(CNN)If campaign cash is speech, then billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is going to have an awful lot to say about the outcome of the 2018 midterms.
Adelson’s largesse is both a boost to the endangered Republican majority and further evidence of their perilous position heading into November. Generic ballot polls show Democrats with a modest but mostly consistent lead and other measures, like voter enthusiasm, portend badly for the GOP, which has either lost or underperformed in winning a string of recent special elections.
But the bold-face news in Politico’s story, which had even jaundiced eyes bulging on Thursday morning, is tucked a few paragraphs below the headline in its frank description of the process that consummated House Speaker Paul Ryan’s courtship of Adelson and, to the point, the billionaire’s checkbook.
It went something like this: Ryan and a top aide sat down in Las Vegas alongside former Minnesota GOP Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the conservative nonprofit American Action Network, and AAN and CLF Executive Director Corry Bliss to pitch Adelson and his wife on the upside of keeping the House in Republican hands.
Then Ryan left the room.
The speaker excused himself, as Politico noted, because he is a federally elected official and cannot by law ask — directly, at least — any individual or entity for that kind of money. Super PACs can take in and spend as much as they want, but they are limited in their ability to coordinate with and donate to candidates and other officials. Hence, Ryan cleared out for Coleman to make the formal request.
There is, to be clear, no accusation or implication in the story — or here — of any impropriety. If the blow-by-blow is correct, Ryan, his associates and allies, did everything by the book. (Ryan’s office didn’t comment on the story; the CLF and a representative for Adelson haven’t yet responded to requests.)
But it is precisely that — to advocates of campaign finance reform, in particular — that makes the account so galling. A political party that, less than six months ago, passed a massive tax cut primarily benefiting the super wealthy is now taking in, however indirectly, tens of millions of dollars in funding for its candidates less than six months out from an election.
This, as the familiar refrain goes, is why people hate politics. And, more to the point, why they’re on solid ground in distrusting major political institutions.
Democrats will, of course, rail against this latest development and use the news to further rile up their base. This despite the fact that, yes, many of them have also used super PACs in similar ways.
Adelson, meanwhile, has been a top GOP donor for years. Republican during election seasons openly vie for his backing. He spent tens of millions to bolster and sustain former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s ill-fated 2012 Republican presidential primary bid. The question was never whom he’d back, but to what extent.
Now we know. What’s more, we have a detailed view of how this particular sausage got made.
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