Conservative groups take on Hagel nomination

Anonymous right-wingers want to derail the president's choice to head the Defense Department

Published January 27, 2013 6:15PM (EST)

Several anonymously-backed conservative pressure groups have launched a campaign to shoot down former Senator Check Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary, the New York Times reports. The push, which faces an uphill battle, highlights a new way that contributions from unnamed backers can influence high level activity in Washington in the post-Citizens United era.

New York Times:

A brand new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, saying he would make the United States “a weaker country.”

Another freshly minted and anonymously backed organization, Use Your Mandate, which presents itself as a liberal gay rights group but purchases its television time through a prominent Republican firm, is attacking Mr. Hagel as “anti-Gay,” “anti-woman” and “anti-Israel” in ads and mailers.
The paper reports that even if the push fails, it is a relatively inexpensive – a few million dollars – way to deplete the President’s political capital at the beginning of a new term. At least seven groups are involved in the campaign against Hagel.

Some of the speculation about the anti-Hagel donors has revolved around billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, parent company of The Venetian. Adelson is an uncompromising supporter of Israel who donated more than $100 million to bring down the president during the 2012 election. Despite the disappointing return on investment, Adelson has made clear that he’s not done spending money to buy his desired political outcomes. The Times did not, however, confirm that Adelson has opened his wallet to fight Hagel.

For his part, Hagel insists that his views on Israel have been “completely distorted.” What this compilation of his controversial statements in the Washington Post makes clear is that Hagel does not believe that the Jewish state's most reactionary elements have the God-given right to do whatever they want, whenever they want to whomever they want. For a Republican in Washington these days, that’s a pretty radical view.

By Alex Halperin

Alex Halperin is news editor at Salon. You can follow him on Twitter @alexhalperin.

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Campaign Finance Chuck Hagel Citizens United Israel Middle East Secretary Of Defence