Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson draws entire GOP field to Jewish conference in Washington 

By Julie Bykowicz and Steve Peoples
Associated Press Dec. 3, 2015

  WASHINGTON (AP) — Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson spent more on the 2012 federal elections than any other donor, putting up about $90 million of his family's money.
  His willingness to make a huge political investment helps explain why his signature group, the Republican Jewish Coalition, has attracted all of the major GOP presidential candidates to its Thursday forum in Washington — even though the man himself won't be among the 700 people in attendance.
  From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, from top-polling Donald Trump to barely registering Jim Gilmore, the candidates will give 30-minute speeches and take questions from Jewish activists. Most have addressed the coalition at one or more of its past events, including one earlier this year in Las Vegas.
  The coalition, for which Adelson is a major funding source and board member, has held presidential forums in almost every election year since 1988. Apart from the debates, this is one of the only 2016 events that has attracted every single candidate to one room.
  Matt Brooks, RJC's executive director, said that unlike the debates — where candidates often have just a few seconds to respond to questions — Thursday's forum gives plenty of time for deep explanations of policy.
  Attendees, he said, "are looking to see who passes the commander-in-chief threshold. They want to know what's in their hearts and guts on these weighty issues."
  While there's no chance Thursday for the candidates to personally interact with Adelson, many of them have already met with him. Another opportunity is less than two weeks away, when the Dec. 15 Republican debate will take place at the Venetian, a Las Vegas casino and hotel that's part of Adelson's international entertainment empire.
  Each of the candidates is strong on the issues that concern Adelson the most, chief among them protection of Israel, said his political adviser, Andy Abboud.
  "He has no plans now, or in the immediate future, to get involved in the primary," Abboud said, noting that Adelson won't be at the forum because he's on a personal trip.
  "The Adelsons are generally pleased with all of the Republican candidates and feel that the primary process will work its way out," he said.
  Still, the specter of Adelson's nod looms large for the GOP field.
  His family members began giving to a super PAC helping former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's 2012 presidential bid in late December 2011, fundraising records show, and Adelson gave the group $5 million around the time of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
  The family put more than $15 million into Gingrich's run — donations that proved critical to extending his time in the race for the nomination. Unlike the candidates' official campaigns, super PACs can accept donations of any size.
  Adelson had a long and friendly relationship with Gingrich, but is taking a more pragmatic approach to the 2016 GOP contest.
  "It's important to him that campaigns show that they can garner their own resources, build their own ground game and effectively mount a campaign that can win in the fall," Abboud said.
  The RJC's presidential forum offers candidates the chance to impress other wealthy donors, too. And many of the super PACs aligned with candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's Right to Rise, are hosting events Thursday night.
  Many of the candidates have been eager to portray themselves as close to Adelson.
  Trump, who has said he is so wealthy that he doesn't need the help of donors like Adelson, said in an Oct. 13 interview on Fox News, "I like Sheldon a lot. He's been a person I've known over the years. We have a very good relationship."
  On the eve of the gathering, Trump declared himself a "big, big fan" of Israel, and said chances for a lasting peace rest with the Jewish state. "A lot has to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel wants to sacrifice certain things," he said.


GOP candidates kiss up to billionaire
Sheldon Adelson

By Dana Milbank
April 1.2014

  Who wants to marry a billionaire?
  John Kasich does. So do Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.
  When Sheldon Adelson, the world’s eighth-richest person, according to Forbes, let it be known that he was looking for a Republican candidate to back in the 2016 presidential race, these four men rushed to Las Vegas over the weekend to see if they could arrange a quickie marriage in Sin City between their political ambitions and Adelson’s $39.9 billion fortune.
  Adelson was hosting the Republican Jewish Coalition at his Venetian hotel and gambling complex, and the would-be candidates paraded themselves before the group, hoping to catch the 80-year-old casino mogul’s eye. Everybody knows that, behind closed doors, politicians often sell themselves to the highest bidder; this time, they were doing it in public, as if vending their wares at a live auction.
  As The Post’s Philip Rucker reported, Kasich, the Ohio governor, kept addressing his speech to “Sheldon,” as if he were having a private tete-a-tete with the mega-donor (Adelson and his wife spent more than $93 million on the 2012 elections) and not speaking to a roomful of people.
  Walker, the Wisconsin governor, pandered unabashedly by giving the Hebrew meaning of his son Matthew’s name and by mentioning that he displays a menorah at home along with the Christmas tree. And Christie, the New Jersey governor, gushed about his trip to Israel and the “occupied territories.”
  That was a gaffe. Pro-Israel hawks consider the term pejorative and, at any rate, the more relevant occupied territory at the moment is the Republican Party — wholly occupied by billionaires.
  In addition to Adelson, two of the world’s other top-10 billionaires, David and Charles Koch (combined net worth: $81 billion) are pouring tens of millions into the 2014 midterm elections in an effort to swing the Senate to Republican control. These and other wealthy people, their political contributions unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, are buying the U.S. political system in much the same way Russian oligarchs have acquired theirs. (Super-rich liberals such as Tom Steyer are spending some of their fortunes to help Democrats, but they are pikers by comparison.) Spending by super PACs, a preferred vehicle of billionaires, will surpass spending by all candidates combined this year, predicts Kantar Media, which tracks political advertising.
  This pay-to-play culture is, at best, unseemly. What makes it ugly is when it becomes obvious just how much the wealthy corporate interests get in return. As it happens, two such instances were on display Tuesday on Capitol Hill, as one congressional committee examined how Caterpillar Inc. avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes while another panel probed how General Motors was allowed to produce cars with a lethal safety defect for more than a decade.   A Senate panel examined how Caterpillar, using a tax loophole, shifted profits from the United States to its affiliate in Switzerland, where it negotiated a special tax rate — thus cutting its U.S. taxes by $2.4 billion. Julie Lagacy, the Caterpillar official at the hearing, was unapologetic. “I want to emphasize Caterpillar complies with the U.S. tax laws, and we pay everything we owe,” she testified.
  That is just the problem — and the solution is a reform of the tax code. An attempt at reform this year by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) lacked support from corporate interests and was dismissed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Defeated, Camp this week announced his retirement from Congress.
  In the case of GM, the company knew about a problem in some of its ignition switches since at least 2001, but it didn’t do anything until this year, after at least 13 people had been killed.
  The House Energy and Commerce Committee summoned GM’s chief executive, Mary Barra, to answer questions about the flaw, but it proved to be a frustrating exercise. Barra, though apologetic, has been in the job only two months, and she hid behind GM’s ongoing investigation to avoid answering various questions.
  Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), appearing with the families of victims before the hearing, described how the auto industry used its political influence on three different occasions over the past decade to block regulations and statutes that would have forced GM to disclose information about safety problems earlier.
  Such a requirement could have saved the lives of those whose relatives came to the Capitol on Tuesday. “Our daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, wives and husbands are gone because they were a cost of doing business,” said Laura Christian, whose daughter died in a Chevy Cobalt.
  Now Markey is trying again to pass legislation that would help government regulators find problems and force recalls more quickly. Such a law would save lives, but Markey has a distinct disadvantage getting it enacted. He isn’t doing a billionaire’s bidding.

Twitter: @Milbank