Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate whose net worth is more than $36 billion, is going to spend $100 million this year — in a midterm election, for crying out loud — with the goal of giving Republicans control of the Senate. Add that to all the money the Koch brothers and other conservative billionaires are spending.
Since Citizens United, Adelson has been aggressively cultivated by streams of high-powered Washington visitors—and others—looking for fat checks in the last two elections. This year’s competition for Adelson’s wallet has been intense and involved new twists as rival groups who share many of the same goals vie for the most loot.
A spokesman for Adelson declined to comment on this year’s donations. But Andy Abboud, Adelson’s top political aide, has denied that Adelson planned to spend $100 million on Senate races, saying that “there is no set budget for this cycle. More importantly, any group that meets with us and leaks any information true or untrue gets cut off.” CNN first reported the $100 million spending figure this summer and suggested that it was Senate-related.
Although Adelson’s publicly disclosed donations to date are far short of $100 million, sources say he should end up near that figure through his dark-money operations.
Americans for Prosperity, the flagship of the Koch brothers’ far-flung donor network, is expected to spend close to $125 million this year, and seems to be one of the casino tycoon’s favored dark-money outfits this cycle. Adelson has been increasing his ties to AFP and the Koch network since 2012, the year Adelson attended his first Koch donor conference. These hush-hush confabs are typically held twice a year at posh resorts, and are attended by a few hundred rich conservatives, along with a select group of GOP stars from Congress and the states.Adelson chipped in at least $15 million to AFP in 2012, say operatives, and has a few links with the grassroots advocacy group that was founded in 2004 by the Koch brothers. Famously known for his hawkish Middle East views, Adelson has nonetheless bonded with the libertarian-leaning Koch network—which is often critical of excessive Pentagon spending and foreign entanglements—on a range of domestic issues like lower taxes, less regulation, and broadly shared commitments to other GOP principles.
Those ties appear to be growing stronger. Adelson aide Andy Abboud attended at least one of this year’s semi-annual Koch conferences for its wealthy allies and is quite active with AFP, according to two conservatives familiar with the Koch network. At the January Koch conference in the Palm Springs area, Abboud led a discussion that drew many wealthy donors, say two attendees.
“Andy is very active with AFP,” one donor who went to the Koch conference told me, adding that he expects Adelson’s total funding of AFP will be higher than in 2012.
Other signs of the closer ties between Adelson and the Koch conservative network have been noticeable this year. Tim Phillips, the president of AFP, flew into Las Vegas in late March to attend the annual spring event for the Republican Jewish Coalition that was held at Adelson’s Sands. According to RJC members there, Phillips was a guest of AFP Ohio leader Eli Miller, an RJC member and an ex-aide to House Speaker John Boehner. And Adam Stryker, who just a few years ago was part of Adelson’s government affairs team at the Sands, is now chief technology officer for the AFP Foundation, a post he assumed this year after doing a stint as head of the AFP’s Nevada chapter.
He’s also expected to give tens of millions of dollars to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS organization. This is how our elections, and thus our politicians, are bought and sold to the highest bidder.