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs (Policy Forum Vol. 13, November 2, 2000) has the very blunt title "Casino Gambling Causes Crime." The author of the study, Earl L. Grinois, a former senior economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan, wrote a book in 2004, Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits, which says that for every $46 in benefits, casinos create up to $289 in social costs. For every dollar's worth of jobs and commerce that the gambling house brings in, it causes as much as $6.28 worth of trouble.
Adelson has a talent for making money. No doubt about it. He's employed that talent in a way that has made him rich, but, if Grinios is right, has probably done more harm than good. But we're broad minded. We lean toward libertarianism in social issues. We can accept that. We don't want to close our local liquor store or have a SWAT team descend on the neighborhood's marijuana purveyor.
But what we shouldn't have to accept that a jumped-up bookie, a guy in a business that in a different time and different place would have made him a racketeer, can casually spend $10 million running attack ads for a lunatic who's promising to bomb Iran. The Supreme Court has taken the position that spending money is free speech and cannot be constrained. They are either passionately partisan or astonishingly unrealistic. Free speech, for most of us, is limited to the opportunity to send a letter to the editor or to stand on a street corner holding a sign—though only, of course, on the corners where that is permitted. Ten million dollars worth of TV time gives Shelly a much bigger voice. If an average person contributes $100 to a political campaign to support an issue, that's a lot. According to Forbes, Shelly's worth $21.5 billion dollars. He can actually spend $10 million with less cost to his life-style and well being than the normal person's $100.
Money wins elections. In 2008, Barack Obama spent nearly twice the money that John McCain spent. According to OpenSecrets.org, "in 93 percent of House of Representatives races and 94 percent of Senate races...the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning."
The only way to beat big money is with bigger money. As it happens, Newt, aside from being a terrible candidate with more baggage than Paris Hilton, is up against Mitt Romney. And boy, oh boy, does Mitt have buddies with big bucks. Ranker.com has a list of the 34 biggest Super-Pac donors to date. Nineteen of them are big Romney supporters, giving $250,000 to $2 million. Fourteen of them run or are part of hedge funds. These are the people who make billions of dollars but get taxed at rates lower than people who work for a living. Naturally, they want one of their own to lead us, someone who's is sympathetic to paying a tax rate of 15 percent or so, including all their taxes, Social Security, Medicare, real estate, school, and sales taxes.
This season's Republican presidential race is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when we think some boring choice—Mitt Romney—has at last been made, it thrusts Rick Santorum upon us. When Rick last held elective office, he was one named one of the three most corrupt members of the United States Senate. But he's firm on the Republican fundamentals, save the fetuses, kill the foreigners. That's far more important than who's bought him and paid for him.