Keystone Progress, the Harrisburg, PA-based progressive organization, announced yesterday that it had filed a Right-to-Know request with Governor Tom Corbett’s office seeking information about interactions between Corbett and casino owner and right-wing political financier Sheldon Adelson.
The request follows revelations last month that Adelson made an illegal donation of $987,844 to a political action committee charged with re-electing Corbett in 2014 – the “Republican Governors Association Pennsylvania 2014 PAC.” Keystone Progress filed a complaint with the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board about the illegal donation last month. However, after a brief flurry of reporting on Adelson’s illegal contribution to Corbett’s reelection efforts, most media outlets seem content with Adelson’s “oops” explanation for violating Pennsylvania election law. The illegal donation of $987,844 from December 31, 2013 should carry with it a fine of over $1.3 million according to 4 P.S. § 1513, the Political Influence Ban.
Adelson made a $1 million donation to the Republican Governor’s Association who routed the bulk of that donation to its RGA Pennsylvania 2014 PAC, in clear violation of the law. However, there seems to be little appetite in Corbett’s office to force Adelson – who owns significant shares in Sands Bethlehem – to pay the fine. Nor is there significant noise from Pennsylvania legislators or established journalists. They seem content with the explanation Adelson’s spokesperson gave to the Philadelphia Daily News for violating Pennsylvania law:
The Republican Governors Association, chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, reported receiving $1 million for its federal political-action committee on Dec. 31 from Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. The group immediately moved $987,844 of Adelson’s money into its “RGA Pennsylvania 2014 PAC,” according to a state campaign-finance report filed Jan. 31. …
Ron Reese, vice president of corporate communications for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., said the Republican Governors Association was alerted at the time of Adelson’s contribution that the money could not be allocated for use in Pennsylvania politics.
Reese described the movement to Pennsylvania of the Adelson cash as an RGA mistake.
RGA spokesman Jon Thompson tried to blame notice of the mistake on Democrats in Pennsylvania.
By filing a Right-to-Know request with Corbett’s office, Keystone Progress is signalling that without concrete evidence to support the PAC’s claims, they are refusing to accept that the donation was simply a “mistake.”
John Neurohr, director of communications for Keystone Progress, told Raging Chicken Press that the organization decided to file the request “because we believe Pennsylvanians should be aware of any interactions between Governor Corbett or his staff and a man who illegally gave nearly $1 million to his re-election PAC and has significant business interests that the Governor can affect. Businessmen like Sheldon Adelson usually don’t make large investments without expecting a significant return and we are just making sure Pennsylvanians have all the facts.” And it would seem that Pennsylvanians have a right to question the sincerity of the right-wing financier’s explanation for his illegal donation.
According to the Morning Call, Adelson’s donation to RGA Pennsylvania 2014 PAC came shortly after PA legislators began discussions about one of Adelson’s key interests:
A month after state lawmakers decided to study legalizing online gambling, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire owner of the Bethlehem Sands casino and an ardent foe of online gambling, gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.
Back in April, The Atlantic reported on a “suck-up fest” between Adelson and Republican presidential hopefuls held at Adelson’s Venetian casino resort in Las Vegas. Apparently, banning internet gambling was one of the blood oaths Adelson required before spending any of his billions on a presidential candidate:
The top item on Adelson’s political agenda is well known—support for Israel and a maximally aggressive approach to American foreign policy, particularly in the Mideast. These days, he has another cause: banning Internet gambling. In a mind-bending display of chutzpah, the casino magnate has concluded that online gaming poses a moral risk to Americans. (Gamblers’ virtue is presumably assured if they stick to periodic land pilgrimages to the Venetian and other Sands properties.) Adelson has donated to and hosted fundraisers for Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has suddenly discovered his own inner moral crusader and become the primary sponsor of the bill in Congress to ban Internet gambling.
Was it merely a “coincidence” that the pro-Corbett PAC mistakenly received $987,844 from a man who has a direct interest in squashing any talk of internet gambling that could compete with his Bethlehem casino profits? And, if the Chris Christie led Republican Governor’s Association was so irresponsible with their political contributions that they put one of their top donors in legal jeopardy, surely heads would roll, right? Not so much.
You would suspect that the Republican Governors Association would be extra cautious with Adelson’s donations since just months before he had to pay the federal government $47 million to avoid criminal prosecution in a money laundering case. As The Daily Beast reported in August 2013,
Adelson’s casino company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., cut its losses this week when it agreed to pay $47 million to the U.S. government to settle a federal money-laundering investigation with ties to a Mexican methamphetamine cartel. In exchange, Obama’s Department of Justice agreed not to prosecute the company for failing to report suspicious activity on the part of Zhenli Ye Gon, a high-rolling customer whose shady money transfers ought to have alarmed casino compliance officials and been reported to authorities.
Known as “Mr. Ye” on the Strip, the Chinese businessman gambled at least $126 million from 2006 to early 2007—most of that at the Sands’s Venetian and Palazzo on the Las Vegas Strip—prior to his arrest by Drug Enforcement Administration agents. A suspected money launderer with alleged ties to the violent Sinaloa cartel, Ye Gon currently faces potential drug-trafficking charges in Mexico. (Similar charges in the U.S. were dismissed.)
If you consider that the $47 million payout amounted to less that 1% of Adelson’s personal net worth, it’s not hard to see how the threat of a $1.3 million fine for violating Pennsylvania law might just be the cost of doing business – the business of buying elections, that is.
Keystone Progress’s Right-to-Know request is seeking ” information about any interactions between Corbett and Adelson using Commonwealth of Pennsylvania facilities and staff,” according to its executive director Michael Morrill. “We think it is important for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers to know what kind of interactions have taken place and what was discussed in those interactions.” While the RGA Pennsylvania 2014 PAC claimed that it returned Adelson’s donation once it realized it violated the law, there are much deeper questions about the role right-wing billionaires are playing in this year’s election. This past December, the infamous Koch Brothers were in Pennsylvania with their checkbooks and legislative demands. Adelson’s “mistake” smells of the same rotten stew.
The Governor’s Ofiice has five business days to respond to the Keystone Progress’s inquiry, but Pennsylvania law allows for the Governor’s Office to request a 30 day extension to fully respond to the records request. We will continue to follow this closely.