FEC Clears Adelson of Foreign-Money Allegations

By Kenneth P. Doyle

July 20 — The Federal Election Commission found “no reason to believe” allegations that billionaire Sheldon Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a major Republican donor, funneled illegal foreign contributions into U.S. election campaigns.

FEC documents posted on the commission's website July 19 showed the commissioners voted 5-0 last month for the finding. The vote followed recommendations in a staff report from the FEC general counsel's office.

The FEC counsel's report said a complaint filed with the FEC last year generally alleged that Adelson used funds derived from foreign sources through his company's casinos in Macau to make political contributions relating to federal elections.

“The available information, however, does not support drawing such a conclusion,” the report said.

Adelson spent as much as $150 million on campaigns in the 2012 election cycle, including FEC-reported contributions of more than $98 million to 34 candidates and political committees. He has remained a big contributor since then—albeit at a far lower level—providing about $1 million, so far, in the current election cycle.

Complainant Retracted Charges

The FEC complaint against Adelson was filed by the nonprofit watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, following the indictment in federal court in New York of Ng Lap Seng, a Chinese national who had been linked to Adelson. Ng is currently awaiting trial in New York for allegedly paying bribes to a United Nations official, but he faces no charges involving Adelson.

The original complaint charged that money derived from organized crime in China was being provided to U.S. campaigns through Adelson. The Campaign for Accountability later sought to retract its allegations regarding Adelson's links to organized crime and prostitution, saying in a statement filed with the FEC that the group apologized “for resurrecting allegations that have caused [Adelson] deep hurt.”

A letter from the FEC to the nonprofit group said a request for withdrawal of a complaint would not prevent the FEC from taking appropriate action under federal campaign law.

The FEC's latest action concluded an enforcement matter—designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6891—that referred to Ng's arrest by the FBI last fall. The complaint said Ng “served as a confidential messenger” for Adelson in communicating with Chinese officials. In addition, the complaint noted that Ng was involved in a U.S. campaign finance scandal in the 1990s related to foreign contributions funneled to the Democratic National Committee during the Clinton administration.

‘No Factual or Legal Basis.'

The FEC complaint noted that Adelson's company expanded its casino operations in Macau over the last decade and said much of Adelson's wealth now derives from his Macau casinos. The complaint alleged that the Macau casinos derive their profits from junkets, controlled by organized crime elements in China, making it likely Macau organized crime funds and foreign money have wound up in the coffers of candidates for federal office and groups supporting them.

A letter responding to the FEC complaint was filed last December on behalf of Adelson by attorney Benjamin Ginsberg of the firm Jones Day. The response noted that the Campaign for Accountability sought to withdraw its complaint soon after it was filed and said the complaint “has no factual or legal basis.”

Ginsberg said the complaint was “a naked attempt to squelch a political opponent's voice” and should be dismissed immediately by the FEC.

As for the specific allegations in the complaint, Ginsberg said that “all funds Mr. Adelson has contributed to U.S. elections come from his personal earnings derived from his holdings in U.S. companies (as is clearly permissible under the Federal Election Campaign Act and numerous FEC Advisory Opinions).” He said Adelson “has never contributed or used illegal foreign money in a U.S. election,” adding that it is “a matter of settled law” that someone who conducts business overseas is not automatically banned from contributing to U.S. election campaigns.

“Furthermore,” Ginsberg's letter said, “Mr. Adelson makes all his own decisions on his political contributions.” Adelson “has no current relationship” with Ng or another Chinese national named in the FEC complaint, Cheung Chi Tai, the letter said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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