Last week's admission by Sheldon Adelson's casino company that it had "likely" violated provisions of the federal law barring U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials raises some intriguing questions. Chief among them: Which transactions by Las Vegas Sands and its far-flung subsidiaries are at issue?
Adelson, one of the world's richest men, came to public prominence during the 2012 campaign, when he and his wife Miriam donated at least $98 million to various candidates and groups. Included was $30 million for the Restore Our Future super PAC that supported Mitt Romney and $20 million to Winning Our Future, a super PAC that backed Newt Gingrich. Late in the campaign, Adelson asserted that federal investigators had targeted his company because of his political activity.
The terse statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Las Vegas Sands noted "likely violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA" (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) had come to light after three independent members of the board investigated "matters" raised by a February 2011 subpoena from SEC investigators and by an ongoing Justice Department inquiry.
In a news release issued Sunday, the company said the violations it had detected related to the "accounting provisions" of the law, not its "anti-bribery provisions."
Several news organizations have examined Las Vegas Sands' efforts to build its gambling business in Asia. The Investigative Reporting Program of the University of California, PBS Frontline and ProPublica published a story last year that disclosed the role of a local lawyer/legislator in overcoming regulatory hurdles in Macau, an autonomous region of China that is home to some of the company's most lucrative casinos.
Subsequently, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal wrote detailed stories that centered on Yang Saixin, a shadowy Beijing businessman who told the Times that Las Vegas Sands had paid him $30,000 a month until his firing in 2009.
According to the Times' account, the company provided more than $70 million to companies tied to Yang to construct a trade center in Beijing and sponsor a basketball team. Several million dollars were "unaccounted for" after those projects were shut down, the Times reported.
Las Vegas Sands has declined to elaborate on its filing but did tell the SEC that "in recent years, the Company has improved its practices with respect to books and records and internal controls."
By Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica, Dec. 20, 2012, 11:48 a.m.
Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and emblem of the Citizens United-era of campaign finance, spent gobs of money on the 2012 elections — more money than anyone else in American history.
Exactly how much, you ask?
We don't really know, and it's likely we never will. Many of the groups that spent the most on the election aren't required to report their donors. But thanks to recent campaign finance filings, we can get a better idea.
We dug through Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service records and found that Adelson and his wife, Miriam, spent at least $101 million this election cycle. The money went to at least 30 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 Mitt Romney.
One of the more puzzling contributions was a $1 million check Adelson wrote in October. The money went to Hardworking Americans, a super PAC that attacked Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who had a big lead in the polls and was re-elected three weeks later by a 21-point margin.
A spokesman for Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands, did not respond to a request for comment.
The $101 million figure matches up with the $100 million that Adelson, who is worth a reported $21 billion, had vowed to spend to defeat President Obama. But it doesn't include the checks he wrote to "dark-money" groups — organizations that don't have to disclose their donors, making their spending harder to track. These groups have proliferated since the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the door to unlimited corporate and union giving.
The Huffington Post recently reported that Adelson's total spending may have approached $150 million.
Two anonymous Republican fundraisers told the Huffington Post that Adelson had given between $30 and $40 million to Crossroads GPS, the dark-money group founded by Karl Rove, and at least $15 million to groups affiliated with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist brothers. Adelson also gave millions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Jewish Coalition, the fundraisers said.
If accurate, those numbers would place Adelson's total spending on the election at around $155 million.
The Democratic research super PAC American Bridge is going up with its first ads of the cycle, buying time in the Toledo area -- the Northwestern area of Ohio where the auto bailout has benefited President Obama -- to hit Mitt Romney with an ad based on the Monopoly board game.
The ad follows the game to hit Romney over the "let Detroit go bankrupt" headline, layoffs at Bain Capital, and his policy plans, with voiceovers from the candidate and some testimonials from Bain workers.
In May, a previously unknown group started pouring money into Ohio's U.S. Senate race, considered one of the most important in the country and currently the nation's most expensive. The group, the Government Integrity Fund, has spent over $1 million so far on TV ads bashing Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and praising his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel.
Like many other such non-profit groups that are playing a dominant role in this year's elections, the Government Integrity Fund is shrouded in mystery. It isn't required to reveal donors, nor has it answered questions about who runs the group. The Fund's barebones website lists no contact information beyond a P.O. Box.
The only name listed on incorporation papers for the group is a Columbus lawyer, William Todd, who told ProPublica, "I really have no role in their affairs." (In June, Todd also declined to respond to questions from a Huffington Post reporter, citing attorney-client privilege.)
But previously unreported documents filed with an Ohio television station pull back the curtain a bit: the Government Integrity Fund is run by a state lobbyist who in turn employs a former top Mandel staffer.
The lobbyist, Tom Norris, is listed as the Government Integrity Fund's chairman and treasurer. Norris owns an Ohio lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions, and last year hired a top Mandel aide, Joel Riter, to work at the firm.
Riter's role in the Government Integrity Fund, if any, is not clear. The former Mandel aide declined to say whether he is involved with the group that is chaired by his current boss and running ads in support of his former boss.
"I can't talk to you about this," he told ProPublica. "I'm not going to comment on any kind of involvement I have with anyone."
Norris did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the Mandel campaign.
The documents identifying Norris as the chairman of the Fund are public because of a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring TV stations to keep detailed records about political advertisers. The files can be valuable, offering a look at exactly who is spending and how much. Until recently, the documents were only available by physically traveling to stations. ProPublica's Free the Files project has spotlighted the issue and this summer the FCC passed a rule requiring the stations in the nation's top markets to upload the files to agovernment website.
The documents were filed with a Cincinnati NBC affiliate, WLWT, one of the stations the group has been advertising on. Here is a Fund ad that attacks Senator Brown for purportedly turning his back on his younger, more honorable self. "Young Sherrod Brown was independent of Wall Street," the announcer says. "Today Sherrod Brown takes big money from those same corporate interests."
The Associated Press reported last month that outside groups have spent $15 million supporting Mandel compared to about $3 million on the Democratic side.
We still don't know who is putting up the money for the Government Integrity Fund's ads because the group is a non-profit "social welfare" group, which don't have to release donor information or register with the Federal Election Commission. Such groups are supposed to be "primarily" engaged in promoting social welfare but they have been flooding the airwaves with political ads in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United case and decisions by regulatory decisions.
Besides identifying Norris as the chairman of the group, the form filed with the TV station shows that the Government Integrity Fund has an office at 208 East State Street, a few blocks from the state house in Columbus. Riter, the former Mandel aide, also has an office in the building.
Asked about his office at 208 East State Street, Riter said: "Whatever office Government Integrity Fund has is not mine."
Outside groups are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, but it is common for politicians' former aides to be involved with such groups.
Riter first worked as an aide to Mandel during the candidate's stint in the Ohio legislature. Riter then became field director for Mandel's campaign for state treasurer, joining the treasurer's office as constituent and executive agency liaison after Mandel won the race. Riter left his state job in the treasurer's office after six months to become a lobbyist at Cap Square in 2011. According to state records, the firm lobbies for a range of interests, including the Ohio Ready Mixed Concrete Association and medical device companies.
Riter was featured in a Dayton Daily News article earlier this year investigating Mandel's practice of hiring former campaign workers for state jobs. (That piece led a Democratic legislator to file an ethics complaint against Riter, who has contested the charges.)
The Fund was created in May 2011 and an affiliated super PAC, the Government Integrity Fund Action Network, registered with the Federal Election Commission two months later.
The super PAC, which does have to report its donors, has not been active and raised just $10,500 through the end of June, all but $500 from New York financier and benefactor of conservative causes Roger Hertog. Hertog also gave $5,000 directly to Mandel's campaign last year. Hertog declined to comment.
Brown campaign spokesman Justin Barasky said that the Government Integrity Fund is the fourth largest outside group on the Republican side in Ohio, behind such national outfits as the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS. "We don't know anything else about them," he said. "They are the only secretly funded group that is based here."
An explosive article from Salon this week highlights the attitude of corporations that profits rule, above all else.
But what if that corporation is a for-profit health care company that values profits over the health and safety of its patients? You may say that's just how corporate America rolls in these times, and I'd have to agree. But now what if the corporation that owns the for-profit health care provider is Bain capital -- founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney -- reportedly sees about 1 death per year on average in its facilities due to neglect, abuse or the use of under-paid staff with inadequate training? And what if Mitt Romney, a man who is running for the highest office in our nation based on his business acumen, is also profiting from that health care provider?
"Corporations are people, my friends." No, no they're not. Also, their profits are absolutely not more important than the troubled teens who were sent for "treatment" at the Bain Capital owned CRC Health centers who didn't live to return home.
When the morning staff arrived at 7 a.m., they discovered Brendan face down on the floor of the Purple Room, his body already stiff with rigor mortis. The state’s chief medical examiner later determined that Blum had died of a twisted-bowel infarction, which requires emergency surgical intervention.
The failure at Youth Care was not due simply to the carelessness of a few workers — a point underscored when a Utah court found that the threshold needed to pursue criminal negligence charges against the two monitors in 2008 wasn’t met and the charges were dismissed. And it wasn’t the only example of alleged negligence or abuse at treatment centers for adult addicts and “troubled teens” that are owned by Aspen’s parent company, CRC Health Group, according to a Salon investigation based on government reports, court filings and official complaints by parents and employees, along with interviews with former clients and staff.
Court documents and ex-staffers also allege that such incidents reflect, in part, a broader corporate culture at Aspen’s owner, CRC Health Group, a leading national chain of treatment centers. Lawsuits and critics have claimed that CRC prizes profits, and the avoidance of outside scrutiny, over the health and safety of its clients. (We sent specific questions on these basic allegations to CRC and owner Bain Capital. CRC would answer only general questions; Bain did not reply.)
And CRC’s corporate culture, in turn, reflects the attitudes and financial imperatives of Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney. (The Romney campaign also did not reply to written questions.) Bain is known for its relentless obsession with maximizing shareholder value and revenues. Indeed, this has become a talking point of late on the Romney campaign trail; he bragged to Fox in late May that “80 percent of them grew their revenues.” CRC, a fast-growing company then in the lucrative field of drug treatment, was perhaps a natural fit when Bain acquired it for $720 million in 2006. In conversations with staff and patients who spent time at CRC facilities since the takeover, there are suggestions that the Bain approach has had its effects. “If you look at their daily profit numbers compared to what they charge,” Dana Blum said of CRC’s Aspen division in 2009, “it’s obscene.” That point, ironically enough, was underscored by the glowing reports in the trade press about its profitability.
Also noteworthy, of the three Bain managing partners who sit on CRC’s board, two, John Connaughton and Steven Barnes, along with his wife, gave a total of half a million dollars to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. They also each donated the $2,500 maximum directly to his campaign.
I can't imagine the pain Brendan Blum's family must feel when they hear Mitt Romney droning on about profits, stock options, and tax shelters in the Caymans as they grieve in silence. They can no longer speak publicly about Brendan’s death, according to the terms of a settlement reached last year in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Proposition 32 would stop unions from engaging in political activity while letting corporations do as much of it as their little hearts desire.
The so-called "Stop Special Interest Money Now Act" is not what it seems. It's really the Special Exemptions Act, intentionally written to create special exemptions for billionaire businessmen, wealthy CEOs, Wall Street investors, and more.
Don't let them gain even more power to write their own set of rules.
Who is pushing for these "Special Exemptions"?
Thomas Siebel, the billionaire founder of Siebel Systems, just dropped $500,000 on the pro-side. That’s pocket lint for Siebel, who is worth $1.8 billion, after he sold his company to Oracle for $5.9 billion in 2005.
Politically, Siebel may own the crown for Best Political Rally Intro Ever with his 2008 flourish for GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin. Or, as he referred to her: “The embodiment of pure, unadulterted good.” Really.
“Sarah Palin represents the best in each and every one of us,” he told the crowd, calling her ”an optimist, thoughtful, energetic, engaging … the embodiment of pure, unadulterated good.”
”Talk about change, my goodness, the world will never be the same,” said Siebel.
But he didn’t stop there.
"Sarah Palin has risen as if from some mythical kingdom of the north. She carries the flag of outrage for the rest of us: the employers who create jobs, the shareholders, the parents, the people who raise children … and the students, the future of America,” he said. ”Sarah Palin carries the flag of outrage for each of us … who cries out, ‘We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”