This weekend, Republican presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), will travel to Las Vegas to audition for billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s backing at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting. In their speeches, the candidates will make their pitch to Adelson that they mostly closely share his interests.
Mega donor Adelson and his wife Miriam spent nearly $150 million on the 2012 election — more than the Koch brothers — and are likely to match that amount this campaign cycle. With his $32 billion net worth, Adelson was the single largest campaign donor in American history.
Early in the last presidential election, Adelson made a decision to give a majority of his donations to conservative nonprofits which do not disclose donors. At the time, Adelson said he believed the media’s use of the phrase “casino mogul” when discussing his contributions is not helpful to the people he is trying to elect. By the time President Obama was reelected, Adelson had given close to $50 million of his contributions to dark money groups that were created after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stream of rulings against political spending limits.
But even though his donations may not be disclosed, his intentions are still transparent.
Last year, the “Sheldon Adelson primary,” as it has been called, auditioned Gov. Chris Christie (R), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), among others. Those candidates and the ones speaking this year will all try to one-up each other by appealing to the policies Adelson most strongly supports.
Adelson owes hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes each year, a low amount considering his wealth that he achieves through loopholes like shifting his stock holdings in ways that exempt the transfers from federal taxes. The GOP candidates speaking at this weekend’s meeting have all proposed making his rate even lower.
Bush has called for eliminating the capital gains tax which would have given Adelson and his wife an estimated $139.7 million tax cut in 2013 on dividends from their shares in Adelson’s company alone, according to a Center for American Progress report. Meanwhile, Cruz co-sponsored a 2013 tax proposal that called for replacing all income, payroll and employment taxes with a 23 percent sales tax. If that were to pass, Adelson’s taxes would be almost completely eliminated. And Perry’s proposed 20 percent flat tax would give Adelson an almost $142 million tax cut.
One of the issues most important to Adelson is his staunch opposition to a Palestinian state and his unwavering support for Israel. Adelson owns a popular newspaper in Israel called the Israel Hayom, which is widely recognized as having the singular goal of promoting Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Although Israeli campaign finance rules prevent contributions from non-Israeli citizens, “the existence of a newspaper like Israel Hayom egregiously violates the law, because [Adelson is] actually is providing a candidate with nearly unlimited resources,” Hebrew University economist Momi Dahan told the American Prospect.
The Obama administration is reassessing its relationship with Netanyahu’s government now that Netanyahu says he does not support a two state solution, but prominent republicans have trumpeted their support for the prime minister. More than a dozen Republican lawmakers rushed to congratulate the prime minister on his reelection despite his last-minute abandonment of a two-state solution. Cruz issued a statement that ignored the change of heart and described Netanyahu as “an extraordinary leader for Israel.” Walker and Bush both tweeted their congratulations and potential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) predicted that the United States will continue to “build on a strong US-Israel relationship.”
Like many of the Republican presidential contenders, Adelson is staunchly opposed to unions. When union workers protested outside a new casino he built in 1999, he demanded that police arrest them, and he told the Wall Street Journal in 2008 that the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to unionize with a majority, was “one of the two fundamental threats to society,” the other being radical Islam.
Adelson has made his billions through his company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his ownership of a number of casinos around the world including the Venetian and the Palazzo in Las Vegas and resorts in Macau and Singapore. Looking to squash potential competition, he launched a coalition in 2013 to ban online gambling, saying the practice is a danger to society and could tarnish the industry’s traditional model.
A few months later, Graham, who received more than $15,000 in campaign contributions from Adelson in 2013 and $5,000 from the Las Vegas Sands PAC, introduced a bill to ban Internet gambling. Graham had not previously made gaming a major policy priority and the bill, which has strong opposition from many in the industry, never made it past committee in the Senate. Graham recently formed a presidential exploratory committee.
Adelson has also come under investigation repeatedly for illegal business practices. In 2012, his corporation was the subject of numerous investigations for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) which prohibits bribery of foreign officials. Adelson allegedly tried to bribe the Chief Executive of Macau, among other shady practices in the country. In the past, Adelson has met with at least one GOP House leader about possible changes to the FCPA.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) may already be Adelson’s favorite nominee. The two men speak on the phone “about once every two weeks,” according to a Politico report that detailed Adelson’s attraction to Rubio.