Las Vegas Sands Corps. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, a major GOP campaign donor, on Wednesday filed a $60 million libel lawsuit against a Jewish Democratic group, accusing it of political motives in claiming he "personally approved" of prostitution in his Macau casinos.
The lawsuit was filed against the National Jewish Democratic Council in U.S. District Court in New York. The legal action by the billionaire comes a week after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee apologized to Adelson and removed blogs raising the same allegation after the Sands boss threatened to sue.
In the lawsuit against the Jewish group, Adelson accused leaders of the organization of trying to ruin his reputation for political reasons by writing and posting an article on its website on July 3 claiming Adelson "personally approved of prostitution in his Macau casinos."
The article launched a petition to urge GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney "to reject Adelson's dirty money." Adelson has contributed $10 million to Restore Our Future, a political action committee supporting Romney's campaign. Adelson and his family have donated $36 million to GOP 2012 campaign efforts.
"Defendants' goal was to advance their perceived political interests by assassinating Mr. Adelson's character, punishing him for exercising his right to make monetary contributions to political causes and candidates of his choice, and demeaning him within the Jewish community," the 16-page lawsuit said.
Democrats have been critical of Adelson and other big money Republican donors who have been contributing tens of millions of dollars to Super PACs aiming to defeat President Barack Obama. Businessmen such as Adelson have come under personal attacks as Republicans out-raise Democrats.
The original accusation that Adelson had approved a "prostitution strategy" at his overseas casinos was raised in a civil lawsuit filed by former Sands executive Steven Jacobs. He was fired in 2010 from overseeing Adelson's Macau properties. Adelson has described the accusation as an "outrageous" allegation from a disgruntled former employee.
Adelson asked the Jewish group to apologize and retract its article, which was picked up by the Jewish Press, a New York publication. The organization removed the article but replaced it on July 11 with a statement saying, "We stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts."
Adelson said he had no choice but to sue for libel.
"Defendants knowingly and purposely avoided and ignored evidence establishing the falsity of the articles prior to publishing them," said the lawsuit, which accused the Jewish Democratic group of "actual malice."
The lawsuit seeks a judgment of $10 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
The National Jewish Democratic Council said in a statement it would fight Adelson's lawsuit.
"We will not be bullied into submission, and we will not be silenced by power," the group said. "This is not Putin's Russia, and in America, political speech regarding one of the most well-known public figures in our country is a fundamental right. One would think the person making greatest use of the Citizens United ruling would understand this."
In the Citizens United case, the U.S. Supreme Court said the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political spending by corporations and unions. The ruling opened the door to unlimited donations to political action committees, which in turn can support or oppose candidates and causes.
The Jewish Democratic group said it was within legal bounds in citing the published prostitution allegations.
"Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures as we did is wholly appropriate," the group said.
"Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.
Adelson said he respects free speech, but the group crossed the line."
"While Mr. Adelson supports open debate on issues of political concern, defendants' false and defamatory accusations, made with actual malice, crossed the threshold from constitutionally protected speech to defamation of a public figure designed to suppress speech for which they should be held accountable," the lawsuit said.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.