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What's In It For Adelson?

Adam Lioz

A new report suggests—shockingly—that Sheldon Adelson may want something for the $36 million plus he's invested in the 2012 election thus far. (He reportedly just pledged $500,000 to help New Jersey Republican candidate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.) Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given a combined $36.3 million to Super PACs in the 2012 cycle. How many average American families would it take to match the same level of giving? Click to find out.

In our recent report Million-Dollar Megaphones, Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund pointed out just how few millionaires and billionaires are responsible for the lion's share of Super PAC spending in the 2012 election.  For example, just 47 donors giving at least $1 million accounted for more than half of all Super PAC fundraising.  

Then there are the "dark money" groups—we're pretty sure they're funded largely by big donors and powerful corporations, but we don't really know because they're not required to disclose their donors.  These groups have accounted for more than half of the non-candidate spending in the presidential race. 

In a similar earlier report, we talked about large donor dominance skews political outcomes.  We pointed out that wealthy donors have different priorities and policy preferences—especially when it comes to the economy (which just happens to be the biggest issue in many elections.)

But sometimes big donors "invest" in politics not just to push their policy preferences but out of bald self-interest.

Bloomberg has a new report detailing exactly what Adelson and other billionaire donors can expect to yield in exchange for their political investments.  The headline says it all: "Donors Invest Millions in Romney for Billions in Returns."  From Chinese currency valuation to the regulation of nuclear waste disposal, 10 big donors have billions at stake.

Adelson, 79, who is this election’s biggest spender, could see his casino profits soar if Romney’s pledge to crack down on China turns out as planned...

If the value of the Chinese currency were higher against the dollar -- as Romney has demanded -- it would give a boost to Adelson’s bottom line. That’s because gamblers from China, who make up the bulk of visitors to Macau’s casinos, would bring the same amount of yuan for betting no matter the exchange rate, said Grant Govertsen, an analyst with Union Gaming Group. So, in dollar terms, they’d be spending more.

This isn't about Mitt Romney. With tens of millions of dollars to invest, the super-wealthy will almost always find politicians to carry their water. And, it's not really about corruption either—most of the politicians these folks fund already agree with them on the issues.  

This is a fundamental problem of political equality. These billionaire donors give their favored candidates a much better chance to win through their largesse.  312,000 American families would have to kick in an equivalent portion of their net worth just to match Sheldon and Miriam Adelson's political "investments." That's just not fair.