Is Adelson's political activism hurting shareholders?

The Las Vegas Sands head may be focused too much on the US presidential campaign and not enough on his gaming empire.

By Jonathan Berr Jul 5, 2012 2:44PM
Image: Four aces (© Image Source/Corbis)Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has made headlines for bankrolling Republican presidential candidates. What has gotten less attention is how his activism has failed to impress Wall Street.

Shares of Las Vegas Sands (LSV), which topped 24/7 Wall St.'s recent list of corporate political spenders, have barely budged this year, even though the casino operator has either met or exceeded earnings estimates for the past four quarters. 

Nevertheless, Wall Street sees a huge potential upside in the Las Vegas company, which also owns properties in Macao and Singapore. The average 52-week price target on its stock is $60.95, about 45% higher than where it currently trades. Whether that forecast is overly optimistic remains to be seen.

The underperformance may be due to several factors, including worries about slowing economic growth in China, which is overshadowing improvements in Las Vegas Sands' home market.  Adelson, who Forbes magazine estimates is worth about $25 billion, hasn't helped matters either with his political activism, which may suggest he's focused too much on politics and not enough on running the company. He and his wife donated $16.6 million to the presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, single-handedly enabling it to continue even though Gingrich obviously lacked enough political support to win. The tycoon switched his allegiance to Mitt Romney after the Gingrich campaign ended.

Adelson's dislike of Barack Obama isn't unique. Less than half of those recently polled by Gallup approved of the President's job performance. Super Pacs, which gained power thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decisions, are expected to push spending on the election to nearly $10 billion, making it the most expensive in history. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the secretive organizations have raised more than $240 million this year and spent about $140 million, mostly on behalf of conservatives.

Liberals aren't entirely blameless either. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is a big donor to Democratic causes, as is his company. Comcast (CMCSA) tilts towards Democrats, as well, though that may because the company's hometown of Philadelphia hasn't elected a Republican mayor since the 1950s. Unions likely will leave no stone unturned in their quest to re-elect the president.

Though money does have an impact on politics, it certainly does not guarantee results. Adelson could have spent $1 billion backing Gingrich and the results of the Republican primary would not have been much different since voters disliked the former Congressman. Of course, Democrats will use Adelson's past criticisms of Romney against the former Massachusetts governor.

Many wealthy candidates, including Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon, have failed to connect with voters. McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO,  spent $50 million of her own money on her failed U.S. Senate bid two years ago.  She is trying again this year and polls show her gaining ground against Chris Murphy, the likely Democratic challenger.

Politics, like horse racing, is the sport of kings. Adelson can easily afford to gamble $100 million to push the U.S. in the direction he supports. Those unable to match him dollar-for-dollar are out of luck.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed companies. Follow him on Twitter@jdberr.
Jul 10, 2012 1:30PM
BOYCOTT Sheldon Adelson's businesses.  BOYCOTT the Koch Brothers' businesses.  All those who believe in justice, in democracy and not a plutocracy, BOYCOTT.
Jul 10, 2012 4:08PM
The man's a bum and a crook.  No wonder he supports the Republicants.
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