By Jerry Rogers

After blasting the deep-seated cronyism of the Obama administration for over six years, some in the GOP Establishment have resurrected their own crony power play. A billionaire businessman is asking the government – and his friends in the GOP – to criminalize his potential competition. And, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has – once again – jumped at the chance to help him. You see, this crony monstrosity had all but died in the lame-duck session of the last Congress. However, rather than get to fixing what is broken with our economy, and getting the government out of the business of picking corporate winners and losers, Chaffetz and his GOP allies are promoting crony capitalism at the expense of free enterprise.

Billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson tried unsuccessfully to build an online gaming business. After failing to capitalize on the market, his company, Las Vegas Sands, has been arguing that online gaming represents a massive threat to the profitability of land-based casinos. With New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada legalizing online gaming for their residents, the threat appears to be growing. So Mr. Adelson is doing what many billionaire political donors have done all too often – he is asking his friends in government to ban his competitors.

Promising “a full push” for the bill, Chaffetz has reintroduced the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) for the 2015 congressional session, and has already been given a March 5 hearing on the legislation. This isn’t the doings of those lefty Pelosi Democrats. No, this is the GOP abandoning its free-market principles to help one guy with deep pockets. Adelson spent $13.2 million on the 2014 elections to help Republicans capture the Senate. More, after bragging that he would “spend whatever it takes” to achieve his goal, Adelson launched a coalition, hired lobbyists to write legislation and got his bill introduced … twice!

RAWA was drafted by one of Adelson’s lawyers and has nothing to do with the existence of online gambling. It exists, and Americans spend billions annually on unregulated overseas gaming sites. This legislation isn’t about safety. Foreign sites operate without child safeguards or financial protections. The legislation is about shielding one billionaire and his business from competition – the epitome of cronyism.

Chaffetz said last session that states wanting to legalize Internet gaming needed to come to Congress for permission. That’s right. Not only is the Chaffetz/Adelson bill a repudiation of the free market, but the crony bill turns federalism on its head. This is big government run amok. It’s government bullying the states.

Conservative opposition to RAWA has been wide, clear, and very loud. ACU’s Dan Schneider has said that “Conservatives don’t have to agree on the value of gambling, but we should agree that it is unwise to use the brute force of the federal government to try to stop states from making their own decisions.” ATR’s Grover Norquist has argued that these decisions are best left in the hands of the states. The Chaffetz bill is at odds with a growing movement in the states to rein in the federal government. State legislators from coast to coast have introduced some 200 bills seeking to invalidate regulations and laws coming out of Washington.

Any Republican who abandons his or her principles to support RAWA will be sacrificing short-term political support for long-term damage to economic liberty. It’s way past time for the GOP to rid its ranks of the poseurs who talk conservative but govern like Democrats. After winning the majority by opposing President Obama’s corporate bailouts and green-energy kickbacks, Republicans need to reject Adelson’s crony power play for good. The Chaffetz bill is not about gambling. It is about undermining federalism and promoting crony capitalism.

Jerry Rogers is vice president at the Institute for Liberty and the founder of Capitol Allies, an independent, nonpartisan effort that promotes entrepreneurship, economic growth and free enterprise.

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