ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Now that the Supreme Court has eliminated the cap on the total amount an individual donor can give to political candidates in each election, many people are wondering how the very rich will respond. Would spreading their money across a wider swath of lawmakers and would-be lawmakers improve their chances of passing the legislation they want?
Well, as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson could be the first test case. He's determined to see Congress pass a ban on online gambling.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Imagine for a minute that you've got virtually unlimited resources and you're trying to push a bill through Congress. The more lawmakers you can influence, the more votes you might get, right? Well, now the Supreme Court has ruled you can give the maximum $5,200 to as many candidates as you want. And Bob Biersack at the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics says that will multiply the power of the richest people lobbying on the Hill.
BOB BIERSACK: It allows them to connect more closely to more members of Congress and other decision-makers, in order to try to influence their votes on important legislation for those donors.
CHANG: There's one bill floating around Congress that's been getting a lot of attention lately: A proposal to ban online gambling. And the man behind the bill could afford to donate the maximum amount to every single member of Congress, if he actually wanted to. Sheldon Adelson is head of the Sands casino empire.
SHELDON ADELSON: Now, here's a kid that comes from the slums: Me. I came from a very poor family, four children and my parents. There was one bed in the room.
CHANG: That was Adelson two months ago on ABC's "Nightline." Today, the man is worth $38 billion. And after dumping $100 million into the 2012 election, he vows he'll throw even more into 2016. In the meantime, Adelson pledges he will spend whatever it takes to kill online gambling. His coalition says it's not about protecting his casinos from competition. It's about shielding children and the poor from gambling addiction.
(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)
CHANG: Andy Abboud is Adelson's top political advisor.
ANDY ABBOUD: Gambling is a vice and is something that should be done in a limited way, like alcohol, like many things. And it's something that should not be available to everyone all the time.
CHANG: Congress has already kicked into gear and the senator leading the charge has received tens of thousands of dollars this election cycle from Adelson and his family: Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, I don't know how much money he gave me. But I'm doing this bill because it makes sense to me to regulate chaos.
CHANG: Last week, Graham introduced a bill Adelson's lobbyists helped write. The senator has never been a visible critic of online gambling before, but Graham says fighting it now is a win-win situation. It will make his good friend happy, and it will make social conservatives back home happy.
GRAHAM: Sheldon and the Baptists are one with this. The Baptists in South Carolina...
GRAHAM: ...and Sheldon have become one person on this idea. You know, I'm sure that the people in Vegas have different financial interests. But from my point of view, this really easy politics for me back in South Carolina.
CHANG: Now, Adelson's political advisor, Abboud, says the senator's allegiance has nothing to do with the big checks he's gotten from his boss.
ABBOUD: To try and think that there's any link between a campaign contribution and legislation is a false notion. There's no connection between financial support for Lindsey Graham and the bill sponsorship.
CHANG: Still, Adelson and his team have made it clear they will spare no expense in this fight. And his opponents know it.
JAN JONES BLACKHURST: We don't have $38 billion.
CHANG: Jan Jones Blackhurst is the head of Government Relations at Caesars Entertainment. They think online gambling could actually attract new players and boost business. So they've launched a counter-offensive to kill the bill. But even Caesars is feeling a bit intimidated.
BLACKHURST: Certainly, you don't like to be going up against Goliath when you're David.
CHANG: And under the Supreme Court's new ruling, Goliath could become even bigger and scarier than before.
Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.
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