Newt Gingrich says all the attention to be paid in Las Vegas by GOP officials and wannabe presidents this weekend to billionaire campaign donor Sheldon Adelson — a patron of Gingrich's 2012 White House bid — is something that won't go away until genuine campaign finance reform occurs.
"Whether it's the Koch brothers or [George] Soros on the left or Sheldon," said the former House speaker in an interview with National Journal on Friday, ticking off other campaign mega-donors, "if you're going to have an election process that radically favors billionaires and is discriminating against the middle class — which we now have — then billionaires are going to get a lot of attention."
Gingrich was asked about the gathering of some top Republicans in Las Vegas for what officially is the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Some have even taken to dubbing the event the "Sheldon Primary," for the casino mogul who almost single-handedly bankrolled Gingrich's presidential candidacy in 2012 and is said to be looking for another horse to back for the White House in 2016.
In fact, several news outlets including The Washington Post reported this week that various one-on-one chats between the 80-year-old Adelson and potential Republican presidential nominees could be the most important aspect of the Las Vegas event.
The list of attendees includes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, according to published reports.
So, what could be at stake in wooing Adelson? Independent analyses by groups such as ProPublica have determined that Adelson spent more money on elections in 2012 than anyone else in history. ProPublica determined after combing through Federal Election Commission and IRS records that Adelson and his wife, Miriam, spent at least $98 million during that 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 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
ProPublica also found that Adelson gave $20 million to Winning Our Future, a super PAC backing Gingrich's campaign before he called it quits; $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.
Gingrich is not attending the gathering this weekend. But when asked by National Journal about all the focus on Adelson's role, he said, "Sheldon's a generous guy and he can attract a lot of players who want to come and hang out with him, and then they collectively attract a number of potential candidates."
But Gingrich added, "The truth is, we desperately need an election reform which allows candidates to receive the same amount of money as super PACs." House Speaker John Boehner is also expected to attend the event this weekend.