Sheldon Adelson and Newt Gingrich: One Gained Clout From Friendship, the Other Funding
By James V. Grimaldi,
Published: January 19, 2012
The way casino magnate Sheldon Adelson remembers it, he
and his wife, Miriam, met then-House Speaker Newt
Gingrich in 1995 in the majestic Capitol Rotunda as they
made their way through the building while lobbying for a
bill to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to
Nearly two decades later, Gingrich, on the campaign
trail, has promised that his first executive order as
president would be the embassy move, long a priority of
ardent Israel supporters such as the Adelsons.
It would also be a sweet jackpot for the Adelsons, who
are the biggest patrons of Gingrich's political career.
Perhaps no other major presidential candidate in recent
times has had his fortunes based so squarely on the
contributions of a single donor, as Gingrich has on
Adelson, who has spent millions in support of Gingrich
and his causes over the past five years. In a primary
season dominated by the mega-spending of super PACs,
Adelson's efforts on Gingrich's behalf provide a window
into the expanding influence of the super-rich on
After putting up the seed money and ultimately $7.7
million between 2006 and 2010 for a nonprofit group that
served as a precursor to Gingrich's presidential
campaign, Adelson, 78, an irascible Las Vegas
billionaire, doubled down this month, giving $5 million
to a political action committee run by former close
aides to Gingrich.
"My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not
be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my
wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear
and are doing what we can as private citizens to support
his candidacy," Adelson, who is listed by Forbes as the
eighth-wealthiest American, with a net worth of $21.5
billion, said in a prepared statement e-mailed to The
Washington Post. He declined interview requests.
The most recent donation to Winning Our Future, a
Gingrich-linked super PAC, fueled Gingrich's resurgence
before Saturday's primary in South Carolina and
bankrolled ads and a half-hour film painting rival Mitt
Romney as a job-killing corporate raider. Adelson told
associates that he will consider more donations if
Gingrich fares well Saturday.
For Gingrich, the check links him even more closely to
Adelson (pronounced ADD-el-son), an outspoken
businessman known for aggressive tactics. His net worth
has increased at least ninefold in the last decade. (The
FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission are
investigating his company, Las Vegas Sands, in
connection with allegations that Adelson ordered an
executive to bribe Chinese officials by putting them on
the payroll. Adelson and company officials deny the
allegations, which they say were first made by a
disgruntled former employee.)
Adelson said the check to Gingrich was about fidelity.
"Our means of support might be more than others are able
to offer," he said, "but like most Americans, words such
as friendship and loyalty still mean something to us."
Friends said Adelson and Gingrich share views on Israel,
labor and free enterprise. In December, when Gingrich
was riding atop the national GOP polls, Adelson was
"He was extremely proud," Fred Zeidman said last month
after he saw Adelson at a board meeting for the U.S.
Holocaust Museum, to which the Adelsons are
multimillion-dollar donors. "He was very excited about
where they were."
Miriam Adelson was born in Israel, and the couple donate
to Jewish causes. They have given more than $100 million
to Birthright Israel, a charity that pays for Jewish
youths to visit Israel.
When the Adelsons were in Israel in December, to attend
a Hanukkah ceremony for the program, Sheldon praised
controversial comments made by Gingrich last month on
the Jewish Channel, a U.S. cable network.
"Read the history of those who call themselves
Palestinians, and you will hear why Gingrich said
recently that the Palestinians are an invented people,"
Adelson was quoted as saying by the Web site of the
Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Sheldon Adelson credits then-Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.),
now retired, with introducing the Adelsons to Gingrich
at the Capitol, though Linder does not recall being the
matchmaker. The encounter came just before passage of
the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Though the act had bipartisan
support, presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and
Barack Obama have declined to implement it, deeming it
an infringement on the president's sole constitutional
authority to conduct foreign affairs.
Adelson has staunchly defended Gingrich to fellow Jews.
When Jewish Week wrote a story in May headlined, "Will
Gingrich Bomb With Jewish Republicans?" Adelson called
up a columnist at the paper to complain. "There is not a
better advocate for Israel," Adelson told the columnist.
If Israel first brought brought them together, the
relationship was sealed during a crisis for Adelson,
said George Harris, who was a consultant for Adelson at
the time and now is co-finance chairman of Gingrich's
A few years after the embassy vote, Harris arranged for
Adelson to meet with Gingrich when he was traveling to
Nevada for a fundraiser.
A poor cab driver's son born to Ukrainian Jewish
immigrants living in Dorchester, Mass., Adelson rose
from being a mortgage broker to making hundreds of
millions of dollars by selling Comdex, the computer
trade show in Las Vegas. He then purchased the old Sands
hotel, once the base of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack, and
demolished it in 1996. He broke ground a year later to
replace it with an opulent $1.5 billion resort, the
4,000-room Venetian, now the sixth-largest hotel in the
Culinary unions were trying to pressure Adelson into
accepting a union shop. Harris remembers union
protesters picketing in front of the Venetian's preview
center with signs saying that if Adelson didn't agree to
a contract, "We will wail at your Wailing Wall."
Harris thought a visit with the House speaker would
boost Adelson's spirits and raise his stature during the
labor dispute. After Gingrich attended fundraising
events, the Adelsons and Gingrich had dinner, he said.
"From my perspective, it was all about bringing more
national clout to Sheldon," Harris said. "They hit it
off. These are two guys who spent the majority of their
day trying to think of how to make America great."
The Venetian opened in 1999 - as a nonunion resort.
Looking to expand his gambling empire, Adelson turned to
Asia. The Chinese were looking for a new casino operator
for freewheeling Macao, the resurgent former Portuguese
colony near Hong Kong that was returned to Chinese
control in 1999.
Adelson wanted in, and he was not averse to flexing his
political muscle. He later testified in a lawsuit that
he called Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), then House majority
leader, in 2001 on behalf of Chinese officials concerned
that a House resolution on human rights would hurt
Beijing's chances to host the 2008 Olympics.
DeLay told him the bill had been put on hold - and
Adelson led the Chinese to believe he had something to
do with it, according to testimony in the lawsuit. "Did
the Chinese think that [Adelson] had been helpful in the
Olympics?" Las Vegas Sands attorney Rusty Hardin told a
jury. "Yeah, I'm sure they did."
China awarded Adelson a coveted gambling concession. The
Sands Macao opened in 2004.
Two years later, as Adelson was building the 3,000-room
Venetian Macao, Gingrich traveled to Hong Kong and
Singapore. Gingrich wrote in a column for Human Events
about visiting with a casino developer whom he did not
"One casino developer I spoke to while I was there is
building a billion-dollar-plus casino and resort in
Macao, China," Gingrich said. "He summed up one of our
core challenges of competing in the global economy: `I
have done two billion-dollar projects in Las Vegas and
China in the last few years. The workmanship in China
was better and the 62,000 applicants for jobs were more
enthusiastic and better qualified.'?"
During Gingrich's visit, Las Vegas Sands was selected
over three rivals to develop Singapore's first casino
resort. An official close to Adelson said that to the
best of his knowledge, he was not aware of anything
Gingrich ever did for Adelson's casino business.
At the time, Gingrich told the Straits Times in
Singapore that he was in Asia to research a novel on
World War II.
A spokesman for Adelson said that he was not in Asia at
Regardless, the two men's ties remained strong. And soon
they turned financial.
Adelson wrote a check six months after the trip,
supplying the $1 million in seed money for a new
nonprofit political organization created by Gingrich
called American Solutions for Winning the Future.
It was one of only two checks the group received in
2006. The other was for $35,000.
Adelson's first $1 million did not last long.
In less than a year, American Solutions had burned
through most of the Adelson money, and by late summer he
was solicited for more, according to two former
employees and spending reports.
Adelson agreed, but only after the group had amped up
its own fundraising. Adelson told American Solutions he
would do a dollar-for-dollar match for the "527" group,
a nonprofit permitted to engage in some political
activities. American Solutions ultimately spent $2 for
every $3 raised on administration and fundraising,
Several Gingrich employees, who were not authorized to
speak publicly, said they were concerned about how
Adelson's money was being spent, particularly for
private charter travel that cost from $30,000 to $45,000
The employees said that when Gingrich had out-of-town
meetings for his for-profit Center for Health
Transformation, staff would be asked to find events as
well for American Solutions. "American Solutions events
were put on the books to have something in the city to
pay for airfare," a former official of the group said.
Over five years, the charter jet travel cost $6.6
"His personal accountant had expressed real concerns,"
the former official said. "I don't think he flew
commercial for almost a two-year period. It was a huge
drag on American Solutions."
Gingrich's campaign spokesman, R.C. Hammond, did not
respond to written questions for the story. Hammond, who
also was previously spokesman for American Solutions ,
said the 527 group had heard few complaints about high
Researcher Lucy Shackelford and research editor Alice
Crites contributed to this report.
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