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David McGrath Schwartz

Adelson money is political baggage

19 June 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada AND WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nationally Sheldon Adelson has become a campaign issue for Democrats when his money finds its way into Republicans' congressional races.

In his own town, though, at least some Democrats accept campaign contributions from Adelson-controlled companies.

Among Democrats on the Clark County Commission, a divide is growing about whether to accept money from the conservative casino mogul's companies.

Democratic County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said this week he has donated $10,000 in campaign contributions from Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp. to send children to summer school.

Two other Democratic Clark County commissioners and one Democratic candidate for the commission have taken campaign contributions from Adelson companies.

On Tuesday, the Culinary Union — Adelson's longtime foe — sent a letter to all elected Democrats in the state questioning why Nevada Democrats feel free to take money from Adelson, said Pilar Weiss, the union's political director.

"We continue to be absolutely shocked Democrats locally don't seem to see what Democrats nationally have noticed," Weiss said.

She pointed to a series of attacks on Democrats by the right-leaning Freedom's Watch, a political group funded in large part by Adelson, and complaints filed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee alleging illegal coordination of Freedom's Watch and the Republican Party. As an independent, nonprofit group, Freedom's Watch may not coordinate political activities with parties. Freedom's Watch has denied the allegation.

Weiss noted that Freedom's Watch also made a series of automated telephone calls opposing Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran ads on Christian radio stations in two congressional races this year tying the Republican candidates to Adelson. The ads called him "the world's No. 1 casino czar and one of atheist China's top American business partners."

China, the ad continued, is a country "that steals our jobs, persecutes Christians, uses forced labor and forces women to have abortions."

A Freedom's Watch spokesman last month told the newspaper Politico that the anti-Adelson ads were "probably the most incredibly convoluted argument to ever come out" of the DCCC.

An Adelson representative declined to comment for this story.

Weekly said he decided to donate Adelson's contribution to the Clark County School District after hearing from residents in his district, including Culinary members and teachers, who didn't like Sands-backed ballot initiatives that would take room tax money from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

He said he didn't realize the partisan nuances of the county seat, to which he was appointed in January 2007.

"I don't know all that history," he said of the feud between Adelson and the Culinary Union.

"Kids are in summer school and I am happy."

Clark County Commissioner and former state Democratic Party head Tom Collins has accepted $16,000 from Adelson's Las Vegas Sands and Venetian companies since 2004. Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani took $40,000 from Adelson's companies in 2006 after winning the Democratic nomination for the seat she now holds.

Las Vegas Councilman Larry Brown, who is running for a County Commission seat, took $5,000.

Collins and Brown did not return calls for comment.

Giunchigliani said: "It's a legitimate business in my district. That's why I decided to take the money." She added, however, that she didn't know whether she'd take campaign contributions from Adelson's companies again.

"The money I did accept was in a previous campaign," she said. "I don't agree with the man's politics. If I run again in 3 1/2 years, I'll decide then who to accept money from."

In 2006 the Culinary Union endorsed Giunchigliani's opponent in the Democratic primary, then-incumbent Myrna Williams.