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January 24, 2012 6:19 pm

Adelson, Gingrich and the Battle of the Super PAC’s

avatar by Maxine Dovere

Gingrich super PAC donor Sheldon Adelson. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Why have Sheldon Adelson, a self-made billionaire, a founder and financier of Birthright, friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, supporter of Yad VaShem and other pro-Israel causes, and Dr. Miriam Adelson, Israeli born physician, founder of drug abuse treatment centers in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv, and wife of Sheldon Adelson selected to power the engine of Newt Gingrich’s campaign for the Republican nomination for President?

Sheldon Adelson’s very visible $5 million contribution to the pro-Gingrich Super PAC “Winning Our Future” in time for the South Carolina primary helped fund a campaign of negative advertising aimed at Mitt Romney.  That may have fostered Newt Gingrich’s win in the South Carolina primary and changed the entire campaign’s dynamics.

Days ago, Dr. Miriam Adelson, a longtime Gingrich friend and supporter, contributed a similar amount to the super PAC.  The additional $5 million will enable Mr. Gingrich to mount another strong media campaign ahead of the January 31 Florida primary. The direction of the advertisements in this campaign, said a Winning Our Future official, will be positive, “the pro-Newt message” rather than attack ads against Mr. Romney.

Even before the “election” campaign has started, activity in 2012 evidenced how unlimited political spending by a small group of dedicated donors can – and has – changed presidential primary politics. Donations by deep – ultra deep – pocket donors may have enabled the Newt Gingrich campaign to recover from its September debt (more than $1 million) and weather poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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While Gingrich’s campaign has been cyclical – robust in December, flailing just weeks later – massive PAC contributions underscore how quickly early advantages like those built by Mr. Romney’s campaign – including his well-organized Florida political operation, and his ability to raise tens of millions of dollars from a broad network of hard-money donors and “bundlers” who have been the backbone of his campaign – can be lost.  Most of Romney’s contributions are in amounts of no more than $2,500. Their effectiveness is directly challenged by Super PAC donations: no one in the Romney camp has made the sort of commitment Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have made to Gingrich.

Adelson is one of the most significant American backers of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man with whom Gingrich has a relationship of some thirty years.

Gingrich’s fundraising ability had a major boost from the new campaign finance rules resulting from the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling. The ruling, handed down January 21, 2010, struck down those provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act that prohibited all corporations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, and unions from broadcasting “electioneering communications.” Largely as a result of the Court’s decision, more than $30 million has been allowed to be contributed – and spent – in the Republican primary to date. Because the recipients – the super PAC’s – are “independent” of the candidates, and can raise unlimited amounts, as long as there is appropriate disclosure identifying the advertising sponsor. The PAC’s can spend unlimited amounts of money, making 1970 Campaign contribution limits virtually irrelevant.

Citizens United supporters say the limits were an “encroachment on political speech.” The Court decision effectively categorized “speech” as money and “corporations” as people under the First Amendment. Opponents of the decision say a few wealth individuals or corporations can now gain unlimited influence over campaigns and candidates. Ellen S. Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, says “What we are seeing now is a systematic breaking of the floodgates, effectively eliminating any firewalls between candidates and unlimited political giving.”

The most recent Adelson contribution came – perhaps in response – to a statement from Rick Tyler, once a Gingrich aide and now a senior adviser for Winning Our Future, saying Gingrich needed more money to spend in Florida.  Dr. Adelson’s contribution was announced Monday. The PAC has agreed to publicly report donors until January 31.

Winning Our Future purchased and aired a documentary highly critical of Romney and Bain Capital.  The film, since pulled at Gingrich’s request, depicted Romney and his firm as corporate raiders who destroyed jobs. The film had many inaccuracies, and Gingrich called for it to be edited or taken down.

Gingrich was bathed in applause from the crowd at a forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition. Political commentators in the “Jewish world” say Newt Gingrich “stole the show,” at the recent Republican Jewish Conference, a crowd that gave him one of his now familiar standing ovations

James Taranto, who participated in a recent Algemeiner Journal panel discussion, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, that “We have heard–and please don’t take this the wrong way–that there are some wealthy Jews. If Republicans can persuade them to open their wallets–or even to stop doing so for President Obama–a pro-Israel pitch may pay dividends.”

Matt Towery, a political columnist and former Gingrich aide who has called the candidate’s assessment of the Palestinian situation “a very accurate, historical review,” says “the Republican primary is one in which primarily you have money coming from pro-Israelis and Jewish organizations and that (is) a play for that money……What Newt is doing is he’s trying to shore up his support in the Jewish community. He’s trying to show them that he is a strong advocate for Israel and for a strong America — American- Israel relationship.”

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