By Bill Boyarsky
With financial and political interests ranging from Las Vegas to Israel to China, Sheldon Adelson, who is bankrolling the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich, is a powerful illustration of the dangers of unlimited campaign contributions.
Casino magnate Adelson donated $5 million to the super PAC Winning Our Future, which helped Gingrich defeat Mitt Romney in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Then Adelson’s wife, Miriam, gave the pro-Gingrich PAC $5 million more for the Florida primary. These gifts provide sweet revenge for Gingrich, beaten in Iowa and New Hampshire with the help of ad campaigns funded by the pro-Romney super PAC, which is now operating in Florida.
Such unlimited contributions are permitted by 2010 federal court decisions. In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions could give unlimited amounts to political action committees supposedly independent of candidates. Following up on that, a federal appeals court in the SpeechNow case extended the privilege to individuals. Because of their ability to sweep up huge amounts so quickly, these political action committees have well earned the name “super PAC.”
Worth $22 billion, according to Forbes, Adelson owns casinos in Las Vegas and the Chinese gambling haven of Macau. He also operates in Singapore. Miriam Adelson is a physician, specializing in substance abuse rehabilitation.
Many of Adelson’s activities are influenced by federal government policy.
Connie Bruck detailed their range in a June 2008 New Yorker article. Stories by other journalists have filled out the picture of a man who won’t take no for an answer when it comes to politics and business.
The three main areas to watch for Adelson influence if Gingrich is elected president are Israel, China and unions.
All of the Republican presidential candidates except for Ron Paul are throwing around threats of bombing Iran if it goes nuclear, but Gingrich is particularly hawkish, as is Adelson.
Adelson is a dedicated supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The billionaire also publishes a right wing Israeli newspaper, wants the American embassy in Israel moved to Jerusalem and agrees with Gingrich that the Palestinians are an “invented people.”
Most important, Adelson seems ready for military action against Iran if that nation appears to be building nuclear weapons. I got that impression from Bruck’s report of a conversation between a Jewish-Iranian activist and Adelson about the son of the former shah. Recalling their conversation, the activist observed that Adelson was dismissive of Reza Pahlavi, the son, because, Adelson said, “he doesn’t want to attack Iran.” At another point in the conversation, Adelson said, “I really don’t care what happens to Iran. I am for Israel.”
Gingrich also sounds supportive of action against Iran if he thinks that nation ready to manufacture a nuclear weapon. When he was asked what he would do if Israel told him that it was going to attack Iran, Gingrich said, “If they told me in advance, I would say how can we help you?”
It’s also likely China would have a good friend in a Gingrich White House if Adelson has his way, perhaps bringing a sympathetic view of its police state government and brutally exploitative factories that take away American jobs.
Bruck reported that at a Chinese groundbreaking ceremony for one of his casino projects in 2007, Adelson said that although many members of Congress criticize China for human rights violations, he thought that: “People seem to be living a good life in China. Look at the incredible progress China has made. How can someone say they’re doing the wrong thing?” He added that those who don’t approve of the way China is governed “need not go to the country.” Adelson once made a phone call from China to his friend, then-House Republican Whip Tom DeLay, asking for the defeat of a human rights resolution opposing China’s 2008 Olympic Games bid. The resolution never made it to a vote because of the press of other legislative business, and China hosted the games.
Their mutual hostility to unions brought Adelson and Gingrich together, reported Nicholas Confessore and Eric Lipton in The New York Times this month. Adelson opposed the culinary workers trying to organize his Venetian casino in Las Vegas. He also helped finance a campaign for state anti-union legislation. As the dispute intensified, Confessore and Lipton reported, Adelson turned to Gingrich for advice for his campaign. Gingrich backed the measure.
The Adelsons, in a statement reported by Bloomberg, said “Our motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that we hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.”
I’ve never heard a big contributor say anything different. But that’s not the way the world operates. Such donors win special access to presidents, members of Congress or anyone else who has received their money. Too often, they get special favors—consideration when it comes to legislation or policy.
That’s politics, a cynic would say. But these practices resulted in the corruption and scandal of Watergate and “Casino” Jack Abramoff. Congress passed laws intended to limit campaign contributions and initiate other reforms, but they have been dismantled by the courts.
As the campaign continues, becoming more expensive, there will be more super PACs with big donors who have their own favors to seek or causes to promote.
There is a saying in casinos like Adelson’s: All debts must be paid.
AP / Matt Rourke
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks after receiving an endorsement from national Hispanic leaders at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami on Friday.