December 19, 2011

Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson Is Betting on Newt Gingrich

When Newt Gingrich called the Palestinians an “invented people” and accused the State Department of coddling those “who would censor the world on behalf of Islam,” it may have seemed to some to be head-scratching harshness. But his views on foreign policy, and particularly the Middle East, appear to be in lockstep with his staunchly pro-Israel backers, including the casino-owning billionaire who is one of Gingrich’s most generous supporters.

Las Vegas Sands Corporation chairman Sheldon Adelson is likely to open his wallet anew for Gingrich, already telling friends he’ll do what he can to make sure the surging GOP presidential candidate has the money to succeed. The largesse would follow years of Adelson’s generosity to Gingrich’s political and nonprofit efforts that included seven-figure checks to the political think tank that returned Gingrich to the policy arena after his fall from House speaker in the late 1990s.

“Sheldon has always loved Newt. He stuck with him through all of this,” says Fred Zeidman, an Adelson friend and major player in the American Jewish community who is backing Mitt Romney. “He stuck with him when he stumbled. Newt, I think, is very reflective of Sheldon’s mindset. Particularly with Israel.”

Zeidman told The Daily Beast that Adelson told him last week that he wanted “to give Newt Gingrich all the support he could possibly give him as long as he was in the race.”

Adelson’s office refused to comment on Gingrich. “Mr. Adelson’s thoughts on politics and elections are his personal views and he prefers not discussing them publicly,” it said.

Adelson is a whale of a donor, listed by Forbes as the eighth-richest man in America with a net worth of $21.5 billion, and his company controls the Venetian, the Sands, and the Palazzo along the Vegas Strip, as well as three gambling resorts in Macao. He also owns his own share of controversy. His company acknowledged earlier this year that it is under federal investigation as to whether it ran afoul of federal anti-bribery laws in its dealings in Asia.

And Adelson’s support for Israeli causes here and abroad has, from time to time, garnered headlines, too, like the time he started a newspaper from scratch in Israel that has backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

An Israeli-American friend of Adelson, who also advises Netanyahu, recounted Adelson’s role but would speak to The Daily Beast only on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak on behalf of the prime minister.

He said that in 2006, the three main Israeli newspapers were perceived to be hostile to Netanyahu: “The problem,” he said, “was that for Bibi, that all the newspapers just hammered him, all the time. He had been looking for a long time for a way to do something and Sheldon came along, and said, look lets just start at new one!” (Bibi is Netanyahu’s well-known nickname.)

In 2006, Adelson launched a newspaper called Israel Today, or Israel Hayom. It was to be a high-end product, not a cheap tabloid. But it was also to be less critical of Netanyahu.

At first, he had trouble selling ads. “So,” the person close to Netanyahu said, “Sheldon said, ‘Screw it, lets just give it away for free!’” The formula worked: it’s now the most widely distributed paper in Israel.

Adelson has claimed that he didn’t start the paper solely as a favor to Netanyahu. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he told the Jewish Telegraph Agency in 2009. But even so, Adelson’s paper “has been of enormous help and support to Bibi,” the Netanyahu adviser said, “because in a sense now that they control the flow of information in the media. [Adelson] has had enormous influence on how the public gets information and what information they are getting and it’s helped Bibi. Because it’s not a newspaper that’s out to get Bibi.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition brings together influential Jewish fundraisers. Earlier this month six GOP primary candidates, including Gingrich, gave speeches to the group. Insiders say that most of those fundraisers and donors supported Romney’s candidacy, but Adelson is unabashed in his support for Gingrich.

Zeidman, the friend and Romney supporter, says he called Adelson over the summer when it looked like Gingrich’s campaign had imploded to see he could bring the billionaire into Romney’s camp. “I called him when Newt was really looking like he was dead.” But he said Adelson assured him he would stick with Gingrich unless the former speaker pulled out of the race.

Zeidman said that even the fundraisers who backed Romney over Gingrich believed that Gingrich was the strongest pro-Israel candidate, but felt he had less of a likelihood of beating Obama.

Indeed, Zeidman said that he agreed wholeheartedly with Gingrich’s characterization of the Palestinian people.

“It’s the truth,” Zeidman said. He said that his only issue with Gingrich’s pronouncement was that as a politician, he should have been more circumspect. But “they are an invented people.”

As for Adelson himself, he is known, through his political donations, activism, and charitable contributions to support pro-Israel causes with his Israeli-born wife Miriam.

He is a staunch supporter of groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and other such groups, which believe Palestinians have no valid claims.

In one comment to the Jewish Telegraph Agency he said, “I am not against a two-state solution if it is on the right terms.” Tellingly, though, he added, “but I don’t think the right terms will ever be achieved.”

Adelson also sponsored a seminar in 2008 provocatively titled the “Islamic Jihad in America: What You Need to Know about Radical Muslim Infiltration of American Culture, Finance, Education, and Life.”

Earlier this year, in November, Adelson appeared on the stage of the Zionist Organization of America to present TV host Glenn Beck with a ”Defender of Israel” Award. “I’d never known a Christian Zionist like Glenn Beck,” Adelson said.

Those who know Adelson and Gingrich say the connection goes back over a decade. Still, it was in the last five years that Adelson began truly giving Gingrich massive funding.

The Gingrich affiliated “527” group known as American Solutions for Winning the Future was founded in 2006. Adelson’s money flowed to the group steadily from the beginning, first with a million dollar check, and continued through 2010. (The committee shut down in 2011.) In total Adelson contributed $7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that studies political donations.

Adelson, the center says, has already emerged as the second largest political donor for the 2012 political races, giving solely to Republicans. Indeed, he and his wife have contributed a staggering $180,000 to the Republican National Committee and Republican National Congressional Committee in 2011.

But it will be in the coming presidential bid, where new groups known as “Super PACs” can collect and spend unlimited donations, that his immense wealth may matter the most.

“With Super PAC rules or lack there of, one Adelson is probably worth, you know, 20 Bush ‘Pioneers,’” said the Netanyahu adviser who is friends with Gingrich and Adelson. A “Pioneer” meant a donor who raised $100,000 for the Bush presidential campaign.

Indeed, Politico reported Thursday night that Adelson committed $20 million to a pro-Gingrich Super PAC. Adelson’s spokesman denied it, insisting to The Daily Beast that “the truth is that Mr. Adelson has made no commitments to a Super PAC.” An official at a “Super PAC” that has Gingrich ties told The Daily Beast that the political action committee had sent a letter Adelson, but had not heard back.

But one Republican fundraiser who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity said he understood that Adelson was trying to raise millions for Gingrich.

R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for the Gingrich campaign, said he knew nothing of any Adelson contributions to Super PACs and insisted that the campaign has no connection to the Super PACs. He did say Adelson and Gingrich are “good friends.”

As Adelson gears up political support for Gingrich, his company’s remarkable ventures in Macau, where he has several casinos, are likely to draw fresh scrutiny. The Sands Corporation disclosed this year that it was subpoenaed by the Security and Exchange Commission with regard to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits bribing foreign officials. Corporate filings say that the “company has also been advised by the Department of Justice that it is conducting a similar investigation.” The company is declining comment beyond its public filings.

The investigation evidently stems from allegations made by a former executive who worked for Adelson in the Macau gambling resort business. The executive in 2010 sued Adelson and the Sands Company, alleging that he was fired for refusing to carry out Adelson’s “illegal demands,” which he claims potentially violated anti-bribery laws.

The Sands has said it is cooperating with the federal investigation and denies the allegations in the lawsuit. Adelson earlier this year told investors, “I want to tell you that I am 100 percent—-no, 1000 percent—certain that neither I nor any senior or executive of this company, has ever asked any employee, let alone this former employee, to do anything improper.”

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