Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson gave $500,000 to a Super PAC supporting my campaign for Congress. The report was quickly picked up by media outlets throughout the world.
To say I am grateful is, understandably, an understatement. But this is not only due to the amount donated but to the people donating as well. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson are heroes of the Jewish people and international benefactors of medical research. Few other individuals today have demonstrated more markedly what great wealth can do to rejuvenate a beleaguered, imperiled democracy like the great State of Israel, and few other philanthropists have done more to foster Jewish identity worldwide. That they do so as proud, patriotic, and civic-minded Americans adds an inspirational quality to American Jewry who witness their work.
Almost a millennium ago Judaism's greatest thinker, Maimonides, wrote that the challenge of wealth is to see money as a means rather an end. We beseech God for prosperity not merely to afford a new HDTV but as the means by which to repair the world. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have over the last few years alone given more than $100 million to Birthright Israel, more than $25 million to Yad Va'Shem, and hundreds of millions more to fighting disease, establishing clinics for the poor, and other humanitarian needs.
This bears mentioning given the recent, savage attacks they have endured ever since they announced a preparedness to spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat President Obama. In this hyper-partisan climate, the activism of a businessman with strong political convictions, backed by a ruling of the United States Supreme Court, can nevertheless open himself to the most scurrilous attacks with even world-renowned publications treating the allegations of disgruntled employees as fact. That government agencies seem to be leaking information about investigations that are thus far inconclusive is even more worrying and will no doubt sow fear in others who are considering political activism.
I personally witnessed the vitriol the Adelsons invite through their political contributions. The day after the donation to the Super PAC supporting my candidacy was announced, Aref Assaf, the President of the Arab-American forum, issued a statement to the media saying, "The Adelson money has effectively sealed the capitulation of Mr. Boteach to the right wing and Islamophobes in the Republican Party, and their financiers." While this was only the latest of Assaf's invective, Sheldon Adelson remains one of the foremost targets of those who spew hatred into the American political arena.
Fairer people ask whether the glut of Super PAC money is good for America. It is a good question and Mr. Adelson has been quoted as saying that he would prefer if money were not a component of American politics. But so long as it is, it is fair for people on the right to counter the massive infusions made by people on the left.
But while I absolutely agree that it would be wonderful if ideas rather than money was definitive in American politics -- and I have steadfastly run a Jewish-values based campaign founded entirely on new political initiatives -- I would remind those who decry Super PAC spending that the biggest problem in American politics today is incumbency.
The vision of the founding fathers was one of citizen-politicians leaving their farms and law practices for a few years to serve their countries and then return to private life. George Washington could have been president for life but declined a third term. Thomas Jefferson so hated the presidency that he pined to return to his beloved Monticello and neglected to mention on his tombstone that he had served as America's chief magistrate.
What they could never have envisioned was lifetime, career politicians being elected to the United States Senate with an 80 percent re-election rate and incumbents in the House being re-elected at an even higher and truly staggering rate of 90 percent. Indeed, no more than five to ten incumbents lose their seats every two years. OpenSecrets.com, who have a disturbing chart about incumbency, sum it up well:
Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives winning reelection. With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats.
Bill Pascrell, who signed the infamous Gaza 54 attack on Israel and against whom I'm running, has been in the House for 16 years. While I campaign against him I have to find a way to support my family (you're obviously not paid by your campaign), raise money from people who think that as a challenger I am a certain underdog, build name recognition, and try to reassure all those who say they are afraid that if they come out and support me openly Pascrell could retaliate against them (you can't imagine how many people have told me this, and I assume the same is true in other Congressional districts).
But while Pascrell runs he is paid his full congressional salary with all its perks, is allowed to do franked mail (thinly veiled campaign pieces aimed at raising positive name ID) at the taxpayer's expense, and has a huge compliment of congressional staff to assist him. And though they are not permitted to campaign, their responsibility for myriad other tasks sure makes life a heck of a lot easier. Most importantly, there is the pork barrel spending that an incumbent can claim to have brought into his district and these huge investments have the practical effect of simply buying business and voters off with money their representative says he brought from Washington.
Gerrymandering further leads to approximately 89 percent of all districts being dominated by a party and giving the challenger from the other side of the aisle little hope of prevailing.
No wonder that of 435 Congressional districts, only 15 are considered toss-up seats. Beyond that only 46 of those seats even have a chance to change hands. Even on a presidential level there are only eight swing states where votes truly matter, all of which makes one question the very foundation of American democracy. These sobering facts should be kept in mind before one swallows arguments against Citizens United, flawed as it is, uncritically. Before we attack outside investment that might give a challenger some hope of prevailing, perhaps we should first discuss the need for terms limits or some other equalizing factor.
What the Adelsons contribution to the Super PAC supporting me has done is force my challenger Bill Pascrell to finally wake up. Here is a man so assured of reelection in a Democratic-leaning district that he has not even bothered to update his website since the June primary. He refuses to debate me, respond to me, or even campaign, so contemptuous is he of the democratic process and the need to actually earn the public's vote.
To this challenger it seems a little unfair, not to mention a touch hypocritical, for professional, lifetime politicians to attack Sheldon and Miriam Adelson who have done a service in giving the people of the ninth district of New Jersey what they surely deserve: a real campaign and a choice between rival candidates and political visions, which form the very fabric of American democracy.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.
HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the corrupting influence of money on our politics August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.
Follow Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiShmuley