March 7, 2012

Exclusive: AIPAC Used Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson’s Private Jet Company To Ferry Members Of Congress To Israel

Exclusive: AIPAC Used Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson's Private Jet Company To Ferry Members Of Congress To Israel
A private 747 previously owned by Adelson's Sands Corp.
This post is the second in a series. Yesterday, Republic Report’s Suzanne Merkelson reported on how members of Congress travel to Israel largely on AIPAC’s dime, thus viewing the Israel-Palestine conflict from a one-sided perspective. Few members have visited the area on behalf of J Street, a pro-two state solution organization that brings politicians in contact with officials from both Israel and Palestine.

Sheldon Adelson, the casino tycoon worth nearly $25 billion, is known for advancing his beliefs — including the idea that Palestinians are an “invented people” and that military action on Iran should be on the table — using his political donations.

As part of how he influences policy, it’s been reported that Adelson has underwritten congressional trips to Israel through AIPAC, the hawkish pro-Israel lobbying group. But Republic Report has found that AIPAC has in turn paid Adelson to help ferry lawmakers and their staff on luxury trips to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other locations. In addition to well-known Vegas casinos like the Venetian and Palazzo, Adelson still owns a travel company that operates several private planes.

In 2005, the American Israel Education Foundation, an AIPAC-controlled nonprofit, provided $738,572 to “GWV Travel” for “travel agent” services. The Foundation is AIPAC’s primary arm for funding congressional travel, and mandatory disclosures show that the American Israel Education Foundation sponsored trips that year for Diane DeGette (D-CO), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), among others. View a screenshot of the AIEF disclosure below:

Exclusive: AIPAC Used Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson's Private Jet Company To Ferry Members Of Congress To Israel

According to the Sands Corp.’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, GWV Travel is owned by “Interface Operations,” a firm “controlled by Mr. Adelson, our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.” GWV Travel, which counts a Gulfstream I-IV in its fleet, was founded by Adelson early his business career, before he expanded into the computer trade show Comdex and gambling.

The relationship between AIPAC and Adelson raises questions about the disproportionate influence of extremely wealthy donors over an influential lobbying group. Adelson has already pushed AIPAC to be even more opposed to the peace process. In 2007, he lambasted the organization for supporting a letter that requested the Bush administration to increase support to the Palestinians (a measure supported by the Bush administration, dozens of members of both parties, and the Israeli government). Many view AIPAC, which just wrapped up its annual conference in DC, among the most powerful foreign policy advocacy groups in America.

In the past, Adelson has used GWV Travel’s private jets as part of his political largesse extended to candidates. Rudy Giuliani, for instance, campaigned for president in 2007 aboard an Adelson-owned plane.

How did Adelson persuade AIPAC to use his private travel company when sending lawmakers to Israel? For one thing, a Sands Corp. executive named Ted Cutler was on the AIPAC board a year prior to the contract revealed above. Republic Report reached out to AIPAC for comment, and will post their response.

It’s worth noting that Adelson used his political donations during the 2004 election to pressure the Bush administration, and many believe that his current financing of the Newt Gingrich super PAC has already made a substantive impact on Gingrich’s foreign policy stances.