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Bahbah: Can the U. S. Elections be Bought?

posted on: Nov 28, 2018

Bahbah: Can the U. S. Elections be Bought?

By: Bishara A. Bahbah/Arab America Featured Columnist

I will let you be the judge based on facts and figures.

Let us begin with the most recent 2018 US midterm elections to find out how much was raised and spent and who contributed the most funds and through what vehicles.

The 2018 US midterm elections set a record as the most expensive midterm elections in US history – a record $5 billion was spent.  Besides local elections, the national elections were for those running for the US House of Representatives – all 435 seats were up for grabs as House members are elected for two-year terms.  And, 34 Senate seats were open – one-third of the Senate because senators are elected for six-year terms.

Noteworthy observations from the midterm elections.

  • History repeated itself. A majority of incumbents who ran for re-election got re-elected to the tune of more than 90 percent.  In other words, the $5 billion spent ended up changing the composition of the House and the Senate by less than 10 percent.  One can attribute this obscenity of an expenditure to the freewheeling political system of the United States.  Imagine if there are spending limits on election campaigns and $4 billion of those funds are instead used to fight hunger and disease around the world!
  • Dozens of candidates who spent more than their opponents lost. It could be argued that spending more money is no guarantee of winning a seat.
  • Nevertheless, the winners of the majority of House races were the candidates who raised and spent the most money.  This clearly means that, in most cases, the amount of money raised and spent was a factor in the candidates’ victories.
  • Democrats were able to flip the House because Democratic candidates had a huge spending advantage over Republicans in this year’s midterm elections.  This helped them get people to the voting polls. Historically, a larger voter turnout benefits the Democrats.

Who Donated $5 Billion and through what Vehicles?

Candidates’ Campaign Est. $2.5 billion:

Candidates establish campaign committees that raise funds from family, friends, and constituents as well as outside funding such as political action committees (PACs).  The funds raised by the candidates are subject to contribution limits and the donors have to be made public.  If we assume that the 469 candidates (435 House candidates and 34 Senate candidates) raised a total of $2.5 billion, each would have raised an average of $5.5 million.  Of course, there are many anomalies.  The most striking one was in Texas where the Democratic candidate, Beto O’Rourke, raised in his fight to unseat Senator Ted Cruz a whopping $69.1 million.  This senate race went down in history as the most expensive Senate or House race in US history.

Political Nonprofits (Dark Money) $98 million:

Politically active nonprofits – principally 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s – have become a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles.  The term “dark money” is often used to describe this category of political spending because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding.

These organizations can receive unlimited corporate, individual, or union contributions that they do not have to make public.  Although their political activity is supposed to be limited by the IRS, which has jurisdiction over these groups, by and large, has done very little to enforce those limits.  As a result, spending by these organizations has increased from less than $5.2 million in 2006 to well over $300 million in the 2012 presidential cycle and more than $174 million in the 2014 midterm elections. [Source:  Center for Responsive Politics, November 24, 2018]

Congressional Leadership Fund $137.5 million:

This committee supports House GOP candidates and its super PAC set a record by spending $137.5 million in the 2018 US midterm elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  Miriam and Sheldon Adelson alone donated $50 million to this fund. There is also a Senate Leadership Fund which supports Senate GOP candidates.  This Fund received another $50 million from Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.

Independence USA:

This is a super PAC that supports Democratic House and Senate candidates.  Michael Bloomberg alone donated over $30 million to this PAC. The Senate Majority PAC supports Democratic Senate candidates. Again, Bloomberg alone donated $20 million to this PAC.

Special Interest PAC Committees $385 million:

These PACs focus their giving on incumbents.  They gave $385 million to those already in office for an average of more than $500,000 per incumbent.  By comparison, these PACs donated a total of $72.5 million for challengers, for an average of $35,000 per challenger.

Outside Spending Groups $500,000:

These represent individual donors, organizations, and employee-funded super political action committees (PACs).  There are no limits to what these individuals and entities can give to “influence” US voters. An article published by the Washington Post on October 26, 2018, entitled “Meet the Wealthy Donors Pouring Millions Into the 2018 Elections,” noted that “nearly 80 percent of contributions [to these outside spending groups] come from donors giving more than $500,00.”  In other words, the majority of the funds donated come from a handful of individuals with agendas bent on influencing the votes of the American public.

In conducting my own analysis of the 13 people who donated more than $10 million to super PACs in the 2018 US midterm elections, I observed that these 13 people donated a total of $362,106,036.  Of these mega-donors, only 4 were non-Jews. These four contributed a total of $66,418,000 which represents a mere 18.34 percent of the total donated by all those who have given more than $10 million.

By comparison, Jewish donors contributed the remaining 81.66 percent of that total. Among those mega-donors were Miriam and Sheldon Adelson who contributed $112,250,000 to Republican causes which is double the amount of the next largest donor, Michael Bloomberg.  Jewish donors are Republican, Democrat, and Independent.  They span the political spectrum all the way from right-wingers to progressives.  They are clearly at odds with each other on many issues depending on their political beliefs.  In most cases, these donors, with the exception of probably George Soros, are united in their unquestionable support of Israel.

The generosity of these Jewish donors and the tens, if not, hundreds of thousands of other Jewish donors that actively donate to political campaigns are paying very handsome dividends.  I am not singling out Jewish donors out of spite but out of admiration for the exceptional political work that they are able to do within the confines of the legal system.  If every community with a cause in the United States is as astute and smart as Jewish Americans are, the United States could very well be a better place for all Americans.  And, quite frankly, shame on Arab Americans for being self-centered and selfish.  As much as we would like to think that there is such a thing as Arab American, it is really 22 Arab-American nationalities that we are dealing with.

Given the generosity of Jewish-American monetary contributions to US local, federal, and presidential candidates, do we think that these contributions provide influence and access?

Only an uninformed idiot would say, no!

Let us recap the political landscape.

In the US Senate: Chuck Schumer will be the Senate Minority Leader

In the House of Representatives: Seven of the Major House Committees will be chaired by Jewish Congressmen.

Bahbah: Can the U. S. Elections be Bought?

Photo: Reuters

As for Donald Trump, given his personality and his follow-the-money policies, Adelson’s contributions did not go unnoticed nor unrewarded.  Adelson generously donated to Trump’s presidential election campaign as well as to his inauguration festivities.  In return, Adelson got his wish and had Trump move the US embassy to Jerusalem and had Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Additionally, Adelson must have been quite pleased, as was his ally Benjamin Netanyahu, with Trump’s decision to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, other Palestinian charitable causes and, more importantly, to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) in their attempt to take the right of return for Palestinian refugees off the negotiating table.

As a result, Adelson considerably increased his financial support to Republicans in the US midterm elections and must have promised Trump unlimited financial support for his presidential reelection bid in 2020.

As the world awaits the unveiling of the long-promised deal of the century with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Adelson and his likes must be trying very hard to do whatever they can to preempt anything in that proposed deal that would adversely affect Israel.  And, hundreds of millions of dollars would be a small price to pay to ensure that Israel gets its way in any future proposed deal.

By investing a few hundred million dollars in US elections, Adelson and his like-minded Jewish Americans have figured out that to get what they want, especially when it comes to Israel, that amount of money is a small price to pay to get US ironclad political, diplomatic, military and financial support for Israel.

Now, please tell me. Can US elections be bought?


Prof. Bishara Bahbah was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem based “Al-Fajr” newspaper between 1983-84. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Peace Talks on Arms Control and Regional Security.  He taught at Harvard and was the associate director of its Kennedy School’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.