At the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson got high-fives from strangers; entertained Karl Rove, Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki in his well-stocked luxury box; ate dinner with House Speaker John Boehner; and had a private meeting with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Last week, Adelson got a front-row seat – and a shout-out from Mitt Romney – at a $1 million campaign fundraiser at a Vegas casino. Paul Ryan held a private meeting with Adelson four days after being named Romney’s running mate.
Worth just over $21 billion and now in the cross hairs of the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Adelson has made history: He is the first person to spend $70 million to sway a presidential election, and he plans to spend more – perhaps as much as $100 million – by Election Day. An estimated $20 million to $30 million of the giving went to groups that do not disclose their donors and had not been reported before.
Adelson is the dominant pioneer of the super PAC era – by far the biggest donor to the web of secretive groups that are adding nearly $1 billion to the more traditional spending by the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee.
The 79-year-old literally spreads the wealth: He sent $5 million to the super PAC run by Boehner allies and $5 million to the super PAC run by Cantor allies.
Despite his soaring influence as a party kingmaker and his mammoth financial footprint, Adelson is rarely seen or heard, and he has remained mysterious even to many top Republicans. He broke his silence to POLITICO to explain his methods and motives in the most detail he has yet offered.
Blunt and chatty during a two-hour interview in his owner’s suite at The Venetian resort on the Las Vegas strip, Adelson said he will continue to ante up – “whatever it takes” to defeat President Barack Obama, as he repeatedly put it. “I don’t believe one person should influence an election,” he said as he dined on salmon and mixed vegetables in his conference room, with a napkin tucked over his lavender tie. “So, I suppose you’ll ask me, ‘How come I’m doing it?’ Because other single people influence elections.”
He wants to beat them – and beat them badly: “I suppose you could say that I live on Vince Lombardi’s belief: ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.’ So, I do whatever it takes, as long as it’s moral, ethical, principled, legal.”
Adelson has already given about three times as much as the previous record-holder, hedge fund manager George Soros, who dropped $24 million to try to defeat President George W. Bush in 2004. And Adelson has already given about one-third of the amount that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent on his entire campaign in 2008.
Everyone wants Adelson’s money, and so he knows why everyone loves him and comes calling. But he doesn’t really seem to mind getting hit up, enjoying the combat as an eccentric, happy warrior. “I meet with everybody, even people looking for small charity. If I have the time to take their call or to see them, I’ll do that.” Asked about unusual requests, he said with a laugh, “Well, money is money. So, I think the requests are all the same. They’re all looking for money.”
Read more at POLITICO.