WASHINGTON — Billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson seems to be signaling his intention to plow millions more into conservative groups to influence this year's elections, in addition to the $10 million that he and his wife gave a "super" political action committee that backs Newt Gingrich.
For the first time, Adelson, who's worth an estimated $21.5 billion, and his Israeli-born physician wife, Miriam, attended a mega-donor conference sponsored by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The gathering, a twice-a-year event that began about eight years ago, was in late January at a resort near Palm Springs, Calif. It typically draws deep-pocketed givers, a few members of Congress and conservative leaders seeking big checks for their pet projects. Fundraisers say that this year's winter event included an appearance by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who's been a guest at other Koch events. Neither Cantor's office nor Adelson's press shop responded to requests for comment.
Fundraisers familiar with Koch spending plans for this year say that the brothers and their large network of allied donors could pump as much as $200 million into electoral drives run by outside groups to help Republicans win the Senate and the White House and keep control of the House of Representatives.
The Adelsons are weighing financial help to some groups that had a presence at the Koch conference, but it's unclear which ones are at the top of his prospect list, fundraisers say. Probably the most influential group that's been at recent conferences has been Americans for Prosperity, a grass-roots lobbying and political advocacy powerhouse that the Koch brothers started in 2004.
Adelson has recently indicated strong interest in backing other GOP-allied groups, fundraisers who are familiar with his giving say. In 2010, Adelson wrote a seven-figure check to Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit advocacy group that isn't required to disclose its donors publicly and that GOP consultants Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie co-founded.
The GPS group and an affiliated super PAC, American Crossroads, together raised $71 million in 2010. Super PACs are independent groups that have mushroomed since a 2010 Supreme Court ruling permitted corporations and others to donate and spend unlimited amounts on a candidate's behalf, often with sources undisclosed.
Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads were instrumental in the Republicans taking back the House that year. This election year, the two groups aim to raise as much as $300 million, and they're slated to spend about half of their money to help the GOP nominee take the White House and the rest to boost GOP congressional candidates.
Fundraisers familiar with Adelson and the two Crossroads groups say he's likely to pump a few million dollars more into one of them to help whoever wins the GOP nomination take the White House.
They say Adelson also is considering writing a check to the American Action Network — another nonprofit that doesn't have to disclose its donors — which is chaired by Republican former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Coleman has said his group will focus heavily on keeping the House in Republican control.
Before the Gingrich super PAC largess, Adelson gave $7.7 million to a Gingrich political group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, over a five-year period. The money helped keep Gingrich's political fortunes alive before his campaign this year.
With Gingrich's double-digit loss Tuesday in the Florida primary, it's unclear whether the Adelsons will pump more money into the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future to help their friend and political ally stay competitive. Adelson and Gingrich, going back to the mid-1990s, have forged close ties over their shared commitment to Israeli security and their opposition to a two-state solution to settle the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
After the super PAC received $5 million from Adelson last month, it ran nearly $3 million in negative ads against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in South Carolina and was a key factor in Gingrich's come-from-behind double-digit win in that state Jan. 21.
But in Florida, despite a second $5 million infusion, from Miriam Adelson, a pro-Romney super PAC called Restore Our Future and the Romney campaign vastly outspent the pro-Gingrich super PAC.
The Adelsons' $10 million donation to Winning Our Future is the largest single donation known since the Supreme Court ruling gave the go-ahead to super PACS.
(The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit investigative news organization.)
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