Reporting from Jerusalem
There’s a big star on Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel — and it isn’t the candidate.
As Sheldon Adelson made his way to his specially reserved seat at Romney’s speech yesterday in Jerusalem, he was swarmed by the audience of donors, supporters, and Israelis.
“I came to get a schwarma sandwich, what do you mean?” the biggest known donor in support of Republicans this election cycle told a reporter from Politico, when asked why he was in Israel.
That wasn’t quite accurate: Adelson, like dozens of Romney donors, had been invited by the campaign to join the Republican presidential candidate on his 30-hour trip to Israel, the most diplomatically sensitive leg of his six-day international tour. The price of admission: at least a $50,000 donation or raising $100,000 from others.
(Adelson, worth $17.3 billion, is the 35th richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.)
For the Romney campaign, indulging the several dozen contributors was as much a part of the itinerary as boosting the candidate’s foreign-policy credentials.
Donors piled into vans for a tour of the city, visiting sites like the Mount of Olives. They quizzed an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on foreign policy in a briefing. And they bonded over box lunches and dinner on the terrace of the luxurious King David hotel.
Even when Romney visited the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the donors were right by his side.
As he made his way down to the wall, donors were escorted around the site by finance director Spencer Zwick and Romney’s brother, Scott.
New York lawyer Phil Rosen, a campaign fundraising bundler, was permitted past the machine-gun-carrying Israeli soldiers protecting a security perimeter, to embrace Romney. Like typical tourists in a foreign land, the two took a quick snapshot to remember the moment.
In May, the candidate has held video conferences with fundraisers in Singapore and Hong Kong. And on July 26, Romney attended a fundraiser in London hosted by bankers from financial services firms tied to the Libor rate-fixing scandal, an event scrutinized in the media. That fundraiser, held in the crystal chandelier-adorned ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, raised roughly $2 million.
Romney held a fundraiser at the King David hotel before flying to Poland today, the third country on his tour. The campaign initially barred reporters from covering his comments, a change from how Romney handles fundraisers in the U.S., where reporters are allowed in public places such as hotels. After a press outcry, aides announced yesterday that they would open the event to a small group of journalists.
Among the 50 donors gathered around a U-shaped conference table for the event were meatpacking magnate John Miller, a close friend of Romney’s, oil investor L.E. Simmons, New York finance Chairman Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets, hedge fund manager Paul Singer, and Detroit businessman John Rakolta. When Adelson, 78, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS), appeared on the hotel patio to get his photo taken in front of a scenic view of the old city, guards quickly drew the drapes to block him from view.
After going through a security screening, the donors filled their plates from a lavish Israeli buffet of pastries, cheeses, salads, and juices. When Romney arrived, he took a seat at the head of the table, next to the other, unofficial guests of honor: Adelson and his wife, Miriam.
He praised the entrepreneurial drive and spirituality of Israel, extolling the drive of Israelis to develop and protect their land.
“This is a people that have long recognized a purpose in this place in their lives greater then themselves and their own particular interests,” he said.
The event is expected to raise more than $1 million dollars, according to Zwick.
At Romney’s foreign policy speech, donors arrived on mini- buses and were quickly whisked by campaign staff to front-row seats. They heeded a campaign aide’s instruction to stay seated during Romney’s arrival, so as not to block the television cameras. When Romney finished, they greeted him on a rope line.
After the speech, Adelson slowly made his way through the swarm of donors and reporters to his wheelchair.
“It was a great speech,” Adelson said. “Loved it.”
No more questions, he told the reporters as he stopped to chat and take pictures with fellow Romney supporters. The casino executive has given more than $30 million to benefit Republicans this cycle, most recently giving $10 million with his wife to an outside super-PAC supporting Romney.
“He should charge for photos,” suggested Harvey Schwartz, a retired tax lawyer from Jerusalem, who had pushed his way through the crowd to meet Adelson. “He could make a few dollars.”
(Adelson already has left a large imprint on the 2012 campaign.
Restore Our Future, a super-PAC supporting Romney’s campaign for president, amassed $20.7 million in June largely through big checks from familiar Republican donors. More than 60 percent came from just three wealthy families, according to its report to the Federal Election Commission. Adelson and his wife gave $10 million. The Adelson family had supported Newt Gingrich’s failed run for president with $21.5 million given to a super-PAC.)