He is profiled by Connie Bruck in the current New Yorker. This is evidently part of Bruck's on-going series on politically connected rich guys such as casino mogul and GOP/Likud power broker Sheldon Adelson and subprime mortgage monger Angelo Mozilo.
An entertainment mogul sets his sights on foreign policy
He remains keenly interested in the world of business, but he is most proud of his role as political power broker. His greatest concern, he says, is to protect Israel, by strengthening the United States-Israel relationship. At a conference last fall in Israel, Saban described his formula. His “three ways to be influential in American politics,” he said, were: make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets. In 2002, he contributed seven million dollars toward the cost of a new building for the Democratic National Committee—one of the largest known donations ever made to an American political party. That year, he also founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C.
The weird thing is how little this kind of influence upon the world's only superpower costs. According to the article, Saban has a net worth of $3.3 billion. Bruck lists his key donations as $7 million to the Democratic Party, $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, and $13 million to the Brookings Institute. Those are Israel-size handouts. In Russia, in contrast, $25 million in payoffs might buy you a little protection, but if you want influence, you'll need to pony up a lot more.
C'mon, T. Boone Pickens has given $165 million to the Oklahoma St. athletic department.
Presumably, it's not the initial donation that buys influence, it's the promise of lots more maintenance donations and the recipients' fear of not getting the subsequent donations.
Plus, the big advantage is not, say, the $13 million dollars worth of sub-think tank he bought at Brookings, but the implicit veto he bought himself over the rest of Brookings. That's a big advantage of giving $13 million to Brookings to set up the Saban Center for Middle East Policy instead of spending it setting up his own stand-alone think tank: it inevitably sends a warning to the Brookings Institute management that if they do something to displease Saban, they might not get another penny from him. But, he can't buy that kind of veto power over them without giving them the first penny.
Or is it the free private jet trips for big shots that buy influence? (Or am I overthinking all this, and the real influence doesn't come from the public donations but from suitcases full of unmarked bills?)
He considered buying The New Republic, but decided it wasn’t for him. He also tried to buy Time and Newsweek, but neither was available. He and his private-equity partners acquired Univision in 2007, and he has made repeated bids for the Los Angeles Times.
A friend writes:
The New Yorker is properly incurious as to how Saban will deploy Univision [the chief Spanish language television network in the U.S.] while observing his personal primary directive, not just "is it good for the Jews?" but "is it good for Israel?" What did they give it, two or three paragraphs on the deal itself after about 8000 words of history? (By the way, shouldn't a piece like this lead with the interest--his current political machinations--and then do the history? it's almost like they want people to quit articles before they get to the weenie*).
The preternaturally canny Saban went 10 bil in the hole to buy Uni at the top of the market [the subprime boom made outlets for Spanish-language advertising very profitable back in 2007]. I think he sees Uni first as a business opportunity--a guy who made his bones ferreting out unappreciated licensing revenue potential [in the publishing rights to music used in cartoons] might see the sprawling Uni and the Latin market a virtual playground for that kind of stuff. But what will he say to the Spanish-speaking population of North America (again, observing the prime directive)? Personally, I'm hoping he loses enough money to sicken of it and sells.
I'm thinking of that "where is the Hispanic Obama" theme the msm took up early in the post-Arizona hysterics. Reporters are exquisitely conditioned--they take on faith that a "Hispanic Obama" is just what we need! (I used to be disgusted...) Saban probably thinks it's a good idea too--with none of the delusional sentiment of our tel-luminati.
Several days before the opening of the Forum, Saban appeared on the Israeli “Meet the Press,” on Channel 2, which is owned by Keshet. Until a year earlier, Saban had been one of the owners of Keshet. The interviewer, Dana Weiss, warmly told Saban, “You really are our rich uncle in America, and we can rely on you.” Still, she noted that he had wanted to become the largest donor to the Democratic Party, and pointed out that, in Israel, “businesspeople’s desire for access to the political system immediately raises our suspicions.”
Surely, she said, there must be potential for abuse when capital and government are linked. “Didn’t you ever see a politician that you had to stop?” Weiss asked. “Who was in your pocket?"
“Let me give you an example of this access, and why it’s completely O.K.,” Saban responded. “I hosted the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, in my home. I was informed that he refused to sign a letter to Obama, which was signed by most of the senators, supporting Israel, before the speech in Cairo. . . . I got the message on Saturday and he was at my house on Sunday. I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you sign?
“So he said, ‘Because I don’t sign other people’s initiatives,’ as the leader, as head of the Democratic Party.
“I said, ‘So send a letter of your own.’ ” And, Saban added, smiling, and with hesitation, as though he did not like to boast, “He did.”
He continued, “I won’t say that nobody abuses it. But I’ve been active in American politics for over fifteen years, and I’ve never abused it. No one ever wrote that I abused it. Everything is fine. We can look for something,” he added, laughing. “But we won’t find a thing.”
The article makes clear that Saban vastly preferred Hillary over Obama, and that he therefore flirted with McCain, but Saban couldn't bring himself to go GOP. But then Hillary got to be Secretary of State, so he can't be too unhappy.
In many ways, the growing role in American political life of Israelis such as Saban, Sheldon Adelson's latest wife, and Zev Chafets, author of that amusingly ironic article on the putative Hispanic Obama, is (or, at least, ought to be) an intellectually liberating one, since Israeli culture is so in-your-face frank that Israelis find it hard to resist at least hinting at what they really think.
The kind of semi-sincere Winston-Smith-loved-Big-Brother doublethink that we saw on display in the Stephanie Grace affair is the kind of thing that comes more naturally to Newton Minow's daughter. Can you image what Haim Saban would have said if he were the dean of Harvard Law School? I can't, but it's amusing to try.