By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and a possible presidential contender, jump-started his new political group with a check for $1 million from a source many in his conservative base would shun -- the gambling industry.
Gingrich's American Solutions for Winning the Future reported to the Internal Revenue Service that it collected a $1 million check from Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon G. Adelson shortly after the November elections. The IRS reported the donation in recent days.
The contribution dwarfed the other checks, totaling just $60,000, gathered for the group's start-up. Gingrich announced the group late last fall, setting it up as a "527" organization, a type of political nonprofit that can collect and spend donations of unlimited size.
Though Gingrich says his group is seeking bipartisan ideas, his movement is clearly courting conservatives with a new "Contract With America for the 21st Century" that proposes private savings accounts for Social Security, "patriotic education" in public schools and the appointment of judges who understand the "centrality of God in American history."
A decade after $100,000 checks to political parties and groups were the jaw-dropping phenomenon, Adelson's donation marks a new frontier in political fundraising -- a seven-figure check to a group associated with a single politician whose aspirations may include the White House. Gingrich has said that he will decide by the fall whether to enter the crowded race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.
Kent Cooper, a former Federal Election Commission official, said: "A check of this size could either bankroll the start of a new organization or underwrite the exploration, traveling and contacts of a potential presidential candidate."
Gingrich's spokesman, Rick Tyler, said last night that the former speaker was traveling and unavailable to comment. "The 527 is designed to foster a dialogue with Americans. Hence the name American Solutions," Tyler said.
Adelson's office in Las Vegas declined to comment.
Adelson's check underscores the uncomfortable position that Republicans face on the issue of gambling. The party rose to power under Gingrich in the early 1990s on the strength of social and religious conservatives, and many of the latter oppose gambling on moral grounds.
Conservatives were stung during the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal when it was revealed that one of their champions, political strategist Ralph Reed, made money from Indian gambling sources and that many GOP lawmakers wrote letters or intervened on behalf of Abramoff's casino-operating tribes and received donations from them.
"The problem is the income comes from what we call a vice, and that is an issue," said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, which has long been a powerful voice on social issues inside the GOP.
"I certainly could never have done that and I certainly can't encourage it, but if good will comes out of it in terms of these issues . . . then that remains to be seen. There's an old expression that the devil's had the money long enough, it's about time the good people got their hands on it," he said.
Adelson was listed by Forbes magazine in 2006 as America's third-richest man, with assets of more than $20 billion. His long list of political donations, primarily to Republicans, includes $100,000 to the Republican National Committee in 1997 and 1998, when Gingrich was speaker.
Adelson made his mark in business by creating the nation's most famous technology show, Comdex, and was a relative latecomer to Las Vegas's gambling scene. He got into the casino business in the mid-1990s, buying the old Sands casino and imploding it to make room for the massive Venetian casino. That opened in 1999, four months after Gingrich left the House.