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What Adelson’s massive Gingrich donation could have funded in Las Vegas

Wishful thinking: The Adelson donations could have done more.
Seth Perlman, AP

Local kajillionaire Sheldon Adelson spent more than $10 million to help his friend Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, and I think we can say with certainty it was a waste of money, like John Carter or building a condo tower on the Las Vegas Strip in 2007. Aside from a brief moment after Gingrich’s victory in the South Carolina primary, his campaign has been little more than a vanity tour, his poll numbers hampered by the thing that has always plagued Gingrich: The American people resoundingly do not like him.

For Adelson, $10 million—that’s the confirmed family donation to Gingrich, with speculation that it may be more—is a drop in a bottomless bucket. Indeed, with so many people here in Las Vegas and in Macau and Pennsylvania playing the reverse ATM game, er, slot and tables games, Adelson is the seventh richest man in America, according to Forbes.

To many needy organizations in Las Vegas, though, $10 million is a lot of money. How much? Well, I decided to ask some nonprofits what they could do with $10 million.

First, though, let’s acknowledge that Sheldon and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, are already important philanthropists. As Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese says, “The Adelsons’ philanthropic donations dwarf what they do politically.”

They’ve given at least $100 million to Birthright Israel, which provides trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. They’ve given tens of millions through the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation. The Adelson Educational Campus opened in the fall of 2008 and now serves 500 students. Adelson brings wounded service members to his hotels a couple times a year to show appreciation for their sacrifice. No doubt there are other recipients that don’t make the media.

Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, meanwhile, gives to Opportunity Village, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, The Public Education Foundation, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the Problem Gambling Center, among others.

Still, it’s hard not to think of that $10 million going to help Gingrich yammer away at us like Cliff Clavin of Cheers, only with a Ph.D. and a Tiffany’s account.

So, how better to spend next time?

My responders were uniformly leery of upsetting a potential donor, so please don’t hold it against them, Mr. Adelson.

Three Square Food Bank’s budget is $12 million. With $10 million, they could serve an additional 15 million meals per year, achieving 60 percent of the estimated need, instead of the current 30 percent. One in six people in the Valley, or at least 300,000 residents, face food insecurity.

UNLV could also use an endowment to attract and retain the best students and professors. A $10 million endowment would ensure stable, permanent funding for UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute, the underappreciated center for writers.

One UNLV eminence says $10 million is halfway to $20 million, which could in turn be leveraged to find the $100 million needed to build UNLV’s own medical school.

Freedom House, a sober living facility, would work on its buildings and use the money for job training, substance abuse treatment, education, food, rent and utility assistance for recovering addicts and homeless teens, among a bunch of other useful ideas. Dr. Miriam Adelson is an addiction specialist and founded the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment & Research in 2000.

Ronald Lawrence, executive director of the Community Counseling Center, says that with $10 million it could increase staff from 40 to 200, which means it could serve 15,000 clients annually, instead of 3,000. Or, it could increase treatment space from 17,000 square feet to 170,000 square feet. Or, it could create a complete in-patient unit with physicians, psychiatrists and nurses. Southern Nevada doesn’t have enough mental health facilities or outpatient services, which results in the county jail being our largest psychiatric facility.

The Las Vegas Art Museum, before it was shuttered in 2009, had an annual budget of about $1 million.

Child Focus brings together siblings who are separated by the foster care system, sending them to a wilderness camp and hosting events several times per year. Their annual budget is $900,000, so $10 million would, well, you get the idea.

Update: After this story went to press, Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston pointed out the new confirmed total donation from the Adelson family to a Gingrich-affiliated Super PAC is $16.5 million.

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