Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007 | 7:06 a.m.
For nearly a decade, there has been one rule in Democratic politics: Don't take money from Sheldon Adelson or his companies.
As it turns out, two prominent party members have taken campaign cash from the Las Vegas Sands, the Venetian and other companies controlled by the billionaire conservative.
Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani took $40,000 last year, after she virtually locked up her seat by winning the Democratic primary. Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, who has also been a state Democratic Party chairman, took $10,000 from Adelson's companies in December 2004.
Democrats' accepting money from Adelson's companies "is unheard of in this century," political consultant Jim Ferrence said. Historically, money from Adelson would turn off Democratic activists and, more important, sour relationships with the Culinary Union.
"It would be like Harry Reid taking money from Rush Limbaugh," Ferrence said.
The contributions, including the $40,000 to Giunchigliani, were all legal. As is the practice of other gaming companies and state businesses, Adelson got around the $10,000 per entity cap by having the Sands Expo & Convention Center, Las Vegas Sands LLC, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and the Venetian Casino Resort LLC each give the maximum amount.
Historically, though, Adelson has funded causes on the opposite end of the political spectrum and has earned his spot as Democrats' bogeyman.
He tried to limit labor's ability in the late 1990s to participate in political causes; tried to unseat or recall, a number of Democratic commissioners in Clark County; and is a major contributor to Freedom's Watch. That conservative group has run advertisements across the country supporting President Bush's position in Iraq and backing Republican congressional candidates.
But the major reason Adelson's money is lira non grata among Democrats is that the Venetian is the only major property on the Strip that is nonunion.
Giunchigliani and Collins are seen as fervently pro-union.
The Culinary Union refused to comment for this story. Jill Derby, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, did not respond to a request for comment.
But observers worry that Adelson might assume he will get access to the two politicians through his donations. And they expressed concern that Giunchigliani and Collins could be seen as tacitly backing his political and union stances by taking the money.
Giunchigliani, who was a liberal voice in the state Legislature, disputed that.
"It's important to establish a relationship with people to better articulate positions," said Giunchigliani, whose commission district includes much of the Strip. "Anybody who knows me knows I'm pro-labor, no matter what. I don't agree with the Sands' politics, and I doubt they agree with mine."
Collins and Giunchigliani pointed out that the Venetian and Adelson's most recent project, the Palazzo, have been built with union workers.
"You could say that the more money he gives to Democrats, the less money he'd give to Republicans," Collins said of the man Forbes magazine ranked as the sixth richest in the world.
Collins said he also got the OK to accept the money from the state AFL-CIO head, Danny Thompson.
Thompson said he could not remember the conversation.
Labor, Thompson said, considers who donates money to a candidate when it makes endorsements.
"There's been a long history of the Venetian and labor generally being on opposite sides of most things," he said. "Most if not all politicians recognize that."
Although Thompson praised the two politicians for being union supporters, he made clear that contributions from Adelson's companies will be noted.
"I would hope other electeds are aware of the friction between labor and the Las Vegas Sands," he said.
Gary Gray, political consultant to Collins and Giunchigliani - and who is Giunchigliani's husband - said the issues before the Clark County Commission are less about partisanship and more about planning matters such as zoning.
"If a legitimate business owner in this state wants to signal a shift in philosophy to one which is more pragmatic, and make donations to both parties, I think it should be encouraged," he said.
The Las Vegas Sands issued a statement to the Sun:
"Both commissioners treat us fairly," it said, "and that is why they received our support for their campaigns."