Allegations Of Impropriety On Behalf Of Sheldon Adelson Land Nevada AG Adam Laxalt In Hot Water

Steve Ruddock May 12, 2017 1100 Reads
Adam Laxalt Sheldon Adelson recording

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt is under fire after secretly recorded tapes and a string of text messages were made public. The tape and text messages, which were first reported by the Nevada Independent, paint Laxalt as trying to persuade Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett to intervene in a civil case on behalf of Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson just happens to be Laxalt’s top donor.

Burnett turned the tape and the text messages over to the FBI due to what the Nevada Independent described as “unease with a series of broken protocols and his fraying trust in the attorney general’s office, the primary legal counsel for the agency.”

The FBI concluded no criminal violations occurred. But the Nevada Legislature is considering limiting the AG’s office’s power when it comes to its involvement with the GCB.

Regardless of how this plays out, the optics are likely to seriously harm Laxalt’s political ambitions. Laxalt was considered a top contender for the Nevada governorship.

Laxalt’s side of the story

In a statement from the AG’s office, Laxalt claimed this is all much ado about nothing. He suggested it is little more than a partisan witch hunt:

“Today’s news proves the point—Nevada democratic [sic] politicians will stop at nothing—including twisting and politicizing a routine action that previous attorneys general, including Catherine Cortez Masto, have taken.

“We look forward to exposing this for what it is: a political attack designed to distract from the Democrats’ radical agenda that harms Nevada’s working families.”

His predecessor disputed the comparison in a separate remark. In a statement to the Nevada Independent, former Nevada AG and current US Senator representing Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, said Laxalt’s assertion that his action was “routine” and similar to her involvement in two cases didn’t hold water.

“This comparison does not make any sense. When Cortez Masto represented the Gaming Control Board in litigation between private parties during her tenure as Attorney General, she was upholding her responsibility as AG to represent the GCB when court decisions had the potential to affect its independent regulatory authority.

“In both cases, she worked with the GCB to represent their interests — and not a licensee’s — fully within her capacity as their counsel. Cortez Masto did not act without the GCB or attempt to go beyond the duties required of her office.”

The Laxalt-Adelson connection

What makes this story unseemly is that Sheldon Adelson, along with his family and businesses, have donated quite a bit of money to Laxalt over the past several years.

According to the Nevada Independent, these donations tally “$100,000 to the attorney general’s ‘Morning in Nevada’ PAC since it was established in 2015, and gave $55,000 to his 2014 election campaign.”

Considering the sizable donations, Laxalt pressuring the GCB to step in on Adelson’s behalf in a civil case makes this look like a classic case of pay for play.

Furthermore, the intervention in the civil case isn’t the first instance where it appears Laxalt is doing Adelson’s bidding.

Laxalt is a vocal supporter of one of Adelson’s pet issues, the prohibition of online gambling. He is one of 10 attorneys general who co-signed a letter sent to the Trump transition team calling for a federal online gambling ban.

Same story in Pennsylvania?

Laxalt’s anti-online gambling stance bears a striking resemblance to those of John Morganelli. Morganelli is the district attorney for Northampton County, the location of the Sands Bethlehem Casino.

Like Laxalt, Morganelli is a vehement opponent of online gambling. Morganelli has gone so far as to pen an op-ed in local papers echoing concerns similar to Laxalt’s. Morganelli employs many of the same talking points as the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. Adelson is believed to fund the lobbying group.

The situation with Laxalt in Nevada should be a cautionary tale for Pennsylvania, where Adelson is trying to derail online gambling legalization.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 3.0