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Democratic groups spend millions to meddle in GOP governor primary

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Campaign FinanceElection 2022

“They call him slick Joe Lombardo,” are the first words of a new statewide television ad campaign attacking the Republican gubernatorial frontrunner for being “more worried about his public image than his public safety.”

But the 30-second spot isn’t paid for by one of Lombardo’s 14 opponents in the state’s competitive Republican primary for governor. It’s funded by a new political action committee called “A Stronger Nevada,” a group linked to the Democratic Governors Association and registered with the state less than two months ago — filed in a window that helps them avoid disclosing their donors before the primary.

The PAC has no website or social media presence, but has nonetheless reserved $2.1 million in likely anti-Lombardo television advertising for the last few weeks leading up to the June 14 primary. It’s a significant enough buy that a spokeswoman for Lombardo’s campaign responded on Thursday, saying “the DGA cannot buy Steve Sisolak an easier opponent, and their despicable attempts to do so and interfere in the Republican primary will fail.”

It’s part of a national trend by Democratic groups to meddle in Republican primaries ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, aiming to knock presumed frontrunners down a peg ahead of what’s likely to be a difficult election year for Democrats. In Nevada, Democrats believe Lombardo has all but locked up the primary nomination and are eager to get a head start on attacks.

“The general election starts now and voters deserve to know the truth about Joe Lombardo,” DGA Senior Communications Advisor Christina Amestoy said in an email. The DGA announced in early May that it had already made an initial $10 million television reservation in Nevada for the fall ahead of the general election — the third most of any state behind Michigan and Wisconsin.

According to campaign finance records, “A Stronger Nevada” was registered with the state on April 5, and listed two operatives linked to the Democratic Party — Andrew Whalen and Jillian Edelman — as the PAC’s officers. 

The registration date came just five days after the end of Nevada’s first quarter fundraising deadline, meaning that specific details about who’s funding the PAC (and how much they’re spending) won’t be available until July 15 — almost a month after the June primary election.

“A Stronger Nevada” isn’t the only group attempting to meddle in the final weeks of the Republican primary. Another PAC from an individual with ties to a pro-gun control lawmaker appears to be trying reverse psychology to convince Republican primary voters that Lombardo is weak on the Second Amendment. 

The Nevada Independent obtained images of a bright orange political mail piece highlighting Lombardo’s record on guns, saying the sheriff “stood with gun control groups and supported universal background checks on gun sales,” while also attacking his stance on ammo magazine limits and opposition to “constitutional carry” — a policy adopted in other states that allow residents to carry concealed handguns without a permit.

Titled the “2022 Nevada Voter Guide on Gun Rights,” the mailer is paid for a group called Patriot Freedom Fund. That PAC was registered with the secretary of state’s office on May 6, which again means it won’t have to reveal contributions or spending until nearly a month after the primary.

The PAC’s only listed officer is Truman Fleming, a Las Vegas-based real estate agent linked to Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui — a survivor of the 1 October mass shooting who has become one of the Legislature’s most prominent gun control advocates. Jauregui said in a text message after this story was published that she was unaware of the PAC and its political activities.

Several other PACs have also taken advantage of the loophole in Nevada law and registered after the first filing deadline.

Those include:

  • Americans for Secure Elections, a GOP-aligned federal Super PAC that in the past backed Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s re-election bid. The group registered with the secretary of state’s office on May 9, and placed a TV ad reservation attacking voter fraud and ballot harvesting just a few days later.
  • Nevada Rising PAC, which registered with the secretary of state’s office on April 12 by an attorney based in Carson City, placed a TV ad reservation in the Reno market in early May. It also ran several Facebook ads supporting Assembly candidates challenging incumbents or caucus-backed candidates — Democrat Angie Taylor, Joe Dalia, and Chuck Short, and Republican Jacob Williams. Short is challenging incumbent Assemblywoman Cecelia González, while Dalia is challenging incumbent Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen. Taylor is running against teacher union-backed candidate Brian Lee in the primary.
  • Somos PAC, a Latino voter mobilization organization, which also reported registering with state election officials on April 5. The group made a television ad reservation related to the U.S. Senate race in early May, and is holding a press conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday to announce a “multi-million dollar Anti-Laxalt investment.”

Meddling in another party’s primary is not a new trend. Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign successfully brought down more moderate Republican Sue Lowden to clear the way for the more radical Sharron Angle in the 2010 primary, and the 2018 U.S. Senate race saw a Democratic Super PAC launch last-minute digital ads attacking then-Sen. Dean Heller for insufficient conservative bonafides.

Editor’s Note: This story appears in Indy 2022, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2022 election. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Updated on 5/17/2022 to correct the opponent to Assembly candidate Angie Taylor.


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