Sheldon Adelson was a cabdriver’s son, born during the hardscrabble Depression era, who rose to be one of the Top 10 wealthiest people in the world.
Along the way, the multibillionaire casino and hotel magnate used his vast fortune to support Republican candidates and conservative causes in the U.S., well earning his description as a political kingmaker.
“Adelson had a massive impact on Republican Party politics the past two decades,” former longtime Republican National Committee member Steve Duprey told Fox News on Tuesday morning, soon after news that the 87-year-old Adelson had died late Monday from complications from his battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is a form of blood cancer.
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Longtime Senate Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell – who was close to Adelson – highlighted that “Sheldon built an incredible life and career. He climbed from sleeping on tenement floors during the Great Depression as a young boy to literally towering over Las Vegas and beyond. He created countless jobs in the process. And he poured his success into philanthropy — from drug abuse treatment to research into cancer and other diseases to the countless Jewish causes around the world that were especially close to his heart.”
Politics was also close to the heart of Adelson, who constructed the world’s largest empire of casinos and resort hotels, which stretched from Las Vegas to Macau and Singapore in Asia – and he became one of the biggest spenders in American campaigns and elections.
The founder, chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation shelled out millions to support Republican President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection.
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“Laura and I mourn the passing of a friend,” the former president said in a statement. “He was an American patriot and a strong supporter of Israel. Sheldon was a generous benefactor of charitable causes, especially medical research and Jewish heritage education. He will be missed by many – none more than his beloved family.”
While Adelson’s influence in GOP politics was on the rise, it was the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that liberated the casino and hotel magnate, allowing him to become the heavyweight champion of political donors. The landmark ruling declared numerous constraints on political contributions as unconstitutional limits on free speech.
With the shackles removed, Adelson gave nearly $100 million of his own money to the 2012 presidential campaigns of Newt Gingrich and eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney – as well as super PACs supporting them – in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Democratic President Barack Obama’s reelection.
In the wide-open 2016 Republican presidential nomination race, a handful of GOP White House hopefuls trekked to Las Vegas early in the cycle to curry favor with Adelson. After Donald Trump captured the GOP nomination, Adelson dished out $25 million for Trump’s general election campaign. He was the single largest donor to Trump’s White House bid, and his money – along with a major infusion from the Republican National Committee – gave the Republican nominee a big financial boost against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who enjoyed a massive campaign cash advantage over Trump.
In May 2016, Adelson called Trump a “CEO success story” in an opinion piece he wrote in the Washington Post.
“You may not like Trump’s style or what he says on Twitter, but this country needs strong executive leadership more today than at almost any point in its history,” he wrote as he endorsed Trump.
After Trump’s election victory, Adelson contributed a record-breaking $5 million to the January 2017 inauguration, and one of Adelson’s longstanding goals – moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – was achieved during Trump’s presidency.
In the 2020 election cycle, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, plowed more than $200 million toward Trump’s reelection and supporting other Republican candidates and causes.
“He was a rags-to-riches person who made enormous wealth through hard work and believed in being involved in politics and put this money behind it,” Duprey noted. “He believed in the political process and believed those with means should use them to support their views. He had a huge impact because of this resources.”
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), said in a statement that Adelson’s “active participation in the cause of the Republican Party and the RGA made him a towering figure in shaping the course of world history.”
Adelson also eschewed the tradition of mega donors staying far from the spotlight and letting their money do the talking.
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“He didn’t just write checks. He got involved on a policy level, and I think that’s something that was different that we had gotten used to,” noted Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general and longtime GOP consultant who is a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns.
“Some big donors like to be invisible. That wasn’t the case with him,” Rath told Fox News.
Duprey noted that Adelson “was proud of the fact that he had done as well as he had, proud of the fact that he was involved in the process and wasn’t afraid to admit.”