Billionaire Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson sat in the House Chamber Tuesday Morning as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress.
At that moment, though, Adelson was, on paper, a host of a viewing party two blocks away at the Capitol Hill Club, a GOP haunt. The viewing party doubled as the fundraising kickoff to the presidential campaign of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
While Graham and Adelson are certainly of one mind on all things Israel, this week highlighted another issue (far less grave than a potential war with Iran) where Adelson is well served by Graham's policy preferences: banning Internet gambling.
Graham's home state, heavily evangelical, is very opposed to gambling. This makes his opposition to Internet gambling sensible, but it also makes his partnership with Adelson odd.
Adelson is the chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, a titan in the casino industry. He's the 12th richest man in America, worth $32 billion, according to Forbes. He's also a major Republican donor and fundraising, having spent $100 million of his own money to help Republicans in the 2012 elections.
In 2012, Adelson's favored Republican was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. This time around, he's giving early help to Graham, who has no chance of winning. Given Graham's foreign policy, it's no surprise Adelson would back him, but why does a casino mogul want to limit online gambling?
Adelson says, "My moral standard compels me to speak out on this issue." Adding, "I don't see any compelling reason for the government to allow people to gamble on the Internet." That's an interesting view of individual liberty coming from a Republican: Everything should be illegal unless there's a compelling reason to make it legal.
But here's a good rule to follow in Washington: Whenever someone is proposing a government intervention, look past the "moral standards" he's trumpeting, and follow the money.
Online gambling creates competition for casinos, and could take their customers away. While other major casinos, such as Harrah's, have tried to adopt their own online gambling businesses, Sands has dug in.
And Adelson can't simply point to his personal moral views, because the push to ban online gambling is a corporate thing, not merely a personal thing. Sands' lobbyists Darryl Nirenberg of Patton Boggs wrote the first draft of the bill, the Hill reported last year. And lobbying disclosures show that the company's hired lobbyists — including former Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln — are still lobbying for the bull.
This money trail winds back to Graham. Adelson hosted at least one fundraiser for Graham's Senate re-election in 2014, when Graham introduced the Restoration of America's Wire Act (RAWA). The bill, which withered last Congress, would take Internet gambling away from the states and ban it.
This week Adelson served on the host committee of the Capitol Hill Club fundraiser for Graham's "Security Through Strength" political committee.
The invitation explained that the committee existed to help Graham "'test the waters' for a potential 2016 run for president. The committee will fund the infrastructure and operations allowing Graham to travel the country, listen to Americans, and gauge support for a potential presidential candidacy."
Graham will reintroduce RAWA soon, his office tells me. On the House side, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, already has introduced RAWA. Judiciary's Crime subcommittee is holding a hearing on it Thursday morning.
As of Tuesday evening, the Committee hadn't published the witness list, but a source familiar with the hearing gave me the lineup, and it's hardly balanced.
One witness, University of Illinois Professor John Kindt, argues that legalized online gambling will be a money-laundering haven for terrorists and organized crime.
A second witness at Thursday's hearing, law professor and former federal prosecutor Michael Fagan, sounds the same notes. "Commercial Internet gambling creates huge pools of capital, which effectively serve as wholly unregulated banks," Fagan said, while testifying before Congress back in 2010, "inviting and facilitating money laundering and terrorist financing."
Les Bernal, a prominent anti-gambling activist, is another witness. He's president of a nonprofit group called Stop Predatory Gambling.
A fourth witness, Parry Aftab, is the most moderate, calling for "a strict regulatory system" of online gambling on the federal level.
That's it. Michelle Minton at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute (where I served a journalism fellowship 10 years ago) tells me that her organization — along with allies such as Americans for Tax Reform and Students for Liberty — petitioned committee members and staff to have a strong pro-liberty, pro-states' rights voice testify at the hearing. They were rebuffed in that request, and even rebuffed in their effort to reserve another committee room in which to hold a sort of counter-hearing.
Republicans supporting the legislation will talk of morals and consumer protection, but as with any proposed regulation, it's a good bet that industry money is behind the push for big government.Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.