Seriously, What Does Sheldon Adelson Want From Gingrich?

| Fri Feb. 17, 2012 5:25 PM EST
Sheldon Adelson: What's another $10 million among friends?

Ho hum. Another day, another $10 million donation from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson to bail out Newt Gingrich. Aldelson and his wife, you'll recall, have already dropped $10 million on the pro-Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future. The latest anticipated infusion of cash could help Gingrich's campaign, which is nearly busted, stay in the game a bit longer. Yet assuming that the conventional wisdom that Newt is more likely to reanimate dinosaurs on the moon than win the nomination is true, why is Adelson still showing so much love for him?

A few theories:

1. It's all about Israel. Adelson is an ardent supporter of Israel, and more specifically, hawkish Israeli politicians such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson owns a pro-Netanyahu Israeli newspaper and has underwritten trips to Israel for members of Congress to drum up support for the country. Gingrich has told The Hill that Israel is Adelson's motivating concern: "Sheldon's primary driving source is the survival of the United States and Israel in the face of an Iranian nuclear weapon."

Gingrich and Adelson appear to see perfectly eye to eye on Israel. As MoJo's Adam Serwer notes, "Adelson's donation to Gingrich likely has something to do with their shared anti-Palestinian views, namely the notion that Palestinian national identity is 'invented.'" And Gingrich has said that his first executive order would be to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would be a de facto recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Adelson has been pushing for the embassy move for years; he first mentioned it to Gingrich when he was still House speaker.

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2. It's strictly business. Adelson owns the Las Vegas Sands casino company, which owns several gaming operations in Vegas, Macau, and Singapore. As the Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison explains, the company could use a friend in the White House: It's staring down the IRS over a recent audit and has been lobbying to preserve a tax credit for its overseas profits that the Obama administration has proposed ending. And:

In addition to tax issues, Las Vegas Sands also disclosed in March 2011 that it's the subject of SEC and Justice Department investigations for potentially violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars, among other things, U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials. Las Vegas Sands allegedly put a Chinese official with oversight responsibilities for the company's lucrative Macau operations on its payroll. The company denies wrongdoing and promised to cooperate with the investigation, but notes that "Any determination that we have violated the FCPA could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition."

A President Gingrich couldn't quash the investigation without igniting a scandal, but there's little doubt that he'd endorse tax and trade policies favorable to Adelson's business interests.

3. It's all about Romney. According to this theory, advanced in the Wall Street Journal, Adelson knows that Romney will be the eventual nominee but is keeping Gingrich in play in order to hurt Santorum, thereby giving Romney a nudge. Got it? But this theory hinges on Gingrich going soft. Time's Michael Crowley writes that "Adelson was not thrilled with the Mitt-bashing his money funded in South Carolina, and it's possible that he's giving on the condition that Gingrich's camp doesn't disembowel Romney." Adelson's $20 million may not buy Newt the nomination, but can it scratch his ego while simultaneously declawing him?

4. It's just money. No matter which of the above theories seems most plausible to you, the bottom line is that $20 million—even $50 or $100 million—in the service of a lost cause is mere pocket change for a guy who's worth an estimated $21.5 billion. And who knows just how much Adelson is prepared to spend during the general election?