WASHINGTON -- Who wants to marry a billionaire?
John Kasich does. So do Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.
When Sheldon Adelson, the world's eighth-richest person, according to Forbes, let it be known that he was looking for a Republican candidate to back in the 2016 presidential race, these four men rushed to Las Vegas over the weekend to see if they could arrange a quickie marriage in Sin City between their political ambitions and Adelson's $39.9 billion fortune.
Adelson was hosting the Republican Jewish Coalition at his Venetian hotel and gambling complex, and the would-be candidates paraded themselves before the group, hoping to catch the 80-year-old casino mogul's eye. Everybody knows that, behind closed doors, politicians often sell themselves to the highest bidder; this time, they were doing it in public, as if vending their wares at a live auction.
As The Washington Post's Philip Rucker reported, Kasich, the Ohio governor, kept addressing his speech to "Sheldon," as if he were having a private tete-a-tete with the mega-donor (Adelson and his wife spent more than $93 million on the 2012 elections) and not speaking to a roomful of people.
Walker, the Wisconsin governor, pandered unabashedly by giving the Hebrew meaning of his son Matthew's name and by mentioning that he displays a menorah at home along with the Christmas tree. And Christie, the New Jersey governor, gushed about his trip to Israel and the "occupied territories."
That was a gaffe. Pro-Israel hawks consider the term pejorative and, at any rate, the more relevant occupied territory at the moment is the Republican Party -- wholly occupied by billionaires.
In addition to Adelson, two of the world's other top-10 billionaires, David and Charles Koch (combined net worth: $81 billion) are pouring tens of millions into the 2014 midterm elections in an effort to swing the Senate to Republican control. These and other wealthy people, their political contributions unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, are buying the U.S. political system in much the same way Russian oligarchs have acquired theirs.
This pay-to-play culture is, at best, unseemly. What makes it ugly is when it becomes obvious just how much the wealthy corporate interests get in return. As it happens, two such instances were on display Tuesday on Capitol Hill, as one congressional committee examined how Caterpillar Inc. avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes while another panel probed how General Motors was allowed to produce cars with a lethal safety defect for more than a decade.
A Senate panel examined how Caterpillar, using a tax loophole, shifted profits from the United States to its affiliate in Switzerland, where it negotiated a special tax rate, thus cutting its U.S. taxes by $2.4 billion. Julie Lagacy, the Caterpillar official at the hearing, was unapologetic. "I want to emphasize Caterpillar complies with the U.S. tax laws, and we pay everything we owe," she testified.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is trying again to pass legislation that would help government regulators find problems and force recalls more quickly. But Markey has a distinct disadvantage getting it enacted. He isn't doing a billionaire's bidding.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.
(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group