(Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
Newt Gingrich has what is known in business circles as an "angel" investor to his presidential campaign. In other circles it is referred to as a "sugar daddy." Regardless of what you call it, this billionaire casino owner and his family have kept Gingrich afloat due to their massive contributions to Gingrich's Super Pac. The question is, how much influence does this casino magnate have on the American political system?
Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner, is listed as the eight-richest American with a net worth of over $20 billion. He met Gingrich when he served as speaker of the House in the mid to late 1990s and the two bonded over their support for Israel, making he and Gingrich ideological soul mates of sort. Adelson also refers to himself as the "richest Jew in the world."
The son of a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania and once a cab driver from Boston, Adelson rose to prominence by founding the popular Comdex computer trade show in Las Vegas. While he doesn't use a personal computer himself, the event was a must-attend for computer techies for years and Adelson sold the business for about $860 million in 1995.
The amount of money contributed to the Gingrich campaign and the super PAC, Winning Our Future, by Adelson and his immediate family members when combined has been staggering.
Adelson and his wife Miriam, who is a physician, have given $10 million to Gingrich's Winning Our Future's coffers and Mrs. Adelson's daughters and son-in-law have donated another $1 million.
Contributions to an individual's presidential campaign account are limited by law, but contributions to super PACs are unlimited – thus the reason why Adelson and his family can contribute such large amounts of money.
The family's interest in Israel and the Jewish nation are understandable when you consider their financial commitment to Gingrich. But it is Adelson's ties to gaming and the fact that his business interests are under federal investigation that are most alarming, especially to evangelical voters.
"He (Adelson) may be supporting Gingrich over his concern for Israel and I understand that, but his ties to gaming are a little too discomforting for evangelical voters," Dr. Richard Land, of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told The Christian Post.
"If I were Newt, I would publicly disavow any intentions of expanding gaming so that issue is no longer on the table," explained Land. "Plus, simply saying that gambling is a 'state's rights' issue only makes the state a bookie and is an insufficient answer for evangelicals to hear."
R.C. Hammond, who is a spokesperson for the Gingrich campaign, says the former speaker does not gamble but feels the issue should be left up to each individual state.
It is unclear precisely what Adelson's intentions are if Gingrich were to win the GOP nomination and eventually the White House. Nevertheless, his personal interest in expanding gambling is starting to get the attention of pro-family organizations and their supporters.
"When I served in the Louisiana legislature, I witnessed firsthand the corruption and devastation associated with gambling," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "I believe that when a governmental body adopts gaming in any way, they move from being a regulator to a promoter because of their reliance on the revenue. I know what is not good for citizens or for our country."
Adelson's infusion of cash is not the first time the billionaire has had to ante up to protect his interest.
In 2008, he was listed as the third-richest man in American with a net worth of $36 billion until he had put money into his companies to save his Las Vegas Sands from financial collapse. In addition to losing some of his fortune, Adelson has also endured legal problems associated with his gaming ventures.
The U.S. Justice Department is currently investigating accusations that Adelson's casinos may be in violation of federal laws that prohibit payments or bribes to foreign officials in China. A Chinese businessman has accused him of failing to uphold his financial commitment on an agreement the two men had for profit sharing and for a "success fee" as a result of setting Adelson up with license agreements in China.
In addition to Gingrich, Adelson's GOP ties lead to former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who as the Republican Whip under Gingrich's leadership, is said to have helped derail a human rights resolution in Congress that may have kept Beijing from winning their bid to host the Olympics. The bill eventually died in committee and both DeLay and Adelson have denied any involvement in the bill's death.
Gingrich may have to go back to the well and ask Adelson for more financial support.
In the latest Las Vegas Review-Journal poll, Romney has a staggering 20-point lead over Gingrich going into Saturday's Nevada GOP Caucus. Interestingly, one of Adelson's hotels, the Sands Convention Center, will be the headquarters hotel for the caucus event.