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December 19, 2014

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Dems reminded: Don’t take Adelson money

But Culinary Union doesn’t say what could happen if they do

After four months of staring at the uncomfortable fact that some Democrats felt free to accept campaign contributions from conservative casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s companies, the Culinary Workers Local 226 has issued a reminder that it does not regard Adelson as a friend.

The Culinary Union last week mailed a five-sentence letter to all elected Democrats in Nevada, along with a copy of an article from the liberal Mother Jones magazine that detailed Adelson’s recent funding of conservative causes.

“Over the last couple of months, it has come to my attention that questions have been raised over whether elected (or prospective) Democrats should accept campaign contributions from Sheldon Adelson,” Culinary head D. Taylor wrote.

“I have always thought that Mr. Adelson’s long track record against our Union, the labor movement in general, and against the Democratic Party was enough to remind us of where loyalties lie. Apparently memories are shorter these days.”

The letter directs officials to call Taylor or the Culinary Union’s political director, Pilar Weiss, if they have any questions.

The Culinary letter does not specifically ask Democrats to refuse money from Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., or his companies. Nor does it ask the candidates who already have accepted money to return the contributions.

In an interview, Weiss would not directly say that Democrats should refuse money associated with Adelson or whether there would be repercussions if they accept such contributions.

“We leave it up to elected officials to use their own judgment,” Weiss said. “I believe we have made our position clear.”

As for those who decide to take money, she said: “I’m not going to articulate a definitive outcome. Obviously, we make recommendations and we formulate opinions based on their judgment. We hope they would use good judgment.”

Clark County Commissioner and former state Democratic Party head Tom Collins has accepted $16,000 from Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands and Venetian companies since 2004. Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani took $40,000 from Adelson’s companies in 2006 after winning the Democratic nomination for the seat she now holds.

Last year, Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly took $10,000. And Las Vegas Councilman Larry Brown, who is running for a county commission seat, took $5,000.

Brown declined to comment. He said, though, that he is to meet with the Culinary Union this week in a meeting scheduled well before he got the letter Monday morning.

Giunchigliani, Collins and Weekly did not returns calls to the Sun. Las Vegas Sands representatives declined to comment.

Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid said he has never taken money from Adelson and never would.

“I think it was a mistake for them to take it — particularly with where we’re at as a party at this moment,” he said.

He pointed to the protracted Democratic presidential nomination fight, noting that there is lingering division from the Nevada caucus, in which he supported Sen. Hillary Clinton and the Culinary backed Sen. Barack Obama.

“We were a family, there was fighting and we need to come back together,” he said.

A contribution from Adelson, Reid said, “has become symbolic.”

“He has fought against many Democratic candidates and initiatives, and in many ways come to symbolize the Republican Party in Nevada,” Reid added.

Dan Hart, a veteran political consultant working with Brown on his County Commission race, said he had expected the Culinary’s response to be more decisive.

“They weren’t explicit in asking Democrats not to take contributions,” said Hart, who clashed with the Culinary over special caucus sites on the Strip. “I expected them to be explicit, but they weren’t.”

The Culinary Union clearly is walking a line. Union leaders don’t want Democrats to accept money from Adelson, whose casinos are the only major nonunion properties on the Strip and who has funded initiatives targeting organized labor.

But the union also could come across as heavy-handed if it issues an edict. And if Democrats continue to accept money or refuse to return past contributions, the union would find itself in an uncomfortable position: Either politically punish a candidate with whom it is generally compatible or risk having its policy viewed as an empty warning and a sign of diminished clout.

No opponent has announced a run against Collins or Weekly. The filing deadline is next month. Giunchigliani does not have to seek reelection until 2010 and her district is safely Democratic. And it is unlikely, observers say, that the union would endorse Republican Assemblywoman Valerie Weber against Brown in his County Commission race.

The 60,000-member Culinary Union has been seen as one of the most dominant forces in Nevada politics, with its leaders predicting the union would be a key to victory in January’s Democratic presidential caucus. Clinton’s victory — which included wins at most of the special Strip caucus sites — took some of the veneer off the union’s reputation.

Although some speculated that the Culinary Union doesn’t have the political capital to issue a stronger edict, Reid chalked up the letter’s less than definitive language to the fact that the union is dealing with a new situation.

“It had become kind of an unwritten rule in Democratic Party circles,” Reid said of not accepting contributions from Adelson. “They’re trying to figure out how to deal with this amongst their friends. And you treat friends differently than opponents.”

David McGrath Schwartz can be reached at 259-2327 or at [email protected]

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