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October 22, 2014

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Sources: Adelson contributed to campaign but had no say in video’s strategy

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Kin Cheung / AP

Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., speaks during the news conference of the opening ceremony of the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel in Macau Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007.

Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has deployed personal and corporate wealth on political causes for years. But it’s a well-timed $5 million contribution to rescue a faltering Republican presidential campaign that has placed him in the spotlight as a potential kingmaker on the national stage.

Adelson’s donation last week, to supporters of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, has drawn attention because it helped bankroll distribution of a 28-minute video portraying former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner, as a greedy corporatist who rose to wealth on a wave of working-class misery.

It arrived as Gingrich saw his presidential prospects fading and Romney solidifying his hold on the race. The money has allowed the former House speaker and friend of Adelson to extend his campaign through the crucial South Carolina primary.

Without Adelson, Gingrich would no longer be a factor. With him, he may not win, but many expect the impact of Gingrich’s last few weeks on the campaign trail to be felt into the general election.

Adelson has distanced himself from the anti-Romney video.

A source close to Adelson said Adelson had no hand in the strategy of attacking Gingrich’s main rival for the Republican nomination for his capitalist endeavors.

It’s more than a little paradoxical that Adelson — a self-made billionaire and the eighth-richest person in the nation — would help fund the distribution of a video attacking the way Romney made his money. Indeed the documentary furthers a perception of the wealthy that Adelson has tried to dispel.

“I know there’s a perception in life that people who become financially successful do so by climbing up the broken backs of people whose backs they break, but I never climbed up on anybody’s broken back,” Adelson is fond of repeating, according to past news accounts.

The episode has garnered attention for its influence on a presidential race. But it’s typical of Adelson’s approach to politics.

Where fellow pro-business conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch have a sweeping and sophisticated strategy for spending on building their own national political machine, Adelson is more attracted to individual actors and personal relationships.

“Sheldon’s philosophy has been more to contribute to good candidates that he’s trusted to make good decisions rather than being an issue-driven ideologue,” Pete Ernaut, a Republican political consultant, said.

A source involved in Adelson’s decision-making said Adelson backs the candidates and causes with which he identifies, declining to be more specific.

“He’s a passionate person. He cares deeply about the country and the direction of the company. He cares deeply about the future of his children and grandchildren, and he has the means to be able to support those beliefs,” the insider said.

Adelson’s recent contribution to Gingrich isn’t his first. In 2006, he provided $1 million in seed money for Gingrich’s political nonprofit American Solutions for Winning the Future. Since then, he’s donated $7 million to the organization that Gingrich used to build his presidential run, largely on the platform of the Republicans’ 1994 Contract with America that championed issues close to Adelson’s heart — lower taxes, smaller government, a privatized Social Security program and a focus on cultivating entrepreneurialism.

Adelson’s contributions to Gingrich are likely the result of a long-standing friendship. About the same time Gingrich was gathering political power in the U.S. House, Adelson was accumulating wealth and success on the Strip. The two share similar philosophies on government spending and intervention in the private sector and a strong antipathy toward labor unions.

Many in the national media chalked up Adelson’s $5 million assist to Gingrich to their shared hawkish Mideast views.

Shortly before the donation, Gingrich told an interviewer that Palestinians are an “invented people” — a comment Adelson quickly praised. As one source put it, “To the extent Sheldon has a passion outside of making money, his passion is Israel.”

That passion prompted Adelson to launch Israel’s largest daily newspaper, which many credit with helping drive Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to premiership — the most notable display of Adelson’s influence on international politics.

Adelson has a much more mercantile goal with his political spending closer to home.

“His primary focus is business, and he understands the impact of governing on his business,” said a source familiar with Adelson’s political spending. “This is a business cost.”

Forbes estimates that Adelson is worth $21.5 billion. The son of a Boston cabdriver, Adelson was a teenage capitalist, selling newspapers on street corners and launching a vending operation before joining the Army.

His path to extraordinary wealth began when he launched Comdex in Las Vegas, the tech industry’s premier trade convention at the time. The profits from the sale of the trade show financed his purchase of the Sands, which he demolished to build the Venetian.

“I say this really respectfully: He’s always been traditionally independent and a rugged individualist, and to some extent, that is why he got to where he got,” said one gaming industry insider. “When Vegas didn’t want Comdex, Sheldon pushed it on them. That funded the Sands. He pretty much likes to contradict the norm.”

Adelson has feuded with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, seeing the taxpayer-funded entity as a direct threat to his convention facilities. More recently he has opposed legalizing online poker, a major initiative for several Strip casinos.

Only last year did he rejoin the Nevada Resort Association, the industry’s lobbying group.

“Anybody, whether friend or foe, who knows Sheldon, knows he’s really smart, he’s relentless and he’s very passionate about his beliefs,” Ernaut said. “He’s not the kind of guy who will back off on something. If he’s a supporter of yours, you have a strong friend. If he’s an opponent of yours, you have an extremely worthy adversary.”

The Las Vegas Sun interviewed sources in business and politics for this story. Few wanted to go on record. As one person put it: “Who wants to pick a fight with someone whose pockets are deeper than yours?”

Adelson’s political activism hasn’t been as successful here as it has been elsewhere in Nevada.

In 1998, he spent more than $2 million in an attempt to get three Republicans elected to the Clark County Commission. All three lost.

He was a major backer of former Gov. Jim Gibbons, who easily won his first gubernatorial election only to be rendered ineffectual in office because of personal troubles and the state’s sliding economy.

In 2008, an Adelson-supported ballot measure that would have redirected room tax money away from the LVCVA to education and public safety failed to qualify for the ballot.

But while those efforts to nudge Nevada toward his business-friendly worldview have failed, it hasn’t stopped him from pouring money into politics. He’s successfully backed Rep. Joe Heck and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, both Republican.

According to the National Institute in State Politics, Adelson has given $7.6 million to the Nevada Republican Party and Republicans running for state office since 2004.

Adelson can be petulant with his money at times.

“He can be; it’s his,” said one source.

He once pulled a $250,000 donation to his synagogue, after it moved a roast of Mayor Oscar Goodman from the Venetian to another location because Goodman refused to cross the union picket line in Adelson’s fight with the Culinary Union, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Generally, Adelson gives heavily to the Republican Party and its campaign arms — the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Adelson has given nearly $1.1 million to federal campaign committees and candidates since 1996. This cycle alone, he has injected the national GOP with $215,000.

As a political donor, Adelson has, to a certain extent, remained true to his reputation as an individualist in the business arena.

Sources familiar with Adelson’s political spending say he often is the sole decision maker. That was most likely the case with his donation to the Gingrich super PAC.

“Usually the decision is already made,” one source said. “It’s Sheldon coming in the room and saying, ‘I’m writing a $5 million check to Newt’s super PAC.’ And that’s not something you stand in front of and try to stop him from doing.”

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  1. The Citizens United Ruling the U.S. Supreme Court handed down has still been determined to be the most stupid ruling I have ever seen them do in my lifetime. To show how absurd it is, that means I have ONE vote, but someone like Mr. Adelson is assured to have his ONE vote, and clearly able to influence THOUSANDS, may even MILLIONS of other votes to think like him. Our democracy intended fairness to happen with our voting capabilities. This ain't it.

    Besides the fact that it is now an American law that money can now buy an election, other instances of how horrible that decision was are now popping up and coming to light.

    When someone hands money over to a candidate, THAT candidate can hide from and deny knowledge of its use. I guess because they can't tell SUPERPACs how to spend it. I actually believe to my soul this is probably not true, but okay, I'll give it to them. It allows them the ability to deny they know what it's used for.

    On the other side of the coin, the person who handed the money over to a candidate can easily proclaim plausible denial over how it was used. Hence, Mr. Adelson can fall back on that and prevent his reputation from becoming besmirched.

    But here's the thing.

    You have a person who is very, very rich, who made his money in Las Vegas running a posh super, no wait, mega casino. He takes 1 to 5 million dollars (not sure what the total is exactly...it keeps fluctuating according to who reports it), gives it to a SUPERPAC identified with Newt Gingrich, who is not from Las Vegas. In turn, that money is used in inflammatory ads against Mitt Romney, again another person who is not from Las Vegas, to smear him. The ad was not made in Nevada. And upon completion of said ad that cost millions of dollars, it is not even aired in Nevada. It is used right now solely in the Sovereign State of South Carolina.

    Does anyone see how stupid this all sounds to us people who live and thrive in Las Vegas?

    Las Vegas has the highest unemployment rate (13 percent) in the nation. We are still reeling from home/business foreclosures that are not letting up. So sustained that it's leaving entire neighborhoods and strip malls in decrepit ruin.

    And here's a billionaire FROM HERE who does this?

    Don't get me wrong. It's his money and he can spend it how he wants.

    Actually, I don't care how he spends it. He could flush it down a toilet for all I care.

    But he has actually taken a large sum of money..money he earned in Las Vegas..and spent it on a really, really stupid thing.

    You ask me, he would have done better advertising a bonfire, taking that 1-5 million dollars out on the Las Vegas Boulevard, piled it up, poured charcoal lighter fluid on it, struck a match, set it on fire, and let it go til the Fire Department showed up.

    The people here in Las Vegas who are in survival mode could have received some sort of satisfaction out of that above mentioned act by Mr. Adelson.

  2. Warrior, for some reason you equate political satire and comedy sketches as some kind of validation for the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

    Gimme a break. That's nonsense.

    Ever since America was created, there has been political satire. Mark Twain, Will Rogers and all the way up to Saturday Night Live, Jon Stewart.

    Political satire has been before, is now and always will be free. It's freedom of speech. It is not encumbered by money. It is simply comedy.

    The greatest satire against this court ruling is the fact that RIGHT NOW, as I'm typing this, Mr. Steven Colbert is running a campaign, with his SUPERPAC, to run as "President of the United States of South Carolina."

    To break it down even more, Mr. Colbert is making fun of that ruling and displaying to the nation how stupid it is.

    That U.S. Supreme Court ruling was hair brained. My own personal opinion is that if I were one of those nine justices, I would be ashamed of not only that ruling, but participating in any way shape or form in its formulation.

    Just because the comedy doesn't conform to an agenda, then it must be a conspiracy is utter nonsense. I have seen the right wing continually use this excuse ad nauseum. I guess if it don't meet a neo-conservative agenda, it must be liberal propaganda. That way of thinking is simply self-serving, not based on any fact whatsoever. Comedy don't conform to that. Comedy is comedy. Period. The agenda is secondary. Because it don't get a laugh.

  3. Very true, Warrior. But you are making an overall assumption the people from Saturday Night Live made it SOLELY for the purpose of making a political statement that would eventually be portrayed over and over again on news outlets and/or elsewhere.

    That wasn't the case.

    It was made ONLY for their show. For comedic effect. For political satire.

    They aren't responsible where it goes from there. They didn't make it for that purpose. Only for their show.

    And there is a visible difference with political satire and money paid to SUPERPACs.

    One is for the ratings of that show. The other is for a political agenda.

    If they seem to coincide, that's just circumstantial. Both were to make money, but for different reasons.

    You seem to weave it around and around so that it all equates the same. It don't.

    Again, there's that incredible attempt to link an agenda with an insiduous plot. It ain't there. That political paranoia is a far stretch.

    No matter how you look at it, people are now allowed to buy off our democracy and, the most horrible thing imagined is set up so that nobody is to blame for it. They get to hide behind stupid rules that are set up to defend plausible denial so they can stay in the background, thus ensuring this gets further and further preposterous and out of hand.

    I make a prediction right now. This whole Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling sets it up for the most unimaginable instances of money laundering to happen.

    I can see where criminal organizations will dump illegally obtained money into SUPERPACs, then easily draw that money back out, paying a marginal fee for it to come back out clean.

    Sounds like it can't happen right? NO. The way it's set up right now is that anonymity is SACROSANCT. They can do it and get away with it, using the system against itself, out of the public eye, even out of law enforcement scrutiny.

    This is a drastic example, but it CAN and probably WILL happen.

    Anyways, enjoy your comments, Warrior....

  4. ColinFromLasVegas,

    You are welcome to put your money out there and then you can influence all the people you want to.

    Not the same as posting on free forums on web sites. Means putting your money where your mouth is.

  5. Sorry, vegaslee, but I can't afford a lobbyist. In your book, I guess that makes me less than what I am.

    Just because I ain't got money don't mean I can't have a voice though.

    But I can afford to comment here. Last time I checked, free speech is still...free.

  6. So why complain about a man that can afford it. As you say, freedom of speech no matter what your income level is.

  7. The supremes ruled 5 - 4 in favor of allowing private citizens/corporate moguls and super PAC's the right to donate unlimited funds to whomever they choose. The entire Supreme Court is not responsible for the decision, but only the 5 far right extremists who control the court's agenda. The Supreme Court is no longer an impartial judicial body, but a polarized bunch of questionably sound jurists who should be subject to election, rather than political appointment for life. Adelson and Gingrich are pals, and Gingrich patronizes Adelson's Vegas properties. Gingrich has no chance to win the GOP nomination, and it will be interesting to see how many votes in the S.C. primary 5M dollars can buy. It will not be enough for Newt to change the outcome of this contest. We have reached the point where only money matters, and responsible solutions to the ills of our country don't.

  8. ressince73 says: "We have reached the point where only money matters, and responsible solutions to the ills of our country don't."

    Very, very true. You said in one sentence what I was trying to convey in earlier comments.

    It should be pointed out that the State of Montana just passed a bill to restrict the amount of money used in their local/State political races.

    The amazing thing about the passage of that bill is the fact that this is a red State, with a majority of Republicans. One would think they would side with the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision, but they didn't.

    I watched on the news where one of the elected officials was asked why they took the course of action they did. He said the answer was they didn't want history to repeat itself.

    He pointed out that the copper mining (and other mining corporations) back in the 19th Century were COMPLETELY and UTTERLY controlling the politics with a saturation of money. THEY were the only ones who had a say in the politics. The average voter didn't matter at all when they showed up at the voting stations. A law was instituted back then to get the money out to rectify a horrible attack on our democracy.

    And those legislators in Montana remembered that. And they don't want capitalism running the country. They wanted one man, one vote. NOT millions of dollars tipping the scales in corporate favor.

    I just hope America wakes up and pays attention.

    Montana did.

    They learned from history.