As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich explores the possibility of a presidential bid, he "is counting on the backing of an unusually powerful behind-the-scenes donor," Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
According to investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, Adelson -- who has a net worth estimated at over $23 billion and was recently ranked as the fifth wealthiest man in America --, "has personally pumped $7 million over the past five years into Gingrich’s main political advocacy organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future. His contributions account for more than 10 percent of all the organization's funds."
Republican sources told Isikoff that Adelson is part of Gingrich's "kitchen cabinet" and is expected to be a key fundraiser among "two lucrative groups with whom he has influence — Las Vegas casino executives and wealthy Republican Jewish donors."
As Isikoff points out, however, Adelson's support may present ethical issues for a Gingrich campaign. His Las Vegas Sands Corp. is currently under investigation by the Justice Department and the SEC for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- which prohibits American companies from paying off foreign officials -- arising from the operations of its casino in Macau.
It is no doubt purely coincidental that just a few weeks ago the US Chamber of Commerce hired former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to lobby Congress to amend the act in order to "reduce its 'onerous' impact on U.S. businesses."
In 2008, The New Yorker ran a lengthy piece on Adelson which laid out the background of his current legal problems. It reported that "Las Vegas Sands plans to create 'the Las Vegas Strip of Asia' on Cotai—an area of reclaimed land between two small islands, connected by bridges to Macao’s peninsula—spending an additional ten billion dollars to build a dozen new hotels, with twenty thousand rooms, and adjacent casinos. .... At a groundbreaking ceremony, in March, 2007, Adelson said that many members of Congress criticize China for its human-rights record, but he added that he liked the way the Chinese run their country. 'People seem to be living a good life in China,' he said. 'Look at the incredible progress China has made. How can someone say they’re doing the wrong thing?'”
Adelson has a long history of contributing to Republican candidates. He was close to Tom DeLay and was the primary backer of Freedom's Watch, an outside expenditure group formed in 2006 to support the Iraq War. A year ago, he donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. However, his most controversial political relationship involves his fervent support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last July, the Independent reported, "Israel Hayom, a free newspaper that for the first time has stormed to the front of Israel's circulation battle, is such a strong backer of the prime minister that its critics call it 'Bibiton' – a play on the nickname of Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition to the editorial line, the impression is compounded by the fact that founder and financier, the US Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is one of the premier's close friends."
"But critics fear that the tabloid spells doom for a free media in Israel," the article continued. "They say the newspaper has a clear political agenda to support Mr Netanyahu. And the bottomless pockets of Mr Adelson, 76, presents a threat to the survival of his competitors and the wider issue of free speech that thrives in a diverse media. It is a criticism firmly rejected by Mr Adelson, a self-professed Zionist opposed to the two-state solution who reportedly once accused the owner of Ma'ariv, a rival title, of not being patriotic enough."
Adelson insists that "I started the newspaper to give Israel, Israelis, a fair and balanced view of the news." That phrase, with it's deliberate echoes of Fox News, may be the clearest indication of his agenda, in the United States as well as in Israel.