If you were sleeping in 2010 when the Supreme Court — you know, the perfectly reasonable one that didn’t yet have Brett Kavanaugh on it — made political spending a form of free speech with its Citizens United case, you may not yet know that American politics is increasingly a possession of the 1%. In fact, for the first time in American history, there’s even a billionaire in the Oval Office showering tax perks on every other billionaire in sight. During the last eight years, not so surprisingly, “outside spending” in election campaigns has headed for the stratosphere. According to Open Secrets, “During the 2016 election cycle, the top 20 individual donors (whose contributions were disclosed) gave more than $500 million combined to political organizations. The 20 largest organizational donors also gave a total of more than $500 million, and more than $1 billion came from the top 40 donors.” Think about that for a moment and also consider this: in the 2016 campaign season, hardline pro-Israeli casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave millions of dollars to President Trump’s campaign and nearly $83 million in all to Republicans. Now, according to the New York Times, Adelson has a “direct line to the president,” a reality reflected in The Donald’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. In addition, in this mid-term election season, the couple has already invested a staggering $55 million in efforts to keep Congress in Republican hands.
And don’t think of this new reality as a purely all-American one either. There are some distinctly un-American deep pockets out there on our planet that are also pouring money into this country’s politics in order to get their own direct lines buzzing to Washington. In fact, speaking about the Middle East, as TomDispatch’s Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, points out today, right at the top of that list are the royals of Saudi Arabia. That includes, of course, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now the power behind the throne in that country. He’s wooed President Trump with the promise of massive future Saudi arms deals and, earlier this year, reportedly bragged that he had the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a key adviser on the Middle East, “in his pocket.” And what a pocket that’s proven to be! Given the disastrous Saudi war in Yemen that the prince launched in 2015 and that Washington has supported ever since, believe me, that’s no small thing. Today, Freeman offers an unprecedented look at just how a set of foreign Sheldon Adelsons have opened their deep, oil-rich pockets and put American politicians of all sorts in them. It’s a story that needs to be told.