Illustration via Max Fleishman (Licensed)
For the first year of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump continually boasted that he didn’t need money from the wealthy political donors who traditionally fuel American elections.
“I’m using my own money,” Trump said on the day he announced his run for the White House. “I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.”Those days are over. Trump is now asking megadonors—the exact people he said he wouldn’t use—for millions of dollars to fund his campaign. And Trump is going to get it.
Casino billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson, the eighth richest man in the world, according to Forbes, has famously spent millions of his fortune funding Republican Party causes. He is now reportedly set to give $100 million to Trump’s campaign effort. The commitment came after a closed-door meeting between the two billionaires last week.
Adelson is one of the Republican Party’s biggest cash cows. In the last year alone, he’s donated over $1.3 million to the Republicans, including to every major rival Trump faced in the last year. During the 2012 campaign, Adelson gave over $92.7 million to the GOP.
The 2016 election will top Adelson’s previous salvos at politics, and Trump is going to be the primary beneficiary.
“When you give, [politicians] do whatever the hell you want them to do,” Trump once said.
Promises for the Promised Land
Adelson, an 82-year-old born in Massachusetts, has deep personal, political, and business ties to Israel and China that shaped his fortunes. In turn, Adelson's fortune has shaped the politics of all three countries. So what does Adelson want in exchange for his contributions?
The first priority is Israel.
Adelson is “specifically convinced [Trump] will be a tremendous president when it comes to the safety and security of Israel,” he wrote in a recent email to Republican Jewish leaders.
“Like many of you, I do not agree with him on every issue,” Adelson wrote. “However, I will not sit idly by and let Hillary Clinton become the next president. The consequences to our country, and Israel, are far too great to take that risk.”
Adelson's pro-Israel activism stretches back decades to his first trip to Israel in 1988, when friends say he fell in love with the country, as well as an Israeli wife who lived in the country for decades.
That activism includes funding congressional trips to the Middle East but paying only for the Republicans. He opposes a two-state solution with a Palestinian state alongside Israel, arguing that Palestinians have no historic claim to a homeland there. He argues a two-state solution is a “stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.”
“Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians and you will hear why [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people,” Adelson said in Dec. 2011 at an event for Birthright Israel.
Adelson's global goals go beyond that. In 2013, he told a Yeshiva University audience that the U.S. should drop an atomic weapon in an empty Iranian desert as a warning to the regime.
It would “not hurt a soul, except for a few rattlesnakes,” he said, but it would show them the U.S. means business on issues like nuclear weapons.
The suggestion to detonate a nuclear weapon in a foreign country was “hyperbole,” one of his spokesmen said later.
Stop the presses
Adelson's activism also extends to the media. He owns Israel Hayom (Israel Today), a newspaper widely seen as supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It's called Bibiton by critics, combining Netanyahu's nickname with the Hebrew word for newspaper (iton).
Since Dec. 2015, Adelson has owned the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The newspaper is reportedly being tightly handled by Adelson, including to manage, edit, and even kill stories on sensitive topics like Adelson himself.
You wanna bet？
And then there's Adelson's international casino empire, a multibillion-dollar enterprise that's yielded charges of bribery in China and a heavy hand in Washington.
In 2000 and 2001, Adelson was busy positioning himself to invest heavily as the country's premiere gambling location was going to open up to foreign money.
While meeting Chinese leaders in Beijing, Adelson learned the Communist Party was worried about an American resolution that would condemn China's bid for the 2008 Olympic Games on the grounds that it had an abhorrent human-rights record.
William P. Weidner, then the president of Adelson's Las Vegas Sands company, later gave an account of the proceedings in a sworn deposition.
After meeting with Beijing's mayor, Adelson called Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), then House majority leader. DeLay, who was at a Fourth of July barbecue when the call came, checked on the bill and then assured Adelson it would “never see the light of day.”
“So you tell your mayor it can be assured that this bill will never see the light of day,” Mr. DeLay said, according to Mr. Weidner's deposition.
A few hours later, Qian Qichen, a Chinese vice premier, told Adelson's executives that there would be a limitless supply of gamblers to Macau, where the casinos would be built.
Those casinos opened in May 2004. In December 2004, Adelson took his Las Vegas Sands company public. Adelson, who had a net worth in the hundreds of millions during the 1990s, soon became a multibillionaire. Since then, he's built a fortune that makes him one of the richest people on the planet.
After a five-year investigation by the U.S. government on charges of bribing foreign officials in China, Adelson's company paid over $9 million in a civil settlement in April.
Adelson has thrown his money around in other issues. As the owner of a brick-and-mortar casino empire, he's lobbied against legalized online gambling. He's lobbied heavily against medical marijuana as well—to the tune of millions of dollars.
You get what you give
Adelson is also an active philanthropist, giving money to medical research organizations like the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Jewish organizations like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The billionaire's tidal wave of political cash is perhaps the most famous outcome of the landmark 2010 Citizens United v. FEC court case that allowed unlimited financial contributions from super-rich sources to the politicians they support.
National polls have repeatedly shown Americans hate the Citizens United decision. And many Trump supporters were attracted to the candidate because he repeatedly said he didn’t need the megadonors that are pouring increasing amounts of cash into American politics.
Adelson’s money for Trump will have to come through super PACs, which will allow the Republican candidate to tangentially accept the huge cash donation.
But Trump himself has called super PACs “horrible.” Trump has said he supports campaign finance reform and sharply criticized candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for the lobbyists that fueled their campaign. The most prominent of those lobbyists, by the way, was Sheldon Adelson.
When Adelson’s money was going elsewhere, Trump accused his rivals of being “perfect little puppets.” Trump has criticized the “broken system” that allows unlimited donations.
Now, with Adelson’s money going to Trump himself, the candidate has a lot less to say. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Adelson's $100 million contribution.