Sheldon’s Panderfest

Political pandering was in full blossom in Las Vegas last weekend as Republican presidential wannabes sought to impress GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and his fellow big givers of their total devotion to Israel and just about anything else these wealthy contributors want.

In his zeal to impress the rich folk at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie referred to the West Bank as "occupied territories," a term commonly used by most Israelis and the Israeli media but a near-mortal sin in the eyes of hardliners like Adelson, whose politics are to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The usually brash and confrontational Christie was a portrait of humility and repentance as he rushed to Adelson to confess his sin, beg for mercy and promise never to utter such blasphemy again. Word from Sin City is that he was forgiven.

Panderfests are common in both parties.  The Conservative Political Action Committee held a gigantic one recently, the National Rifle Association is about as big as they get, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee boasts that half the Congress turns out for its annual policy conference.  What makes the RJC event a bit different is that it looked like a command performance for one man, Adelson.  Of course there were numerous other RJC members, many very wealthy but only one multi-billionaire who was the single biggest Republican contributor in 2012.

Christie wasn't the only performer.  Possible presidential contenders Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also spoke.

Kasich has a foreign policy background from his nine terms in the Congress, where he built a solid pro-Israel record. Walker is weak on foreign affairs, but he let Adelson know that during the holidays he displays a Christmas tree and a menorah.

Not invited this year was Newt Gingrich, who was Adelson's anointed candidate in 2012 until his campaign crashed and burned, but not before spending $15 million of the casino mogul's money.  Gingrich, in what might be classified as biting the hand that fed him, told National Journal that wealthy donors like Adelson have too much influence.  Our election process "radically favors billionaires and is discriminating against the middle class."  Odd, he never mentioned that when he was Speaker of the House or running for president.  Now, when it's too late for him to do anything about it, he says "we desperately need…election reform." 

Newt may be a hypocrite about campaign finance reform, but he's right about the need. For a good look at the caustic influence and role of big money in both parties, read Dan Balz' column in the Washington Post, The ‘Sheldon Primary’ is one reason Americans distrust the political system.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.