by Eli Clifton
In public, casino billionaire and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson is on the outs with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Back in 2007, Adelson split with AIPAC after the group supported then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s initiative to increase financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, according to The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck. “I don’t continue to support organizations that help friends committing suicide just because they want to jump,” he said in response to AIPAC’s support of aid for the Palestinians.
But tax documents reveal that the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF)—the fundraising arms of AIPAC that arranges for congressional junkets to Israel, among other projects—is engaging an Adelson-linked company for millions of dollars of travel services.
The AIEF spent $3.8 million with Interface Travel for “transportation,” according to tax filings covering the period from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014. Interface Travel was the group’s single highest compensated independent contractor, accounting for 7.5% of AIEF’s overall expenses. AIEF spent $1.4 million with Interface Travel in 2006 and $1.6 million in 2007. There were no contracts listed between 2007 and 2013.
Interface Travel is owned and operated by The Interface Group, according to a 2010 SEC filing submitted by Las Vegas Sands. A 2015 annual report filed by The Interface Group in Massachusetts, where both The Interface Group and Interface Travel are based, said, “The general character of the business of [The Interface Group] is to operate one or more travel businesses.” Sheldon Adelson is listed is as one of three managers. A 2004 profile of the company’s general counsel, Paul G. Roberts, by Corporate Legal Times described Adelson as The Interface Group’s “majority partner.”
So why is AIPAC/AIEF sending millions of dollars to a company controlled by a billionaire who publicly slammed AIPAC?
AIPAC, AIEF, and Interface Travel did not respond to requests for comment.
Robert Cutler, the listed “manager” of Interface Travel, according to Massachusetts corporate filings, described the company’s relationship with AIPAC in a 2013 interview published on YouTube. He said:
We take a lot of their members who want to go out and see how what they do is affected and received throughout the world. We take them through Europe, we take them through Asia, we’ve taken them, of course, through Israel, and we introduce these people to places they’ve not been and people, through their political interaction that their people feel are necessary for them to meet: prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs, etc., ambassadors. It gives the people a sense of why what they’re doing is so important and how it’s received across the world.
Adelson and his wife are personal friends of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Adelson owns the free Israeli daily newspaper Israeli Hayom, also known as Bibi-ton because of its support of Netanyahu and his Likud Party.
Those ties may give Interface Travel a natural “in” for running tours to Israel for the country’s biggest pro-Israel lobby. But it also seems unlikely that AIPAC, with its own close ties to Netanyahu, would require Adelson’s influence.
The contracts for travel aren’t the only overlap between Interface Travel and AIPAC. Theodore Cutler, who is listed as a “manager” at The Interface Group in corporate filings, is listed as an AIPAC board member, according to AIPAC’s tax disclosures.
This raises questions about whether Adelson’s Massachusetts holding company is offering below market rates to AIPAC/AIEF for trips to Israel and whether he is effectively subsidizing travel for AIPAC/AIEF junkets, including, perhaps, those taking congressional delegations to Israel.
None of the parties is answering questions about their business arrangements. But AIPAC’s decision to throw an estimated $30 million into a failed campaign to derail the Obama administration’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran, a move that strained ties with AIPAC’s traditional base in the Democratic Party, brought the group closer to Adelson. Indeed, the Adelson-funded anti-Iran deal group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and AIPAC’s Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran (CFNI) had overlapping leadership. Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) serves as chairman of UANI and as an advisory board member of CFNI.
Neither group endorsed Adelson’s proposal to launch a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran. But his multi-million-dollar business arrangement with AIPAC/AIEF suggests a far warmer relationship between Adelson and the central pro-Israel lobby in Washington than previous reports have suggested.