Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. embassy in Israel

What Money Won’t Buy Even for Adelson

If you listen long enough to liberals complaining about the Citizens United decision, you’d think the country is being sold lock, stock and barrel to wealthy donors to presidential candidates. But the most publicized political contributor in the country isn’t getting much deference for the big bucks he’s throwing in the direction of Mitt Romney. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has been pilloried from coast to coast by liberals who don’t like his willingness to put his money where his mouth is and fund Republicans intent on defeating Barack Obama. Adelson is doing nothing more than exercising his constitutional right to political speech, but even he can’t guarantee his candidate will do as he wishes. As Eli Lake and Dan Ephron report in the Daily Beast, Adelson asked Mitt Romney if he’ll pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and got little satisfaction.

Romney is rightly staying away from talking about pardoning Pollard. An election campaign pledge on that issue would have been inappropriate as it would have politicized a strong case for clemency that many serious people, including former CIA chief James Woolsey, feel is overdue. As for Jerusalem, while Adelson is dead right in calling out the foolishness of a several-decades-old policy, again, Romney is no fool. By saying he will do so in cooperation with the Israeli government, he is keeping his options open. But the real point here is not whether Adelson’s requests were wrong — they weren’t — but the idea that political donors can call in IOUs from candidates is bunk. While his millions will buy Adelson the ability to make his requests in person and, as his spokesman said, an invitation to the White House Chanukah party — they don’t ensure Romney will give him what he wants.

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If you listen long enough to liberals complaining about the Citizens United decision, you’d think the country is being sold lock, stock and barrel to wealthy donors to presidential candidates. But the most publicized political contributor in the country isn’t getting much deference for the big bucks he’s throwing in the direction of Mitt Romney. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has been pilloried from coast to coast by liberals who don’t like his willingness to put his money where his mouth is and fund Republicans intent on defeating Barack Obama. Adelson is doing nothing more than exercising his constitutional right to political speech, but even he can’t guarantee his candidate will do as he wishes. As Eli Lake and Dan Ephron report in the Daily Beast, Adelson asked Mitt Romney if he’ll pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and got little satisfaction.

Romney is rightly staying away from talking about pardoning Pollard. An election campaign pledge on that issue would have been inappropriate as it would have politicized a strong case for clemency that many serious people, including former CIA chief James Woolsey, feel is overdue. As for Jerusalem, while Adelson is dead right in calling out the foolishness of a several-decades-old policy, again, Romney is no fool. By saying he will do so in cooperation with the Israeli government, he is keeping his options open. But the real point here is not whether Adelson’s requests were wrong — they weren’t — but the idea that political donors can call in IOUs from candidates is bunk. While his millions will buy Adelson the ability to make his requests in person and, as his spokesman said, an invitation to the White House Chanukah party — they don’t ensure Romney will give him what he wants.

Unlike a great many political donors, Adelson’s political contributions are not primarily related to promoting his business. Instead, he is interested in promoting causes he cares about, principally the security of the state of Israel. The willingness of Jewish Democrats to smear Adelson because he rightly sees President Obama as no friend to Israel is unconscionable, especially because he is well-known for his generosity to a host of non-political issues and charities.

Adelson is hardly alone in his desire to see Pollard freed after 27 years in prison. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY article on the Pollard case published last year, the former U.S. Navy analyst is no hero. He broke his oath to the United States and did much damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as to loyal American Jews who serve in the government. But his punishment was disproportionate–no spy for a friendly government has ever received anything close to a life sentence. Nevertheless, it was foolish of anyone to expect even someone as sympathetic to Israel as Romney to say anything about the case during the election campaign.

As for moving the embassy, that is an evergreen request from pro-Israel contributors and activists of all political stripes. Romney has come closer to pledging to move the embassy than most candidates. It’s an idea that makes sense, because it is absurd for the U.S. to pretend Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital and doing so only allows the Palestinians to go on dreaming that America will someday help them drive the Jews out of Jerusalem. If Romney does move the embassy, it will be a shocking case of a candidate actually keeping a promise that no one expects him to keep. But if, in the unlikely event that happens, it will not be the result of Adelson’s contributions, but a decision on the part of the new administration that President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from Israel needs to be symbolically reversed.

But the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this discussion is not about the rights and wrongs of Adelson’s requests but how this story effectively debunks liberal myths about campaign contributions. Not only is Adelson not getting his way on these requests, but the Romney campaign isn’t shy about making it clear that even the most beneficent contributor to the candidate’s coffers can expect nothing more than a civil hearing.

Try as they might, liberals will never be able to take money out of politics. But the free flow of political contributions and the speech such money buys rarely results in the quid pro quo that horrified leftists assume such transactions always entail. Adelson is backing Romney because he can’t stand Obama. The only thing he can be sure of getting for his money is helping the chances that the president will be defeated. Beyond that, all he can do is hope his candidate will live up to his promises and do the right thing on those issues where there is no promise. Which puts Adelson pretty much in the same boat as every other citizen, even those without millions to give politicians.

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