Las Vegas — It is only fitting that the Right Online conference, a project of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, should hold its conference for political bloggers in the Sands Expo, a huge meeting and convention facility next to The Venetian hotel casino here on The Strip.
After all, the corporation that owns both entities, Las Vegas Sands, is owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a Republican who has turned the 2012 presidential campaign into something of a personal sandbox.
“I know the left hates guys like Sheldon Adelson and David Koch,” Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said as he welcomed the bloggers Friday to their two-day conference, which he said was designed as a counterpoint to the left’s Netroots Nation gatherings. “But that’s OK, ’cause we love ’em.” (Koch, the oil billionaire and anti-tax crusader, is a co-founder of AFP.)
Shortly before former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivered an evening speech that was part tribute to the power of the right-wing blogosphere and part encomium to the late blogger Andrew Breitbart, the crowd was greeted by Andy Abboud, Sands vice president for government relations.
“I welcome you on behalf of Sheldon Adelson and Dr. Miriam Ochshorn Adelson, our owners,” Abboud said. “You are in the largest building in the world, you in the largest hotel in the world, and the only nonunion property on the Las Vegas Strip.”
At that, the audience, many hundreds strong, erupted in applause, rose and cheered. “Somehow I knew that would work with this crowd,” Abboud said with a grin. “Oh, and we have the highest paid benefits on the Strip.”
Though Adelson is a philanthropist who has given away hundreds of millions of dollars, he is certainly more well known these days for his political pursuits. (Such fame does not come without dangers. According to Security and Exchange Commission documents, he spent $2.6 million on security last year for himself and his family.)
Adelson first entered national political consciousness last year, when he began pumping millions of dollars into a "super PAC" supporting the flagging presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, almost singlehandedly allowing the candidate to make it to the South Carolina primary. Winning in South Carolina gave Gingrich a tailwind that propelled him through the next three months, before he finally folded in May. By then, it was clear that Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were essentially battling each other in a two-man race (no, we aren’t forgetting U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas). Adelson’s total investment in Gingrich’s campaign: $21.5 million.
Last week, Adelson revealed he planned to throw his considerable financial weight behind Romney, shaking up the race with a pledge of $10 million to Restore Our Future, the Super PAC supporting the former Massachusetts governor. “We dabble in politics,” Abboud said as the crowd erupted in knowing laughter. “It’s like fantasy baseball.”