Politico weighed in today with a bombshell revelation: Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is set to hand $20 million to a “Super PAC” backing Newt Gingrich. Such a sum could have a major impact on the GOP primary, enabling him to ward off the barrage of negative ads currently pummeling him daily — meaning that one extremely wealthy man could play an extraordinarily outsized role in helping decide the GOP nominee for president.
This prompted a good question from Taegan Goddard: “How on earth is this legal in American politics?” I checked in with David Donnelly of the Public Campaign Action Fund to get an answer.
It turns out there are scenarios under which this might not be legal. If someone who works directly for Gingrich’s campaign solicted this money in any way from Adelson, that would violate Federal laws that prohibit coordination between campaigns and super PACs.
But here’s the interesting twist: The scenario under which this is legal is, at bottom, not significantly different from having Gingrich’s campaign aides directly solicit such contributions.
Thanks to Citizens United and a subsequent court decision, Super PACs can raise unlimited sums, and spend it all advocating directly for or against a candidate, as long as there’s no coordination between the Super PAC and the candidate’s campaign. But this prohibition against coordination doesn’t really have much signficance in the real world.
Consider that one of the pro-Gingrich Super PACs that may receive this $20 million, Winning Our Future, is headed by Becky Burkett, who was the lead fundraiser for Gingrich’s main political operation for years, American Solutions. That group raised a total of $54 million.
What this means: Someone who has been closely consulting with Gingrich for years, and has spent years in direct contact with all his donors and advisers, is suddenly in a position to raise unlimited sums to put behind his candidacy — including $20 million from one man.
“People who have worked directly for Newt Gingrich, know how the man thinks, and have had access to the people who have supported him over the years, can now raise unlimited amounts from them,” Donnelly says. “She’s a bigger benefit to Gingrich outside his campaign because there are no limits to what she can raise.”
And, of course, imagine how much influence Adelson will wield if his $20 million helps secure the nomination for Gingrich. It’s another way that Citizens United and other court decisions have blown away whatever sanity once reigned over our campaign finance system, replacing it with an absolute fundraising free-for-all that maximizes the influence of the wealthy to untold degrees, with untold consequences for the future.