Money and politics behind closed doors at the RNC

Written by
Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition event, putting on a button that says “Obama… Oy Vey”

Headlines about the convention so far have mostly focused on the night’s speeches by elected officials. That’s a big part of it, sure. But there’s a lot that happens when the cameras are off. And it involves a lot of money.

At an event Wednesday sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, delegates from states like Alabama and Texas mingled with men with long beards and yarmulkes. Celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was of the speakers. He’s running for Congress in a heavily Democratic district in New Jersey. “My friends, I’m in a race where I wasn’t even given a chance,” said Rabbi Boteach, “and two heroes of our community, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, gave 500 thousand dollars to my SuperPAC.”

He was talking about Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who’s vowed to put $100 million toward defeating President Barack Obama in November. That’s just part of the $5.8 billion that will be spent on this year’s federal election and while Super PAC spending is bipartisan, Republicans are winning. “There’s a huge imbalance favoring conservative Super PACs this cycle. So far they’ve spent more than $161 million compared to just $43 million for liberal SuperPACs,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director at the Center for Responsive politics. Krumholz said the Republican Jewish Coalition has already given $4 million to Super PACs, including those run by GOP strategist Karl Rove and former Senator Norm Coleman.

Investigative reporter Peter Stone is writing a book about the rise of Super PACs, and said that some of these events honoring donors are publicly advertised. “There’s one coming up in a few minutes that is being done by Americans for Prosperity to honor David Koch, but there are many that are private, on yachts and in hotel rooms and in restaurants, where top strategists for the various groups are getting together, some cases wooing donors,” said Coleman.

David Koch is co-owner with his brother Charles of Koch Industries and a major backer of conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity. He was attending the convention as a delegate from New York – proof to some that the outsider activist is becoming more comfortable working within the Republican Party establishment.

Back at the Republican Jewish Coalition event, the group Code Pink staged a rally against Israeli military policy before promptly getting hustled off by security. Inside, Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz shared his views on Iran’s nuclear program. “If Israel acts unilaterally to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon capacity, I think the United States should applaud that decision,” said Cruz.

With a bustle outside the room, security guards ushered in the 25 billion dollar man himself, Sheldon Adelson. “You’ll be the next Senator,” Adelson told Cruz, “We’re working very hard to make that happen.”

There were a few more statements from Adelson directed to the press: “Romney is very pro-Israel. What’s your question?” “Are you confident Mr. Romney is going to defend your ideas on Israel as much as you want?” “It’s not my idea, he’s gong to defend whatever he thinks is best for the relationship with America.” And then, “Guys, let’s go! Press exit! Can we please stop with the camera! To the right please! Can we please go?”

That’s when the event stopped being public and candidates and donors got to rub elbows, discuss policy matters, and secure the funding that helps them compete in their home districts. It’s the kind of deal-making that’s out of the public eye, in an event that’s all about controlling the message.

Listen to this story: