This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.
Apparently hoping to stave off a lawsuit, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a sweeping apology Thursday to billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson -- perhaps the last man to whom Democrats want to utter the words, "We're sorry."
The DCCC said it was retracting statements "that attacked Sheldon Adelson, a supporter of the opposing party." Those statements accused Adelson of personally approving of prostitution at his company's casinos in Macau, China, according to his lawyers and published reports.
The DCCC's retraction called those allegations "unsubstantiated." Using remarkably contrite language, it added: "This was wrong. The statements were untrue and unfair and we retract them. The DCCC extends its sincere apology to Mr. Adelson and his family for any injury we have caused."
Calling Adelson "a supporter of the opposing party" is an understatement. Adelson is by far the largest donor in the current presidential campaign, having pumped $21.5 million into a “super PAC” supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's unsuccessful Republican primary campaign, and more recently chipping in $10 million to a super PAC, Restore Our Future, that supports presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
According to a letter from Adelson's lawyers, a copy of which was posted online by the Las Vegas Sun, the dispute with the DCCC stemmed from two statements issued by the Democratic group, the first of them on June 29 under the headline: "Breaking: House Republicans' Biggest Donor Approved `Prostitution Strategy' in China." The statement said that Adelson "personally approved of prostitution and knew of other improper activity at his company's properties in the Chinese enclave."
The DCCC attributed the claim to the Associated Press. The AP reported June 28 on an allegation by a fired executive for Adelson's company, Sands China Ltd., who said in court papers that Adelson had approved of "a prostitution strategy" at the properties.
Through his lawyers and in court papers at the time, Adelson vehemently denied the claim, calling it false and "scurrilous."
On July 2, the DCCC issued a second statement, according to Adelson's lawyers. It said, in part: "House Republicans are fighting tirelessly to protection billionaires like Sheldon Adelson who make fortunes overseas and Adelson is now the largest single donor to the Republican majority. It's past time for House Republicans to reject the support of these groups funded by foreign money from a Chinese prostitution strategy."
The letter to the DCCC from Adelson lawyer Lewis Clayton said the Democratic group had "repeated and exaggerated these outrageous charges," asserting them as facts rather than allegations.
"Mr. Adelson has no objection to honest political debate -- indeed, he welcomes and fosters it," the letter said. "But he will not tolerate baseless attacks on him and his family. Political differences are no excuse for defamation." The letter demanded a "prominent statement, in a form approved by Mr. Adelson, retracting and apologizing for your false claims."
It also demanded that the statements be taken down from the DCCC website. They were not on the site late Thursday.
Calls to the DCCC and to a spokesman for Adelson were not immediately returned.
Adelson, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes in March at $24.9 billion, is chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which has properties including the Venetian hotel-casino in Las Vegas and casinos in Macao, Singapore and Pennsylvania.
Not so long ago, someone who made his fortune in the gambling industry would likely have been a pariah in American politics. As gambling has spread nationally through the proliferation of Indian casinos, however, the stigma has significantly eased.