Republicans aren’t seeing as many big checks from one of their most generous benefactors, creating a financial hole for the GOP just as Democrats get a fundraising windfall tied to abortion.
Miriam Adelson along with her late husband Sheldon Adelson were the party’s biggest donors over the past decade. But her only major contribution in the current election cycle is the $5 million she donated in July to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that backs House GOP candidates.
The couple, the largest shareholders of casino giant Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a long-time bugaboo to Democrats, donated $524 million to the party’s super PACs, committees and candidates between 2011 and 2020. They were high-profile backers of former President Donald Trump, who awarded Miriam the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.
But since her husband’s death in January 2021, Miriam Adelson, a 76-year-old physician, has largely eschewed the in-person events with politicians that typically conclude with big donations, according to two people familiar with her activity who asked not to be identified. Miriam, who spends much of her time in Israel, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Adelson’s financial circumstances have changed as well. While a net worth exceeding $27 billion makes her the sixth-richest woman in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, her wealth has taken a hit during COVID-19, with the stock down 45% since the end of 2019. Sands also stopped paying dividends in April 2020, ending a consistent stream of income. The family’s 433 million shares had thrown off more than $1 billion a year in cash.
The expectation among many in Washington was that Miriam would maintain the couple’s benevolence. But her only major contribution this year is one-sixth of what the Adelsons had given to the Congressional Leadership Fund by this point in the 2018 election cycle. That time around, both also wrote $33,900 checks, then the maximum amount, to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, and maxed out to 18 federal candidates.
Without the Adelsons’ big donations, some Republicans worry they could face a cash crunch heading into the midterms. The party is favored to take a majority in the House, though its chances of controlling the Senate have deteriorated due to the fundraising struggles of candidates in battleground states.
The money Democrats are drawing in response to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling that reversed Roe vs. Wade and ended the national right to abortion has also put the GOP at a disadvantage. Democratic Senate candidates in seven of the eight battleground states have raised more money than their Republican competitors, meaning GOP super PACs will have to pick up the advertising slack.
“If Adelson is effectively sitting out the cycle, it leaves an awful big hole,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor and chief executive officer of oilfield services company Canary Drilling Services.
One person familiar with Miriam’s thinking said it isn’t surprising that she hasn’t given as much as she used to when her husband was alive. She has a very strong passion for Israel, but Sheldon was more vocal and passionate about U.S. politics, the person said.
Miriam wasn’t directly involved in Sands’ business dealings to the degree that her husband was. The pair had some of their wishes realized under Trump, such as having Jerusalem designated as Israel’s capital and the opening of an embassy there. Other issues, such as a battle against online betting, ended with Sheldon’s death.
The people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information, cautioned that there’s still time yet left in the election cycle for Adelson to donate. But if she does scale back giving for the duration of the midterm cycle, some Republican groups that have counted on Adelson money in the past could find themselves short on cash.
One example is the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In 2020, it raised $340 million ahead of the general election, and backed candidates in 12 Senate races. The bulk of that amount, some $212 million, arrived in the critical period between Aug. 1 and Election Day. The Adelsons gave $70 million during that period, about one-third of the total.
For the midterms, the Senate Leadership Fund has raised $113 million through June 30, but has collected more since. It’s booked more than $170 million in airtime in eight races, according to data from AdImpact, which tracks political spending. The super PAC reports its third quarter fundraising totals to the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 15.
But a look at its biggest donors also serves as a reminder that it’s possible other wealthy supporters will fill the void as the Adelson money goes away. The Senate Leadership Fund has pulled in $10 million donations from Blackstone Group Inc. CEO Stephen Schwarzman and hedge-fund magnate Ken Griffin.
Other Republican donors have opened their wallets wider while new donors are getting in the game. Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle Corp., has given $21 million to GOP candidates and committees, triple the amount he gave in 2020. Other top donors, including Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, owners of Uline Inc., and quant fund manager Jeff Yass, are on pace to exceed the amounts they gave in 2020.
Billionaire investor Peter Thiel has pumped $30 million into a pair of super PACs, more than 13 times the amount he gave in 2020. Ryan Salame, the co-chief executive officer of crypto exchange FTX, has given more than $18.3 million. But their donations so far have been spent in primaries rather than hoarded for the general election.
In February, Sands completed the sale of its Venetian resort complex in Las Vegas to Apollo Global Management Inc., marking the end of an era for a property that had been the site of many meetings between Sheldon Adelson and politicians looking for support. Sands management has since moved to offices away from the city’s famous Strip. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy came to town for campaigning in late August, Miriam was out of town.