Celia Murray, columnist

Several possible Republican presidential candidates traveled recently to Las Vegas for private meetings with billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

Ostensibly, each was attending the Republican Jewish Coalition annual meeting, but the Washington Post and Time magazine reported that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich would all have private meetings with Adelson.

Adelson, the eighth richest person in the country, poured more than $92 million into the 2012 elections, according to the Washington Post, and he has made no secret of his desire to find a non-extremist candidate who can win the presidency in 2016. Potential candidates are anxious to have Adelson’s support.

Adelson may be seeking a non-extremist candidate, but he, himself, advocates using nuclear weapons against Iran rather than negotiation. Adelson has become a symbol of the new system of financing presidential elections.

As Ari Fleischer, former spokesman for President George W. Bush, said, “Certainly, the ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary for any Republican running for president…that anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.”

Dan Balz, in the Washington Post, said the Sheldon Primary demonstrates just how warped the system for financing presidential elections has become. After Watergate, a system of public financing for presidential candidates was created and was universally accepted. That system has now been completely shredded.

As Balz explained, several court decisions, including most prominently Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, hastened the rise of super PACs. Political action committees are allowed to take unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals and can openly advocate for individual candidates.

Court decisions also brought us a new era of shadowy financing of political activity by so-called “social welfare” groups. Like super PACs, these groups also take huge individual donations – tens of millions – but they are not required to disclose their contributions.

They can engage in political activity, supposedly within defined limits, but those limits have done little to slow their growth.

Adelson and others like him operate within the law, but this new financing structure for elections has had, as Balz puts it, “a corrosive effect on public confidence in government and politicians. It is why so many Americans feel shut out of the process.”

There can be no doubt that democracy is better served by many millions of small donations, as opposed to a few donations of many millions. Politicians often speak of “doing the people’s work,” but when donors like Sheldon Adelson almost single-handedly finance a national campaign, can anyone doubt the politician is then “doing Sheldon’s work?” It is time to insist that our politicians put the public interest ahead of their political needs.

As to Adelson – we know that the first Republican primary of the 2016 presidential election has already occurred.

We just don’t know yet who won.

Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Committee.