In the land of billionaire megadonors, Sheldon Adelson was king
- Sheldon Adelson died on January 12 from complications from treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
- The 87-year-old casino magnate was worth $33.4 billion at the time of his death.
- Adelson was a GOP megadonor and a staunch supporter of Israeli interests.
He and his wife Miriam donated $334 million to GOP politics in the 20 years prior to September, according to Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies.
- Adelson was the biggest billionaire donor who wasn't contributing to his own campaign, representing 14.5% of all federal election contributions by billionaires since 1990.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson's passing from complications of his cancer treatment, as announced by Las Vegas Sands Corp. on Tuesday morning, leaves not just the world's largest casino operator, but the legacy of a political megadonor who reshaped the Republican party's stance on Israel.
Though raised in a Democratic-leaning household, Adelson became an ardent supporter of the Republican party later in life, with support for Israel at the core of his shift. "There is now a visceral anti-Israel movement among rank-and-file Democrats, a disturbing development that my parents' generation would not have ignored," he wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in 2012. "Although I don't agree with every Republican position — I'm liberal on several social issues — there is enough common cause with the party for me to know I've made the right choice."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eulogized Adelson earlier today as "an incredible champion of the Jewish people, the Jewish state and the alliance between Israel and America" on Twitter.
While long a megadonor, Adelson's influence accelerated after the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision in 2010, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on elections. He and his wife Miriam had donated $334 million to GOP politics in the 20 years prior to September, according to analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, most of which came after the Citizens United decision.
This makes Adelson the biggest billionaire donor who wasn't contributing to his own campaign, representing 14.5% of all federal election contributions by billionaires since 1990. On the other side of the aisle, Tom Steyer and wife Kathryn Taylor are the top donors, spending $274.6 million over the same period.
"Sheldon Adelson was the single-biggest billionaire enabler of Donald Trump and the right-wing members of the Republican Party," Chuck Collins, director of IPS' Program on Inequality and the Common Good told Insider.
Adelson's influence reshaped the Republican party's stance on Israel
Adelson was unapologetic about prioritizing Israeli interests above all else. "I think it's unwise to trade land for peace," he said at a 2013 conference at Yeshiva University. "And it's more unwise to trade land for peace from a people who are not a people … There's no such thing as a Palestinian." He once suggested that the US bomb the Iranian desert as a negotiating tactic.
He supported the 2012 presidential bid of Newt Gingrich, who promised to issue an executive order to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on his first day in office. During the primaries for the 2016 presidential election, GOP candidates courted Adelson in Las Vegas in what the press dubbed the "Adelson primary."
Adelson and his Israeli-born wife ultimately put their support behind Donald Trump, donating $20 million toward a pro-Trump super PAC and $82 million in total for the 2016 election cycle, per Forbes. Trump's administration relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018, fulfilling a longtime wish of Adelson, who attended the dedication ceremony.
This past August, Trump confronted Adelson this past August, pushing for more campaign contributions, according to Politico. Adelson responded by contributing $75 million to the Trump super PAC, Preserve America, within one month of its summer launch, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
The newspaper that Adelson owned, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was one of only six major American newspapers to endorse Trump in the 2020 election.
Trump issued a statement on Adelson's death this afternoon. "Sheldon lived the true American dream," he said. "Sheldon was also a staunch supporter of our great ally the State of Israel. He tirelessly advocated for the relocation of the United States embassy to Jerusalem, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and its neighbors."
His son Don Jr. also tweeted in support of Adelson: "Sheldon was a true American patriot and a giant among men. He treated his employees like family. His philanthropic generosity changed countless lives. The US-Israel relationship is stronger today because of him. My heart goes out to the Adelson family."
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