Ryan climbs aboard Romney's wheel of fortune

Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 01:00

Paul Ryan dutifully went to Las Vegas to honour a casino-owning key donor, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

WITH ITS ersatz Piazza San Marco, canals and stripe-shirted gondoliers, slot machines and scantily clad women, the Sands Venetian Casino in Las Vegas seemed an unlikely destination for a politician who built his career on fiscal and moral sobriety, just three days after Congressman Paul Ryan was chosen as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate.

But politics makes strange bedfellows and Ryan dutifully trekked to Sin City to pay obeisance to Sheldon Adelson and other wealthy Republican donors on Tuesday night.

Adelson (79) owns two huge hotel-casinos in Las Vegas, four more in the Chinese enclave of Macau, and has ambitions to build a new Las Vegas in Spain.

He and his wife, Miriam, are the single largest donors to the 2012 presidential campaign, having given $15 million to the failed Republican candidate Newt Gingrich last winter, then $20 million to the Romney campaign in June.

Adelson, whose fortune is estimated by Forbes magazine at $25 billion, has long fought labour unions, a cause also dear to Ryan.

While guests bound for the get-to-know-Paul-Ryan cocktail were spirited into a guarded lift to a luxury suite, hundreds of trade unionists marched in a circle around the fountain in front of the hotel, shouting “Ryan, go home!” and brandishing placards saying “Romney-Ryan: Pathway to Poverty!” and “Paul Ryan: Hustling for the 1 per cent”.

Adelson embodies the unbridled power of money in US politics, since the Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision allowed limitless contributions by corporations to “Super PACs” (political action committees) which maintain only the slightest pretence of distance from presidential candidates.

The three things he cares most about, Adelson has told friends, are family, Israel and gambling – in that order.

He owns a free newspaper that helped bring prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to power in Israel. Despite Barack Obama’s pro-Israel policies, Adelson believes the president is hostile to Israel and says he is willing to spend up to $100 million to defeat him in November.

Adelson bonded with then Speaker of the House Gingrich back in 1995, over a Bill requiring the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Gingrich further ingratiated himself with the casino king through vocal opposition to the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” and by advocating a US pre-emptive strike against Iran.

When Gingrich called the Palestinians “an invented people” last December, Adelson told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians and you will hear why Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are invented people.”

Adelson attended the fundraiser for Romney in Jerusalem on July 30th at which the Republican candidate said “cultural differences”, not occupation, account for the disparity in wealth between Israelis and Palestinians.

Romney’s alignment with the Israeli right disturbs some American Jews.

“In Jerusalem last week, Adelson was Romney’s puppeteer,” Stephen Robert Morse, a self-described secular, moderate Jew, wrote on PolicyMic. “Romney is basing his Middle East foreign policy on a single individual who controls his purse strings. And that, for lack of a better term, is just plain wrong.

“A 70-year-old crazy . . . should not be putting millions of people’s lives at risk as the threat of a war with Iran remains on the table.”

Unease over the Romney-Ryan campaign’s reliance on Adelson has been compounded by allegations about the casino king’s business dealings. His Las Vegas Sands Corporation (LVSC) is under investigation by US and Chinese authorities for allegedly paying bribes to Chinese officials.

Shortly after China took over Macau from Portugal in December 1999, Adelson vowed to “turn Macau into the Las Vegas of the Far East”. But he needed the support of the Chinese government and in 2001 used his influence with then Republican majority whip Tom DeLay to stop a congressional resolution that would have condemned China’s bid for the 2008 Olympics.

When LVSC opened its first casino in Macau in 2004, eager Chinese gamblers literally broke down the doors to get in. By the time the second casino opened in 2007, Macau generated two-thirds of Adelson’s profits. (Today, four casinos in Macau account for about half of LVSC’s revenue, according to the New York Times.)

At least three former LVSC executives, two Chinese middlemen and the former Chinese basketball commissioner have alleged shady dealings by the company there. Steven Jacobs, the former head of operations in Macau, accuses the Sands of promoting prostitution, colluding with Mafia figures and possibly violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Adelson vehemently denied the allegations in an interview with Forbes last month. “Would I jeopardise being the seventh-richest man in the US and the 14th or 15th richest person in the world to push prostitution?” he asked.

While the investigations continue, Romney and Ryan must be praying their friendship with Adelson will not become an embarrassment. Romney’s Mormon faith strictly forbids gambling, but that is neither the first nor the last instance of gross hypocrisy in this campaign.

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