Jewish Journal


January 23, 2012

What Can the Adelsons Buy Next ? (Newt?)



Sheldon Adelson with Michael Milken, Sept. 2011, at a Los Angeles fundraiser. Photo by Marvin Steindler

The New York Times is reporting tonight that Dr. Miriam Adelson, wife of Sheldon Adelson, has donated $5 million to the Super Pac supporting Newt Gingrich’s Florida primary campaign; this is on top of the $5 million that Sheldon Adelson gave to Gingrich to support the same Super PAC Winning Our Future that was supporting (successfully, as it turned out) the Gingrich campaign in advance of the South Carolina primary.
The Adelsons, whom I met here in L.A. in September, when they made a relatively rare appearance to talk about their support for Birthright Israel, have virtually unlimited cash to support causes that they care about. Adelson told me there would be no limit to his support for Birthright, and similarly, he and his wife seem to have no limit to their support for Gingrich.
As I wrote in September, Adelson explained his philosophy of giving this way:

He described how he grew up poor, taunted by anti-Semites outside Boston, and how he was deeply influenced by his father, whom he repeatedly referred to, endearingly, as “Daddy.” Adelson’s father was a Lithuanian-born dirt-poor cab driver who, each evening, put all his spare change into the Jewish National Fund “pushke” (tzedakah box). The billionaire son remains bothered that this man, who ardently gave whatever he could to Israel, never got to visit the Jewish state, which is a part of why he believes in sending 18- to-26-year-olds there on free 10-day trips, to help, he said, ensure a Jewish future. Indeed, he has happily paid a lion’s share of Birthright’s costs, though the need has never been fully met, so now he wants more help. Still, he’s prepared to match, dollar for dollar, anyone’s gift.

He explained that “beside my current motto that It Feels Good to Do Good,” he believes in the Jewish obligation to give, whatever your situation. “My parents were too poor to own rags,” Adelson said, and yet, “Daddy told me, ‘No matter how poor you are, there’s always somebody poorer.’ ” The elder Adelson instructed his son to put one penny from every dollar he earned into the pushke, and it stuck.

“I don’t do it every day,” Adelson admitted, “but I make it up in bulk.”

Yes, of course, paying for kids to go to Israel isn’t the same as giving to a political campaign—there would seem to be far less self interest, naturally. But the aspect of giving BIG may be related.

At any rate, this time, we can concern ourselves with how much one man’s money can change not just a kid’s life—or how young Americans, by the thousands, relate to Israel. This is a moment to see how much one couple’s money can influence a whole election cycle. We all knew that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” decision that corporations and unions could hold sway on campaign fundraising, but it was hard to imagine, back in the day,that one couple could singlehandedly tip the balance of a primary.  Will Florida Republicans now go the way of South Carolina? 

The Adelsons, who have made their fortune in casinos, are known for their generosity. But what else can generosity buy?

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