Republicans have a not-so-secret weapon to counteract all those small-donor Democrats: A few very rich friends.
Politico reported Thursday that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson recently gave $30 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, the Paul Ryan-aligned super PAC that plans to spend big defending House Republicans this fall. That’s three times the total Adelson gave to the group in 2016, a year that would see Democrats gain a half-dozen seats but still come up nearly 50 seats short of a majority. Adelson’s check represents more than half the $51 million the CLF raised during the entire 2016 cycle, and more than what the group brought in during the 2014 and 2012 campaigns combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Of course, Ryan, as an elected official, isn’t legally allowed to ask Adelson for that much money. So instead, the House speaker reportedly flew to Las Vegas last week for the meeting, but then left the room so his friends could close the deal for him.
Adelson’s donation, which will show up in the group’s next FEC filing, will add to the Congressional Leadership Fund’s advantage over its Democratic counterpart, the House Majority Fund. As of early April, the CLF had raised $42 million, while the Nancy Pelosi-aligned House Majority Fund had brought in a relatively paltry $19 million.
Small-dollar fundraising may be a good gauge for voters’ enthusiasm, but it’s the megadonors who are likely determine which party has more to spend in the months between now and November. In 2016, Tom Steyer gave $90 million to liberal super PACs, outspending Adelson, who sent a combined $78 million to conservative super PACs that cycle.* There were also a number of other Democrats clustered near the top of the 2016 individual super-PAC donor leaderboard, including Donald Sussman (no. 3 with $35 million), Michael Bloomberg (no. 7 with $24 million) and George Soros (no. 9 with $20 million). Steyer has already cut his own $30 million check this year, though to an outside group he controls, and just this week the New York Times reported on a new alliance of wealthy Democrats who have quietly raised nearly $10 million for a joint-committee aimed at flipping the House. (That’s 10 million apples compared to Adelson’s 30 million oranges since their group is structured in a way that it can give cash directly to candidates, who get discounted ad rates.)
In 2016, GOP-aligned super PACs outspent their Democratic rivals by $165 million across all elections, $607 million to $442 million. And House Republicans are hoping to benefit from similar largesse from their friends in the midterms. They’ll likely need it given recent special elections suggest Democrats are getting far more bang for their buck these days.
Republican megadonors have good reason to heed the call. While the GOP tax law hasn’t turned out to be a huge success with your average voter, it will definitely pay dividends for the party’s donor class. Take Adelson, who’s worth an estimated $43 billion (and who also—bonus!—vehemently opposed the Iran nuclear deal that Trump just broke). As Bloomberg News’ Steven Dennis notes, Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, reported a $670 million tax windfall in the first quarter of the year thanks to the Republican tax overhaul. At that rate of return, a $30 million investment looks like a bargain.
*Correction, May 10, 2018: Due to a typo, an earlier version of this post misstated how much Tom Steyer gave to super PACs in 2016. He gave $90 million, not $90 billion.