Freedom’s Watch may pull the plug

By Carol Eisenberg

December 4, 2008 at 1:33pm

Freedom’s Watch, the political advocacy group once hailed as the conservative answer to, may be the latest casualty of the economic downturn.

After its splashy debut in 2007 with a $15-million ad blitz supporting American troop escalation in Iraq and another $30 million reportedly invested this year in Republican Congressional campaigns, the group has fallen on hard times.

Its well-heeled and connected founders - including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and shopping center magnate Melvin Sembler - are reportedly re-evaluating the group’s future.

One issue is Republicans’ dismal performance with Jewish voters, who had been a target of the group’s ads.

But the biggest concern is said to be money, since the group had been heavily bankrolled by Adelson, who is now trying to stave off bankruptcy for Las Vegas-based Sands Corp., the source of most of his personal wealth.

Late last month, the Las Vegas Review-Journal cited unnamed sources saying that Freedom’s Watch is “pretty much kaput,” and that while dozens of employees have been paid through the end of the year, “Freedom’s Watch is likely to shut its doors permanently.”

Ed Patru, the group’s spokesman, confirmed that much of the staff was on its way out, but said that had always been the plan because of the campaign season.

“Much of the departing staff was brought in specifically to help with the anticipated increase in workload that comes along with an election year, when more attention is paid to public policy debates,” Patru, former spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told the Review-Journal.

He insisted no final decisions had been made about the group’s future.

The 75-year-old Adelson, once listed by Forbes as America’s third richest man on the strength of his casino holdings, has been a major benefactor of Freedom’s Watch, as well as other groups on the American right.

But the Sands Co. has lost roughly 95 percent of its stock market value over the past 11 months, according to media reports, leading to a suspension of its construction on projects in Las Vegas and Macau. The company recently disclosed that it was in danger of defaulting on $5.2 billion in credit.

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