The Amazing Rags-To-Riches Life Of Sheldon Adelson, The Republican Party's Biggest Donor

Sheldon Adelson

Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

Sheldon Adelson once slept in the same room as his entire family. He once voted almost exclusively Democrat. But this weekend, he showed up in Israel as perhaps the most influential donor of the Republican Party. At 78, Adelson is now one of the most active participant on the political scene, staunchly supporting a free Jewish state in Israel. The casino mogul even popped up in Israel this weekend to aid the candidacy of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who he has pledged to support with a possibly “unlimited” amount of money to super PACs in the 2012 election.  

Outside of the Romney campaign, Adelson has spent upwards of $20 million in donations to Republican candidates this election cycle, and almost single-handedly bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s rollercoaster primary campaign. CBS pegs him as the biggest super PAC donor of this election cycle.

Adelson mostly avoids the media spotlight, but his rags-to-riches tale reveals some of the reasons as to why he made huge ideological and personal changes through his life. 

Adelson grew up in a working class Boston neighbourhood.

His father, who emigrated from Lithuania, worked as a cabdriver, while his mother ran a knitting shop from their home. He, his parents and three siblings slept in one room.

Source: The New Yorker

Adelson's computer trade show, Comdex, became one of the world's largest in the world in the 1980s.

Adelson went on to buy the historic Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, adding a convention centre for the thriving Comdex. Adelson later cashed in on Comdex for $862 million, using the profits to tear down the hotel and rebuild a lavish, Venice-inspired complex.

Source: The New York Times

The Sands Macau is where Adelson made his billions.

Since the Sands Macau, located in Macau Peninsula, Macau, opened its doors, Adelson's personal wealth has 'multiplied more than fourteen times,' and 'earning roughly a million dollars an hour' after the company went public, The New Yorker reported.

Source: The New Yorker

But Adelson has been accused of welcoming prostitutes to the Macau resort.

Adelson met his second wife on a blind date.

Adelson divorced his first wife, Susan, in the 1980s. He had adopted Susan's three children, two boys and a girl.

He was introduced to his current wife, Dr. Miriam Ochschorn, a divorced doctor from Israel who was working in New York, by a mutual friend. The couple married in 1991.

But much about Adelson's personal life remains under wraps.

Sources: The New York Times, The New Yorker

The billionaire is also a target for lawsuits from both family and friends.

Adelson has had somewhat of a rough patch with his adopted sons. In 1997, two of Adelson's sons, Mitchell and Gary, sued their father. They alleged that Adelson cheated them out of money by encouraging them to sell their shares of his company without providing full information. They lost the case.

Mitchell and Gary both suffered from drug addiction. In 2005, Mitchell, who was married with three children, died unexpectedly when he was 48, reportedly of a drug overdose.

Source: The New Yorker

In his fifties, Adelson made what he has described as a life-changing visit to Israel

He reportedly had a 'spiritual awakening' during one of the first trips he made. This led him to turn his financial focus toward supporting Jewish causes.

Source: The New York Times

Now, Adelson donates generously to Jewish organisations.

Adelson gives to the powerful Jewish lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and the Zionist organisation of America. This year, Adelson pledged an additional $13 million to Taglit-Birthright Israel, an organisation that sends young Jews to Israel.

Reportedly, Adelson's stance on Israel became more conservative under the influence of his second wife.

Source: The New Yorker, The Times of Israel

Much of his personal stake in politics comes from a strong opposition to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He even appealed to President George W. Bush directly when talks restarted over the issue in 2007.

The Jewish Weekly quoted Adelson as saying 'the two-state solution is a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.' He sees no distinction between the terrorist group Hamas and the Palestinian leadership.

Source: The New Yorker, The Jewish Weekly

But Adelson's first political contributions actually went to Democrats.

Adelson donated $2,000 to now-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 1989. He also donated $2,000 to Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1993, when he was in an election fight with challenger ... Mitt Romney. But he pretty much stopped donating to Democrats in the 1993 cycle.

The New Yorker reported that as his wealth grew, 'he began to favour tax-averse Republican economic policies. He argued to an associate recently, 'Why is it fair that I should be paying a higher percentage of taxes than anyone else?''

Source: The New Yorker, Open Secrets

Adelson became a fairly big backer of President George W. Bush in 2004.

He donated about $4,000 to the campaign and $25,000 to the Republican National Committee. His wife, Miriam, also contributed.

And Adelson rocked the political world this year when he single-handedly backed Newt Gingrich in the 2012 Republican presidential primary race.

Adelson continued giving to Republicans in 2008, providing $4,500 to John McCain in 2008. But Gingrich was the first to see the benefit of Adelson's super PAC contributions.

Adelson contributed $17 million in campaign contributions from the Adelson family over several years. In early 2012, Adelson wrote $10 million in checks to Gingrich's super PAC, Winning Our Future.

Source: The New York Times, Open Secrets

Even though former Republican presidential candidate John McCain blasted Adelson, the casino executive just continued to donate. Adelson has spent more than $20 million in the 2012 election cycle alone.

He told Forbes that he is against the concept, but he'll contribute as long as its legal.

'I'm against very wealthy ­people attempting to or influencing elections,

Adelson joked that he attended Romney's Israel fundraiser to 'get a shwarma sandwich.'

In that interview, though, Adelson advanced the narrative that he remains mostly a mystery.

Adelson says he may write a book one day, but in the meantime The New York Times described him as 'hardly a household name. He avoids the limelight and rarely speaks to the press, remaining something of an enigma.'

When a reporter introduced himself in Israel, Adelson responded: 'Why do you guys keep writing negative things about me?'

Source: The New York Times, The New Yorker

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