How badly will casino mogul Sheldon Adelson's bribery admission hurt Republicans?

Keith Wagstaff
The Week
Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, leave Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech in Jerusalem on July 29, 2012.

The gambling empire owned by the billionaire donor concedes that it "likely" broke the law by bribing Chinese officials

For the GOP, 79-year-old casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson is just about the most important donor this side of the Koch brothers, dishing out nearly $100 million to (mostly Republican) candidates during the 2012 elections. So the news that Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp. admitted in a regulatory filing that it "likely" violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing Chinese officials probably won't be greeted with smiles by GOP campaign managers.

Also problematic: This revelation comes amid ongoing probes into the Adelson empire by the SEC, DOJ, and FBI.

How big of an issue is this for Republicans? Adelson was, after all, the man whom Mitt Romney publicly wooed after Newt Gingrich dropped out of the GOP race — despite receiving $21.5 million in Adelson super PAC money. But despite Adelson's very public backing of GOP candidates, as Ezra Klein points out, this would be a much bigger deal if Romney were sitting in the White House instead of chatting up Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday:

If Mitt Romney had won the election, this Adelson story would be blowing up:…

— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) March 4, 2013

Of course, Romney didn't win. But that might not be the only reason the story will likely fade. One anonymous Republican fundraiser told the Financial Times that "the admission would have 'no impact' because there were no 'credible reasons' to believe the allegations personally reflected on Mr Adelson." In this view, wrongdoing by the company might not necessarily besmirch the reputation of the man at its head.

Even Adelson's gambling empire may emerge largely unscathed, apparently because such accusations are commonly viewed as part of doing business in corruption-ravaged Macau.

[A]s with many lucrative business spheres in China, the gambling industry on Macau is laced with corruption. Companies must rely on the good will of Chinese officials to secure licenses and contracts. Officials control even the flow of visitors, many of whom come on government-run junkets from the mainland. [New York Times]

Here's Hong Kong-based gaming analyst Michael Ting's take:

If you look at Adelson and Sands, they've historically been in legal trouble for a number of things, and every time there is a short-time share-price loss it tends to bounce back up… We don't think there would be any long-term negative issues on the share price. [Bloomberg]

So yes, being accused of bribing foreign officials isn't exactly great press. But judging from the almost-yawn-like reception to this revelation, candidates probably won't be leaping to cut ties with a big-time donor reportedly worth $25 billion. Indeed, presidential hopefuls have already started courting Adelson for 2016. Just a week after Election Day 2012, Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Bob McDonnell all attended private meetings with Adelson at his Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, according to Politico. So don't expect the race for the billionaire's bucks — what Salon calls the "Adelson primary" — to be canceled anytime soon.

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