By KENNETH P. VOGEL
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson this week pledged $10 million to the Koch brothers’ 2012 efforts, cementing a potent alliance of two of the biggest spending forces in conservative politics.
The pledge was delivered by Adelson aide Andy Abboud at the Koch brothers’ donor summit early this week in suburban San Diego and was among the biggest of the gathering, multiple sources told POLITICO. Other large pledges came from personal investment tycoon Charles Schwab, who committed to a seven-figure donation, and the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.
The summit also featured the unveiling of a new candidate training academy supported by the Kochs called the Grassroots Institute.
The Grassroots Institute adds a new tool to a loose coalition of groups backed by the Kochs that increasingly resembles a political party of its own. It includes Americans for Prosperity, among the biggest spenders on tough ads attacking President Barack Obama, and Themis, a voter mobilization database that was reportedly deployed to great effect in the Wisconsin recall fight, as well as a host of other groups not commonly thought of as Koch-affiliated.
Together, the groups in the Koch network intend to spend nearly $400 million ahead of the 2012 election — marking the brothers not only as key players in a planned $1 billion GOP-allied outside campaign but also as among the most powerful forces in American politics.
Adelson’s family, meanwhile, is among the single biggest donors to political groups this cycle, and this month he committed to donating $10 million to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP challenger. Adelson’s dueling $10 million pledges to the Kochs and the pro-Romney super PAC underscore an unprecedented coalescing of conservative outside money to try to defeat Obama and congressional Democrats in the fall.
The CEO of the Las Vegas Sands, estimated to be worth nearly $25 billion, Adelson has long been a major Republican financier. But his donations have primarily benefited establishment Republican groups and candidates, or those supportive of his single biggest pet issue — the vigorous defense of Israel.
Adelson’s donation to the Koch network demonstrates how the brothers have branched out beyond the libertarian strain of conservatism that once completely defined them. The Kochs have increasingly directed cash to more traditional GOP-allied groups such as the 60 Plus Association and American Future Fund. They’ve sent representatives to regular meetings first organized by Karl Rove at which outside groups coordinate their campaign advertising. And they’ve invited more rich conservatives — and not just free market purists — to their twice-a-year donor summits.
Adelson attended his first Koch summit in January in Indian Wells, Calif., though he did not make a pledge at the time. In the past few months, though, he has embarked on an unprecedented political spending spree, motivated by enmity for Obama and facilitated by a pair of 2010 federal court decisions that created super PACs and paved the way for unlimited donations to them and other outside groups to air ads attacking or supporting candidates.
Adelson’s family donated more than $20 million to the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich’s failed presidential bid (though $5 million was refunded last month) and $5 million to a super PAC affiliated with House Speaker John Boehner. He has committed $10 million to the pro-Romney PAC and, according to The Huffington Post, $20 million to a Rove-linked nonprofit group called Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies and $5 million to one linked to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. HuffPo also reported that Adelson planned to donate $10 million to a nonprofit linked to the Kochs, but the pledge made by Abboud this week is expected to go into a fund collected at the brothers’ summits and controlled by their operatives.
Adelson’s spokesman did not respond to telephone and email messages from POLITICO seeking comment on his $10 million pledge at the Koch summit. Adelson was traveling during the San Diego conference and Abboud, an executive at Las Vegas Sands Corporation, appeared on his behalf to deliver the pledge.
The San Diego summit featured a breakout session for donors on the Grassroots Institute. The group, which will offer training to fiscally conservative candidates, does not appear to have a public presence yet, though in the past few days, a conservative think tank in Hawaii called the Grassroot Institute began receiving inquiries confusing the two, according to an official there.
The summit also featured a brief presentation on Themis, a massive database of voter and volunteer information into which POLITICO has learned Koch operatives have discussed investing $20 million.
First reported by POLITICO, the San Diego summit was called “Path to Freedom,” according to a report from a BuzzFeed correspondent who sneaked into the heavily guarded Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad, Calif.
It started on the same weekend as a retreat in Park City, Utah, for big donors and bundlers to Romney’s presidential campaign, and a handful of folks attended both confabs, sources told POLITICO.
Among them was Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has attended at least eight Koch donor summits, though his spokesman wouldn’t say whether he gave a speech and, if so, about what.
There was also a presentation by Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, which worked with Americans for Prosperity in the fight against the Wisconsin recall, according to a source familiar with the conference.