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By the time Mitt Romney wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, had already poured $15 million into the super PAC supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Winning Our Future. That massive sum, spent on a candidate who was always something of a long shot (despite a couple of short-lived surges in the polls), bewildered many political observers. However, it was barely a drop in the bucket for the 80-year-old Adelson, whose Las Vegas Sands casino empire has made him a billionaire many times over. According to Forbes, Adelson’s estimated net worth was $27 billion as of May 2015.
After the primary, Adelson shifted his attention from defeating Mitt Romney to defeating President Obama and other Democratic candidates, contributing a total of nearly $53.7 million to super PACs in the 2012 cycle. Twenty million went to the Romney-supporting Restore Our Future , and $1 million went to a super PAC backing Florida Senate hopeful Connie Mack. Adelson and his wife also gave $5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC chaired by former Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, $5 million to the YG Action Fund, and $1 million to the Ending Spending Action Fund, which ran anti-Obama ads. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Adelson “contributed more than $150 million to pro-Republican efforts during the 2012 election cycle.”
The presidential race may have thrust him into the spotlight, but Adelson’s substantial giving didn’t come out of the blue. In 2007, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson started the Adelson Family Foundation “to strengthen the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” a mission reflected in sizable grants to a variety of Jewish charities and advocacy groups. Most significantly, the Adelsons have gifted more than $134 million to the Birthright Israel Foundation, which provides free educational trips to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 years old. In 2012, the foundation gave out more than $44,834,048 in grants.
Adelson is also the owner of Israel Hayom, a “free daily newspaper [in Israel] known for its relentless drumbeat of support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing politicians.” Adelson received wide media coverage and even elicited a response from the Iranian government when he suggested that the U.S. detonate a nuclear weapon inside Iran as a way to induce the country’s government to end its nuclear program.
At home, Adelson’s political giving reflects his hawkishness on foreign policy and, perhaps especially, his abhorrence of organized labor. Accordingly, the vast majority of his contributions have benefited Republican candidates and committees, even though Adelson describes himself as a “social liberal.” In 2008, Adelson was the “main funder” of an outside group called Freedom’s Watch, which closed its doors about a month after the election. Notably, that organization’s leadership included Carl Forti, a longtime Republican operative connected to Restore Our Future and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.
Adelson is also behind a campaign to ban internet gambling. His group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, co-chaired by former senator Blanche Lincoln, will try to highlight the dangers online gambling poses to children and the poor. According to the Washington Post, “Adelson’s competitors question his concern about the social costs of Internet gambling. They note that his company obtained an online gambling license in 2003 in one of the British Channel Islands.”
As a Buzzfeed profile revealed in May 2015, “for those competing for Adelson cash, [Miriam] is just as important as her husband. The Adelsons make their giving decisions together. When Sheldon Adelson meets with prospective recipients, Miriam Adelson is often there, too.” As Adelson ages, Miriam is “expected to take on an even more prominent role within the organization, and to be the keeper of the Adelson political infrastructure.”
Observers shouldn’t expect a change in political giving with the shift toward greater power to Miriam, however. The Buzzfeed profile quoted a family friend saying “it would be a mistake to believe that his politics are dramatically different from hers, or vice versa” and noted that Miriam was “widely believed to have been the main driver behind the decision to fund Gingrich.”