WASHINGTON — Billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family, who have kept Newt Gingrich's flagging presidential campaign alive with donations, seem poised to send millions of dollars to Republican-allied groups and possibly a "super" PAC backing front-runner Mitt Romney, according to fundraisers with ties to the casino owner.
Adelson, his wife, Miriam, and other family members have donated $16.5 million to a Gingrich-backing "super" political action committee, which is allowed by law to take unlimited campaign donations.
A private dinner on March 22 at Adelson's Las Vegas home drew the chairman of the Republican National Committee plus some of the GOP's best-known fundraisers and donors. The diners were in Las Vegas early for a weekend summit of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group that Adelson has backed heavily.
During the soiree, the Adelson family members privately sent strong signals to Romney allies that they'd donate millions of dollars, perhaps on par with their support for Gingrich, to a super PAC that's heavily supported the former Massachusetts governor's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination — assuming that Gingrich eventually drops out. Gingrich is badly trailing and as of the end of February, his campaign was in debt.
Adelson, a staunch Israel supporter whose fortune is pegged by Forbes at almost $25 billion, is a prime example of the new breed of donor who, thanks to court rulings in 2010, can give unlimited amounts to outside groups that spend independently to support candidates.
The big-name attendees at Adelson's dinner included RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, who now chairs a super PAC and a non-profit group raising millions of dollars to help House Republican candidates. Coleman also serves on the board of the Jewish Coalition.
Also in attendance were Florida real estate magnate Mel Sembler, St. Louis investor Sam Fox and Washington super lobbyist Wayne Berman. The three men are Republican Jewish Coalition board members; each has raised large amounts for Romney.
Federal Election Commission records show that Berman has bundled $424,825 for Romney's campaign, including his own donation of $2,500, the legal maximum. Sembler also gave $2,500 to Romney's primary campaign, as did his wife, Betty, sons Brent and George and a daughter-in-law. Fox, his wife, Marilyn, and their two sons and daughters-in-law each also gave $2,500.
Sembler and Fox were both ambassadors in the George W. Bush administration.
Aside from Romney's campaign, Adelson is now weighing requests for financial assistance from other outside groups. They include: the Coleman-chaired American Action Network, which in 2010 reported spending $26 million on political activities; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is planning a $50 million issue advocacy campaign to help the GOP take control of Congress, according to fundraisers familiar with the casino owner's political operation.
Non-profit groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, Coleman's American Action Network and the chamber are not required to publicly identify their donors.
However, the Center for Responsive Politics found some of the Jewish Coalition's donations listed in its 2010 tax filings. It said that Coleman's network received $4 million from the coalition, which donated the same sum to the nonprofit Crossroads GPS, a campaign-support group founded by GOP power broker Karl Rove.
Adelson is also expected to make a multimillion-dollar donation to Crossroads GPS or an affiliated super PAC, American Crossroads, say GOP fundraisers.
Adelson has been a big GOP check writer for some time and also has been close to Rove since his days as the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush. Adelson provided the lion's share of the $30 million raised in 2008 by Freedom's Watch, a now-defunct nonprofit that was a major outside spender in that year's elections.
Other GOP powers who flew to Vegas for the Republican Jewish Coalition summit but did not attend the Adelson dinner included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California and Gov. Robert McDonnell of Virginia, head of the Republican Governors Association.
The Jewish Coalition has held several meetings in Vegas in past years at the elegant Venetian, an Adelson resort hotel and casino. Matt Brooks, executive director of the coalition, has told the Center for Public Integrity that the group expects to spend as much as $5 million on electoral and issue advocacy drives in 2012, or almost double its previous high.
(The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit center for investigative journalism.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
McClatchy Newspapers 2012