As someone who spent most of his adult life in elected office, I know the importance of campaign contributions. Whether Americans like it or not, money is the life-blood of politics. Without strong financial support, it is hard, if not impossible, to run an effective campaign. This is a bipartisan problem, plaguing both Democrats and Republicans alike.
To put things in perspective, the 2012 campaign for the presidency is estimated to have cost around $2.6 billion. Some estimates for the 2016 campaign are nearly double that, at an astounding $5 billion.
This is why Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire who contributed at least $100 million in the 2012 election (all to conservatives), carries so much weight in the Republican Party. With Mr. Adelson’s support, Republican candidates are assured they won’t be outspent by their opponents. As a result, it has become almost a right of passage for Republicans running for president — or even Congress – to meet with Adelson and plead their case for his backing.
If reports are accurate, it seems Adelson is likely to throw his considerable heft behind Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, as the Republican candidate for president in 2016. Regardless of Adelson’s support, Rubio has a good shot at winning his party’s nomination: he has stayed above the fray of the insults and personal attacks dominating the Republican primary and his debate performances have been impressive.
Yet, Rubio is seeking and is likely to accept millions of dollars from Adelson. This could be a critical error in judgment. A watchdog group recently asked the Senate Government Affairs Committee to investigate the source of Adelson’s great wealth, suggesting at least some of it stems from his connections to Chinese organized crime syndicates known as triads.
The Las Vegas Sands Corporation (LVS), Adelson’s company, owns casinos in Macau, a small an autonomous territory in the South China Sea with strong ties to China. Macau is a former Portuguese territory, now famous worldwide for it casinos and nightlife.
The watchdog group, Campaign for Accountability, referred to internal LVS documents revealing that the company has been doing business with Cheung Chi Tai, identified as the leader of the Wo Hop To triad in a 1993 Senate report. The organization has compiled evidence – largely internal LVS documents revealed in a Nevada court case — that the triads are bringing high-rolling gamblers to casinos in Macau. Including those owned and operated by LVS. Despite Cheung being implicated in a murder for hire plot and being charged with money laundering in Hong Kong, internal LVS documents indicate the company knowingly maintained a relationship with him.
This is problematic for Adelson and the candidates who take his political contributions because it means that foreign money — from Chinese organized crime — is potentially being laundered into the American political arena. In a 2012 interview, Sen. John McCain suggested Adelson was supplying foreign money into American political campaigns. Campaign for Accountability has asked the Federal Election Committee to investigate this issue.
Internal LVS documents also found ties between the casino and Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng. He is alleged to run prostitution and human trafficking rings in Macau and was arrested in New York last month, charged with bribing the former head of the UN General Assembly. This potentially means that Adelson’s money making its way to Republican candidates could come from profits from young women forced to sell their bodies for sex.
I believe the Republican candidates who have taken Adelson’s contributions have been unaware of these facts and find triads morally reprehensible. Now that this information is public, will it dissuade Republicans from taking Adelson’s money? Adelson says only that these allegations are nothing new. To be fair, they are just allegations. But it does not appear they ever have been subject to serious investigation. Candidates standing by Adelson may well find themselves embarrassed to be associated with him, even if they need his money to run an effective campaign.
Ronnie Shows represented Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District from 1998 – 2001.