Sheldon Adelson's "Foreign Money" and John McCain's Hypocrisy

McCain didn't complain about the source of Adelson's money back when he was receiving it.


The Republican Party's 2008 presidential candidate, John McCain, is warning about foreign money influencing American elections this year via a prominent supporter of Republican politicians.

In an interview that aired June 14 on PBS's Newshour program, Senator McCain was asked about a report that the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, Sheldon Adelson, and his wife Dr. Miriam Adelson would give $10 million, and perhaps more, to a "superpac" supporting the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The exchange went like this:

JUDY WOODRUFF: This question of campaign money highlighted today by this — the announcement that there's a huge amount of money coming in from one donor in the state of Nevada.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Mr. Adelson, who gave large amounts of money to the Gingrich campaign. And much of Mr. Adelson's casino profits that go to him come from this casino in Macau.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which says what?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Which says that, obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign — political campaigns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because of the profits at the casinos in Macau?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. That is a great deal of money.

It may have been the lowest moment of Senator McCain's political career.

First, there's the hypocrisy of it. Sen. McCain did not voice any concern about the source of Las Vegas Sands' profits back in April 2008, when Adelson gave McCain's campaign $2,300, according to Federal Election Commission records. Nor was McCain fulminating about foreign money in August of 2008, when his presidential campaign got another $2,300 from Adelson, nor in September 2008, when the McCain-Palin presidential campaign got another $2,300 from Adelson for its compliance committee. Dr. Miriam Adelson put an additional $18,900 into various McCain presidential campaign-related committees in 2008, the FEC records show, again without a publicly reported peep then out of the senator about "foreign money."

Second, there's the xenophobia of it. This is particularly tragic coming from McCain, who with Senator Edward Kennedy had been a leader on legislation that would have done more to welcome immigrants to America. Foreign profits are a different thing than foreign persons who want to become Americans, but the underlying principle—that it's unwise to oppose something merely because of its foreign origins—holds in both cases.

Third, there's the Washington-based disconnect with contemporary American business reality. It's a global economy. You'd think that the politicians would want to be cheering American companies making profits overseas. Instead, Senator McCain seems to be almost demonizing them. Las Vegas Sands is hardly an outlier. A recent US News article says a typical big American company makes about 40% of its profits overseas. At General Electric, 54% of revenue is from overseas; at IBM, 64% of revenue; Intel, 85% of revenue; McDonald's, 66% of revenue. If the CEO of Intel or of McDonald's makes a political campaign contribution, can we expect complaints to follow from Senator McCain about "foreign money" infiltrating the American political system?

Is McCain himself suspect because his personal wealth derives from his wife's family interest in a distributor of Budweiser, the beer brand now owned by Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev N.V.? Were all those New York Times editorials backing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform suspect because the Times also owns the International Herald Tribune, which circulates in foreign countries, and because the New York Times Company is part owned by the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim?

The larger point is not so much about Senator McCain, who will be a less important national political figure going forward than he was in 2008, as about the spirit of the campaign finance "reform" crowd. That crowd seems determined to find a way to cast aspersions of corruption even in cases in which there is none. The press, which can indulge in politics to its hearts content without the disclosures to which the Adelsons are subject, loves to advance the narrative that, as Judy Woodruff put it, "in the wake of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United, we are seeing enormous sums of money going into this campaign."

But the big Asian campaign-money scandal was back in the 1990s, more than a decade before the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United that supposedly opened the spigots. Now McCain would have us believe the Chinese (Macau is part of China) are trying (via Sheldon Adelson?) to install Mitt Romney, a candidate who has been criticizing President Obama for being too soft on human rights in China and on Chinese "currency manipulation"? It doesn't add up. The claims of the campaign finance "reform" crowd almost never do.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of Samuel Adams: A Life.