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“Big Trouble In Sheldon Adelson’s Little China”: Sometimes It’s Best To Just Shut Up, Unless You’re Arrogant And Rich

Sheldon Adelson has rarely been shy about sharing his opinion. Whether the topic is Israeli politics, online gambling, or the next GOP presidential nominee, the multibillionaire casino man and Republican Party mega-donor has put his mouth wherever his money is.

But after four days of at times bruising testimony in a volatile wrongful-termination lawsuit that threatens his gambling empire and reputation, the 81-year-old Adelson has talked his way into trouble.

At a time he might have preferred to be jetting off to monitor his Macau casino interests or relaxing at his Las Vegas home with a lapful of panting GOP presidential hopefuls, Adelson found himself giving sworn testimony in a district court hearing designed to establish jurisdiction in the wrongful-termination suit brought against him by former Sands China Ltd. CEO Steve Jacobs. And on Friday, the court ruled that the suit would be heard in the U.S., not Macau, where Adelson wanted the trial to take place.

Adelson is the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, which owns 70 percent of Sands China Ltd. He is the chairman of the board of Sands China, a company registered in the Cayman Islands and traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Sands China operates the Macau casinos that have helped make Las Vegas resident Adelson one of the world’s richest men.

Among other things, Jacobs accuses Adelson and the company of unethical business practices, bribing public officials, maintaining a relationship with a company tied to a Chinese triad crime boss, and facilitating prostitution. Jacobs says Adelson was involved in all these shady dealings, and that he was fired in part for blowing the whistle on Adelson.

For his part, Adelson calls Jacobs’s accusations the “delusional” fantasies of an incompetent employee bent on revenge and a big payday he didn’t earn. He also accused Jacobs of “squealing like a pig to the government” after his former executive expressed his concerns about the company to the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission.

Any decent litigator will tell his client that on the witness stand brief answers are best. Before Friday’s ruling, it became obvious that Adelson didn’t get that memo. On several occasions last week, Adelson attorney Randall Jones appeared to try to cut his client short, and a few times reminded the loquacious Adelson that no question was pending. But the casino boss insisted on elaborating at most every turn.

In the process, Adelson contradicted the recollections of current and former company executives on pertinent issues, including whether damaging news accounts led to a decision to stop doing business with a casino junket company influenced by triad boss Cheung Chi Tai.

District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez moved the hearing along almost without incident—save for one brief exchange with the defendant to remind him that he was the witness and not the judge.

In a previous deposition, Adelson made it fairly clear that not much of consequence happens in his kingdom without his input. Jacobs’s attorney, James Pisanelli, drew from a September 6, 2012, deposition to remind him of that fact.

“‘Did you perform any duties that would be more typical of a CEO on behalf of SCL?’” Pisanelli asked. In 2012, Adelson had answered, “Look, the responsibilities of different positions, different titles, sometimes get mixed up. It could very well be that I have made recommendations or I’ve given orders for something that—that may have belonged to another title, that for one reason or another the suggestions are not forthcoming or that I see that people make mistakes and they have to be corrected.”

And Adelson was prepared to make those corrections from his Las Vegas headquarters whether it was changing executives or moving the location of a gourmet restaurant inside one of his Macau casinos.

Jacobs says he was let go after he refused to pay a $700,000 fee submitted by well-connected Macau legislator and Sands China outside counsel Leonel Alves, which he worried might break U.S. anti-bribery laws. Adelson overruled his Macau CEO and reinstated the payment, which he said was a bargain considering the exorbitant fees other lawyers were charging to settle casino-licensing issues.

Throughout his testimony, Adelson took swipes at Jacobs, who sat silently in the courtroom, at one point observing, “He was one of the least competent and potentially destructive executives I had in over 50 companies in my 69-year business career. He only worked for the company for one year.”

In that time, however, Jacobs appears to have mightily impressed Adelson’s former No. 2 man, Michael Leven, who cheered in an email, “The Titanic hit the iceberg. [Jacobs] arrived and not only saved the passengers, he saved the ship.”

Clearly nonplussed, Adelson said Leven had been “hypnotized” by Jacobs and then promised, “Mike Leven will come in and say he made a mistake.”

But Jacobs’s attorneys, Pisanelli and Todd Bice, continued to grind away at their argument that, according to a court filing, “Jacobs was not terminated for cause. He was terminated for blowing the whistle on improprieties and placing the interests of shareholders above those of Adelson.”

Adelson, ever pugnacious, countered that he looked forward to the time the merits of the case would be filed, which is intriguing considering how hard his own attorneys have worked to drag out the jurisdiction issue.

Jacobs’s lawsuit contends, “While Sands China publicly holds itself out as being headquartered in Macau, its true headquarters are in Las Vegas, where all principle decisions are made and direction is given by executives acting for Sands China.”

Adelson downplayed that argument and even appeared to shrug off the assertion that his company had been doing business with a major Chinese organized crime figure.

“I keep reading the newspapers that say that Cheung Chi Tai was only a witness in a trial in Hong Kong concerning some wrongdoing,” Adelson said. “He was never accused of any wrongdoing. It’s not—I don’t get involved in those things…We hired the former head of the FBI regulatory division. We hired the former chief operating officer of the U.S. Secret Service. We do everything we can to stay away from the bad guys, and we’re constantly on the lookout for any direct or indirect connection. You’re asking me about documents in languages that I don’t speak or read.”

Pisanelli countered, “So you’re telling us, sir, then that as the chairman of the board you were to learn that a person with whom your company had a business association with was involved in a plot to behead some of your employees, that is not something you would have gotten involved with as the chairman?”

Adelson’s attorney Jones rushed to object.

It’s just such testimony that has helped generate damaging headlines linking Adelson’s company to Chinese organized crime, which could cause a lot of trouble for the casino king now that the case will proceed in a Las Vegas courtroom.

Then again, maybe it’s just the kind of trouble a guy worth nearly $30 billion or so can afford.

 

By: John L. Smith, The Daily Beast, May 27, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | GOP Campaign Donors, Organized Crime, Sheldon Adelson | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sheldon Adelson Will Not Be Ignored”: He May Have Built A Lot Of Casinos, But He Doesn’t Understand Much About Politics

Sheldon Adelson has never struck me as a brilliant guy, but I admit I don’t have much to go on in making that judgment. Maybe it’s the spectacularly ridiculous dyed-red combover that makes him seem like such a comical figure, but who knows. What we do know is that all—or almost all—Republican presidential candidates desperately want his money.

But it seems that Sheldon is seriously ticked off at Jeb Bush. Eliana Johnson of the National Review reports:

The bad blood between Bush and Adelson is relatively recent, and it deepened with the news that former secretary of state James Baker, a member of Bush’s foreign-policy advisory team, was set to address J Street, a left-wing pro-Israel organization founded to serve as the antithesis to the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

J Street has routinely staked out liberal views anathema to those held by Adelson and his allies. Adelson sent word to Bush’s camp in Miami: Bush, he said, should tell Baker to cancel the speech. When Bush refused, a source describes Adelson as “rips***”; another says Adelson sent word that the move cost the Florida governor “a lot of money.”

Let’s keep in mind that there’s no question that any of the the Republican candidates will be anything less than fully supportive of the Likud vision for Israel’s future, which is Adelson’s top priority. You’d think that Adelson would be able to live with the fact that former secretary of state and longtime Republican macher James Baker spoke to a liberal group and also is one of what I presume are a dozen or more informal foreign policy advisers to Jeb Bush. But apparently not.

Jeb can live without Adelson’s money; he’s not having any trouble raising funds, and if he becomes the GOP nominee, Adelson will come around. But what’s unusual about this story is the fact that Adelson thinks he can tell presidential candidates whom their advisors can and can’t give a speech to.

That brings things down to an unusually specific level that we don’t ordinarily see. In this relationship, both the billionaire and the politician tell themselves a story in which everyone has the noblest of motives. The donor tells himself that his contributions are motivated solely by his concern for the country, and he only wants to help those who share his philosophy (and defeat those who don’t.) He doesn’t tell the politician what to think and do; he’s just there to offer his wise counsel as a successful businessman and concerned American. The politician might listen to him, or he might not, and when he usually does, that’s just evidence of how wise the billionaire is. The politician tells himself that his integrity is unsullied by money, since he makes his own decisions and is not swayed by the billionaire, even if he just happens to support all the things the billionaire wants.

Had Jeb actually told Baker not to go to J Street solely to make Adelson happy, it would have been hard for him to stay convinced that he was still pure. It’s because the question is so trivial that it necessitated standing up to Adelson.

Adelson may have built a lot of casinos, but I don’t think he understands much about politics, not only what works but which fights are worth having (this is, after all, a man who thought putting $20 million behind Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign was a wise investment). Say what you will about Charles and David Koch, but I couldn’t see them making the same mistake.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 29, 2015

April 30, 2015 Posted by | GOP Campaign Donors, Jeb Bush, Sheldon Adelson | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sheldon Adelson Primary”: The GOP Presidential Primary; A Brawl Of Billionaires?

There are few spectacles more absurd or horrifying (depending on your perspective) than a group of political leaders who want to be president of the United States trooping to the lair of a billionaire to genuflect before him in hopes of winning his favor — and, of course, his money.

If you’re looking for a symbol of what presidential politics has become, particularly in the Republican Party, look no further than the festival of grovelling that will occur this weekend in Las Vegas. Alex Isenstadt reports:

Before Iowa and New Hampshire, GOP candidates are competing in the Sheldon Adelson primary, and some will travel to his posh Venetian hotel in Las Vegas this weekend in hopes of winning it. But one candidate — Marco Rubio — has emerged as the clear front-runner, according to nearly a half-dozen sources close to the multibillionaire casino mogul.

In recent weeks, Adelson, who spent $100 million on the 2012 campaign and could easily match that figure in 2016, has told friends that he views the Florida senator, whose hawkish defense views and unwavering support for Israel align with his own, as a fresh face who is “the future of the Republican Party.” He has also said that Rubio’s Cuban heritage and youth would give the party a strong opportunity to expand its brand and win the White House.

Adelson came to many people’s attention when he dropped $20 million in a vain attempt to get Newt Gingrich the GOP nomination in 2012, an effort doomed by the identity of his chosen candidate. It’s a good reminder that money is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for winning the primary. I suppose there might be some level of funding that could propel even someone as ridiculous as Gingrich to victory, but whatever it is — $200 million? $500 million? — it’s more than even someone like Adelson is going to spend in a primary, particularly when there are other billionaires out there doing the same thing.

We may be about to see an unprecedented arms race among Republican plutocrats. The Koch brothers are supposedly leaning toward Scott Walker, though they haven’t made a final decision; they’ll be holding their own audition for candidates this summer. Ted Cruz is backed by a hedge fund magnate named Robert Mercer; investment manager Foster Friess will once again keep Rick Santorum funded, as he did in 2012.

But the real question isn’t whether a candidate can find the one donor that will bring him to victory, it’s what happens when the next president takes office.

All this money — not just the volume but the way it’s being moved around — is making a mockery of our already porous campaign finance laws. One of the last restrictions on funding that the Supreme Court has left standing is the limit on direct contributions to candidates. This year, if you’re a billionaire, you can only give Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign $2,700 for the primary and $2,700 for the general election, because everyone agrees it would be inherently corrupting if you could just write him a check for $1 million or $10 million or $100 million.

But that won’t stop you. Here’s what you can do. You can go over to the Right to Rise PAC, which exists in order to make Jeb Bush president, and write it a check for that $1 million. And since Jeb is not officially a candidate, he can raise money for the PAC, and plan and shape its strategy for the election. After he declares himself a candidate he will no longer be allowed to coordinate with it, but by then the preparatory work will be done.

Which is why, in an unprecedented move, Bush has decided to outsource entire sectors of his campaign to the PAC, like advertising and ground organizing, while the official campaign will do far less. It could well be the future of presidential campaign organization. Election law expert Rick Hasen explains why this is so troubling:

In the old days (think the days of the fundraising of Bush’s brother, George W. Bush), the main way of gaining influence was by becoming a campaign bundler. Bundlers not only give the maximum few thousand dollars to the candidate’s campaign; they also get friends, relatives, and acquaintances to do the same. Now, one doesn’t have to become a bundler for the campaign to curry favor: One can simply write a check for $1 million or more to Right to Rise.

By signaling that Right to Rise is his campaign arm, Jeb Bush has broken down the wall between his super PAC and his campaign committee in the eyes of donors. Preventing coordination and preserving independence was one of the last walls that were left.

The next step will be simply handing $1 million checks to candidates. Right now that’s still illegal, but campaign finance opponents will challenge those candidate contribution limits as ineffective since (the Bush campaign will show) super PACs can serve almost the same purpose. Indeed, campaign lawyer Jim Bopp (the brains behind the Citizens United lawsuit) signaled as much this week, arguing that the way to take unaccountable money out of politics is to let individuals give whatever they want directly to candidates.

I suspect Hasen is right about this: Democrats are going to say that 2016 shows we need stronger campaign finance laws, while Republicans will say 2016 shows that the laws are toothless and irrelevant, so we might as well just remove the restrictions altogether.

The candidates themselves probably aren’t too worried about getting attacked as bought and paid for. They see the benefit they’ll get from being backed by a donor like the Kochs or Adelson on the one hand, and the bad press they’ll get from seeming like they’re in the pocket of a billionaire on the other hand, and say it’s a deal worth taking. What’s a few reporters’ questions that can easily be batted away (“I’m grateful for the support of any American who shares my vision for the future”) against all that cash?

“Dark money” — cash which is channeled through shadowy groups, obscuring where it originally came from — is extremely worrisome. But this new development is something else entirely. Sure, we’ll maintain the fiction that these PACs are “independent” and therefore there’s no corrupting influence associated with that money. But if you actually believe that at the end of a campaign in which he was showered with eight or nine figures worth of casino money, President Rubio wouldn’t be particularly open to hearing what Sheldon Adelson has to say about, say, internet gambling (which the magnate has worked hard to stamp out), I’d have to wonder whether you get to drink rainbows and ride unicorns on the fantasy planet you live on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 23, 2015

April 24, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, GOP Presidential Candidates, Plutocrats, Sheldon Adelson | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Line To Kiss Sheldon Adelson’s Boots”: Why Talk Directly To Voters When You Can Get A Billionaire To Help Manipulate Them

It’s hard to imagine a political spectacle more loathsome than the parade of Republican presidential candidates who spent the last few days bowing and scraping before the mighty bank account of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. One by one, they stood at a microphone in Mr. Adelson’s Venetian hotel in Las Vegas and spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition (also a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr. Adelson), hoping to sound sufficiently pro-Israel and pro-interventionist and philo-Semitic to win a portion of Mr. Adelson’s billions for their campaigns.

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio made an unusually bold venture into foreign policy by calling for greater sanctions on Iran and Russia, and by announcing that the United States should not pressure Israel into a peace process. (Wild applause.) “Hey, listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me,” he said. “God bless you for what you do.”

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin brought up his father’s trip to Israel, and said he puts “a menorah candle” next to his Christmas tree. The name of his son, Matthew, actually comes from Hebrew, he pointed out.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also described his trip to Israel, but then did something unthinkable. He referred to the West Bank as the “occupied territories.” A shocked whisper went through the crowd. How dare Mr. Christie implicitly acknowledge that Israel’s presence in the West Bank might be anything less than welcome to the Palestinians? Even before Mr. Christie left the stage, leaders of the group told him he had stumbled, badly.

And sure enough, a few hours later, Mr. Christie apologized directly to Mr. Adelson for his brief attack of truthfulness.

It would be one thing if these attempts at pandering were the usual ethnic bromides of candidates looking for votes in New York or Florida, a familiar ritual. But the people gathered in Las Vegas were not there as voters — they were there as donors, led by one of the biggest of them all, Mr. Adelson, who dispensed nearly $100 million to his favored candidates in 2012. He singlehandedly kept Newt Gingrich’s candidacy alive with $20 million in checks, and this year he is looking for a more mainstream candidate he can send to the White House on a tide of cash.

“He doesn’t want a crazy extremist to be the nominee,” Victor Chaltiel, a friend and colleague of Mr. Adelson, told the Washington Post. Well, that’s a relief.

But not much of one. The ability of one man and his money to engender so much bootlicking among serious candidates, which ought to be frightening, has now become commonplace. Why talk directly to voters when you can get a billionaire to help you manipulate them with a barrage of false television ads, as the Koch brothers are doing with Republican Senate candidates around the country.

It’s a cynical calculation that is turning people away from political involvement. Mr. Adelson thinks that’s not only terrific, but hilarious. Politico reported that at a party on Saturday night for the Republican Jewish Coalition, Mr. Adelson said he couldn’t give the group the $50 million it requested because its director didn’t have change for $1 billion.

The event was closed to the press, but it’s not hard to hear the fawning laughter and applause from here.

 

By: David Firestone, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, March 31, 2014

April 1, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, GOP Presidential Candidates, Sheldon Adelson | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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