Newt Gingrich may not be able to win the Republican presidential nomination, but with the help of a wealthy casino magnate with powerful allies around globe, he's going to do everything he can to make sure Mitt Romney doesn't either. After pledging for months to avoid negative campaigning, a pro-Gingrich "super PAC" is now pushing an anti-Romney documentary that features interviews with working-class people who were the victims of Bain Capital layoffs. (See the trailer below.) Adverstisments promoting the film will run across South Carolina in the run-up to next week's primary.
That PAC — called Winning Our Future — is paying for the ads with a huge influx of cash that it just got from Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas billionaire with ties to China, Israel, and the Bush family. That's him on the far right, sitting next to Israeli President Shimon Peres and George W. Bush in 2008. Adelson, who Forbes listed at the third-richest American in 2008, has quietly become Gingrich's biggest backer. On Saturday it was announced that he gave $5 million to Winning Our Future, and some reports say he plans to spend as much as $20 million before the campaign is over. It may not be enough to save Gingrich's bid, but it could be enough to burn down the Republican front runner in the process.
Adelson grew up in the working class neighborhoods outside Boston and got started in business selling toiletries to hotels. He later dropped out of college, became a mortgage broker and ran a tour business. According to this profile from The New Yorker in 2008 (which is an excellent primer on Adeleson's rise to power), he made and lost more than one fortune, but then in 1979, he started a computer trade show in Las Vegas. (Comdex, an ancient ancestor of this week's CES.) Within a decade, his success with the show led him to purchase the old Las Vegas Sands Hotel. That was when he started his climb from "merely rich" to becoming a billionaire. He built a massive convention center next door, turning the city into a huge business gathering destination, then tore down the aging casino itself and built The Venetian, a massive hotel complex with high-end shopping, restaurants, spacious rooms, indoor canals, and of course, a glittery casino that exemplified the "new" opulent Las Vegas.
It was around the time that he bought the Sands that Adelson, who grew up as a Massachusetts Democrat, had a conversion to Republicanism, after befriending William Bush, the brother of George H. W. Bush. A relative newcomer to the world of the super rich, Adelson had the same proverbial epiphany that most newly wealthy people make when they see their 1040, arguing: “Why is it fair that I should be paying a higher percentage of taxes than anyone else?” The rest is obvious history.
As Adelson gained influence in Vegas, he began to spread his reach around the globe. In 2004, he made a deal with the Chinese government to open the first American-owned casino in Macao, a move that multiplied his wealth fourteen times in the last decade. (As a demonstration of his closeness China, he allegedly helped kill a Congressional bill denouncing Beijing's 2008 Olympic bid.) He has also been a major player in Israel-American politics, donating millions to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, until abandoning the group after they supported an increase in aid to the Palestinians, who he considers an "invented people." He met with President George W. Bush in the White House to lobby against peace negotiations and worked to oust former Israeli Prime Minister (and former friend) Ehud Olmert after he declared a willingness to negotiate a two-state solution. In 2007, he opened in his own free daily newspaper in Israel that has been called a mouthpiece for current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In America, the 78-year-old billionaire has aligned himself with Gingrich who shares similar views on Israel. He was the biggest supporter of American Solutions for Winning the Future, a different PAC that Gingrich personally ran before he was a candidate, and was replaced with the "independent" Winning Our Future. Legally, Winning Our Future and the Gingrich campaign must remain separate, but this latest move only underscores how flimsy those rules are and how massive an influence super PACs are having on the primary. When essentially one person can keep an entire ad campaign alive, even after the candidate it means to support ceases to be viable, that's a discouraging fact of American politics. It's also one that won't quell any fears about the power of the 1%.
In any case, it's clear that Gingrich's supporters, with Adelson's help, mean to take down Romney, no matter what it does to Gingrich's reputation or the general election chances of any Republican nominee. Like Gingrich, Adelson appears to be a man who doesn't forget or forgive a slight and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. And also one with a nasty temper.
One more story from The New Yorker article gives some insight into his personal business style. As the story goes, a former colleague once recorded a meeting where Adelson was giving orders to his staff and when Adelson later complained that they didn't follow his instructions, the colleague offered to play the tape to prove that they had. Adelson's response: ‘What are you guys, crazy? Who are you gonna believe, me or the tape?’
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.