Journalism in the Public Interest

How Much Did Sheldon Adelson Really Spend on Campaign 2012?

Because of dark money, we may never know. But recent campaign finance filings give us a better idea.


Because of dark money, we may never know how much casino magnate Sheldon Adelson spent on the 2012 election. But recent campaign finance filings give us a better idea. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/GettyImages)

Dec. 21: This post has been corrected.

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and emblem of the Citizens United-era of campaign finance, spent gobs of money on the 2012 elections — more money than anyone else in American history.

Exactly how much, you ask?

We don't really know, and it's likely we never will. Many of the groups that spent the most on the election aren't required to report their donors. But thanks to recent campaign finance filings, we can get a better idea.

We dug through Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service records and found that Adelson and his wife, Miriam, spent at least $98 million this election cycle. The money went to at least 34 different candidates and groups, with contributions ranging from $2,000 for a Florida congressional candidate to $30 million for Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supported Mitt Romney.

Adelson also gave $20 million to Winning Our Future, a super PAC backing Newt Gingrich; $23 million to American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC; and $5 million each to the Congressional Leadership Fund and the YG Action Fund, both of which supported Republican candidates for Congress.

One of the more puzzling contributions was a $1 million check Adelson wrote in October. The money went to Hardworking Americans, a super PAC that attacked Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who had a big lead in the polls and was re-elected three weeks later by a 21-point margin.

A spokesman for Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands, did not respond to a request for comment.

The $98 million figure matches up with the $100 million that Adelson, who is worth a reported $21 billion, had vowed to spend to defeat President Obama. But it doesn't include the checks he wrote to "dark-money" groups — organizations that don't have to disclose their donors, making their spending harder to track. These groups have proliferated since the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the door to unlimited corporate and union giving.

The Huffington Post recently reported that Adelson's total spending may have approached $150 million.

Two anonymous Republican fundraisers told the Huffington Post that Adelson had given between $30 and $40 million to Crossroads GPS, the dark-money group founded by Karl Rove, and at least $15 million to groups affiliated with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist brothers. Adelson also gave millions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Jewish Coalition, the fundraisers said.

If accurate, those numbers would place Adelson's total spending on the election at around $155 million.

Correction: The original version of this story overstated the amount of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson's election spending that can be tracked through public records. It is at least $98 million, not $101 million. The original story did not take into account a $5 million donation to the super PAC Winning Our Future that was refunded Miriam Adelson, which lowered their total spending, as well as several state-level contributions.

clarence swinney

Dec. 20, 2012, 2:18 p.m.

NRA—if they take your assault rifles, next the automatic hunting rifles, then unarm your home.
It is like—Speed limits first then take your car. Take your porno tape then your Bible.
NRA is limp duckling swimming in false info.
Powerful? Ho Ho Ho. Last election spent 18 Million. Pocket change.
This crew is broke in money and character.
Blarney baloney gets few votes from them.
Fight every progressive program except tax cuts for Rich.
Name 10 Great programs created by them
google: clarence swinney + 82 Democratic programs
Conservatives fought most of them and still do.
Middle class + poor
Conservatives still Country Party plus ultra rich protectors.
Democrats create—Conservatives destroy

Elsbeth L. Bothe

Dec. 20, 2012, 6:45 p.m.

Neat to know:  those many $$s went down the drain—all but one of the candidates Adelman supported were handily defeated !!!

What a jerk!  Gee, buddy, if you had given me the $150 million, I would have put it to a better use and given you better results.

Milton Deemer

Dec. 21, 2012, 6:01 a.m.

150 million dollars is less than nothing to a person with 21 billion, it is irrelevant.  Given that, Adelson’s contributions show he didn’t care much about getting his candidates elected.  If he really cared he would have given a couple of billion.  Instead, he was just buying contacts and favors for the future.  It was an investment that will pay off in years to come.

clarence swinney

Dec. 21, 2012, 12:04 p.m.

Victims were American Jobs act that would have created
4 milllion jobs in a great recession
Clean Energy and Security Act
Disclose Act
Dream Act
Employee Free Choice Act
Bring Jobs Home At
Website—Fix this senate now .org
Worst Senate in history.

Elsbeth L. Bothe

Dec. 21, 2012, 1:02 p.m.

Clarence—you have a very good point there.  What a shame all those $$$s were negatively wasted!

Patrick Henry

Dec. 21, 2012, 1:53 p.m.

This story is hardly in the public interest. If ProPublica spent an ounce of the resources they spend on conservative hit pieces, they would uncover some fascinating bits regarding…oh i don’t know…Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the US security apparatus’s invasion of US citizen’s privacy, drones flying over head, Supreme Court justices refusing to recuse themselves (on both sides), the current and previous administration’s revolving door with Monsanto, etc… Those stories, which all relate in some way to the accountability of our officials who are actually elected to office or hold public office via appointment, are far more important than anything Sheldon Adelson does to bolster his personal agenda which is hardly ideologically based - look it up.

clarence swinney

Dec. 21, 2012, 4:42 p.m.

Bush I=11%

Love seeing good Christian conservatives getting their money from gambling.

I hope he threw a bunch o bucks down the rat hole.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Buying Your Vote

Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data

ProPublica is following the money and exploring campaign issues you won't read about elsewhere.

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