Sort by

$91.8 Million Buys You a Debate

Joseph Hines

As the Republican presidential candidates gather tonight, it’s worth noting where they’re debating. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the biggest outside spenders in the 2012 election, own the casino where CNN will host the debate, and have been meeting with several of the candidates to decide who to endorse. They’ll certainly be watching tonight.

The Adelsons were enabled by the Supreme Court’s steady unloosening of election spending laws, dating back to the misguided Buckley v. Valeo decision. In a report out today, we show the impact of these decisions and how they launched a vicious cycle of political, economic, and racial inequality that endures today

Holding a debate in a donor’s casino is a perfect case study for how campaign spending not only determines who gets elected, but what actual policy issues get considered in Washington. Today, Research Associate Sean McElwee published new data that shows that even within the Republican party, the donor class veers significantly to the right on economic issues. Without the influence of big election spenders like the Adelsons, the Republican party would likely support a minimum wage increase. In a dataset from 2008, McElwee shows that  “63 percent of Republican non-donors support a higher minimum wage, compared to only 32 percent of donors who gave more than $1,000.”

Here’s how the Adelsons gained the clout they did in 2012, and how much it outstrips the influence of ordinary Americans, drawn from the last FEC filing of the 2012 election.