Casino billionaire expected to move millions to GOP groups

Gingrich backer likely to expand his giving

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Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson answers questions during a press conference.

Sam Kang Li/AP

Multibillionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family, who have kept the flagging presidential candidacy of Newt Gingrich alive, seem poised to send millions to Republican-allied groups and possibly a super PAC backing frontrunner Mitt Romney, according to fundraisers with ties to the casino owner.

Adelson along with wife Miriam and other family members has garnered notice by donating a whopping $16.5 million to a super PAC backing Gingrich for president.

A private dinner Adelson hosted on March 22 at his home in Las Vegas drew Republican bigwigs from Washington, D.C., 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 (RJC), a nonprofit advocacy group that Adelson has backed heavily.

At the dinner, the Adelson family privately sent strong signals to some Romney allies that millions would flow from them to a super PAC backing the former Massachusetts governor — perhaps on a par with what they’ve given to Gingrich, assuming the ex-House Speaker, who is trailing badly, eventually drops out of the race.

Adelson, whose fortune is pegged at almost $25 billion by Forbes, is a prime example of the new breed of super donor who in the wake of court rulings in early 2010, can give unlimited amounts to outside spending groups supporting a candidate.

The big name attendees at Adelson’s private soiree last Thursday included Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and ex-Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, who now chairs a super PAC and a nonprofit group raising millions to help House Republicans and is also an RJC board member.

Both men spoke at the dinner, thanking Adelson for his support for GOP causes in recent years.

Also at Adelson’s dinner bash were Florida real estate magnate Mel Sembler, St. Louis investor Sam Fox and Washington super lobbyist Wayne Berman. The three men are RJC board members and each has raised big bucks for the presidential drive of Romney, say campaign sources.

Berman gave the legal limit of $2,500 to Romney for his primary fight campaign. In addition, FEC records show Berman has bundled $424,825 for Romney’s campaign. Sembler gave $2,500 to Romney for his primary fight, as did his wife Betty, son Brent, daughter-in-law Debbie and son George. Fox also gave $2,500, as did his wife Marilyn, son Jeff, daughter-in-law Marilyn, son Greg and daughter-in-law Merle.

Sembler and Fox were both ambassadors in the George W. Bush administration.

Meanwhile, Adelson is now weighing requests for financial assistance from other 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.

In 2010, Coleman’s network received $4 million from the RJC, which also donated the same sum to the nonprofit Crossroads GPS, which was founded by GOP super-consultant Karl Rove. Those donations were itemized in the 2010 tax filings of the RJC and first reported by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Adelson is expected to make a multimillion-dollar donation to Crossroads GPS or an affiliated super PAC, American Crossroads, say GOP fundraisers.

Other bigwigs who flew to Vegas for the RJC summit but did not attend the 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 who runs the Republican Governors Association.

The RJC 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 RJC, 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 day after the March 22nd dinner, Adelson jetted off to Asia on casino business and missed much of the RJC conference itself.

At this point it is unclear whether Adelson will continue to support the super PAC backing his long-time friend and political ally Gingrich.

Adelson’s fame is new, but he has been a big GOP check writer for some time. 

Adelson, who has been close to Rove since his days as the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush, 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.

Michael Beckel contributed to this report.