By Megan Messerly and Riley Snyder
When the 63 members of the Nevada Legislature begin their 120-day session in February, they’ll be surrounded by some familiar faces — the same lobbyists and special interests who helped them get there.
Running for state legislature, even in a smaller state like Nevada, can cost a lot of money. Legislative candidates who won their races raised more than $10.8 million in their bids for office.
The money came from a wide variety of places, from usual suspects such as major casinos on the Las Vegas Strip to more unexpected sources like obscure out-of-state billionaires. And while many candidates did receive substantial small donations from ordinary citizens, the overwhelming amount of campaign cash flowed from the same sources planning to lobby lawmakers during the legislative session.
The Nevada Secretary of State publicly posts campaign finance reports throughout election cycles, but the reports can be cumbersome to read and confusing to track.
So, Nevada Independent reporters tracked more than 9,400 individual campaign donations reported throughout the 2016 election cycle, categorizing each donation into a specific category and analyzing data patterns to discern trends and changes in campaign finance. The following information is only a snippet of the Nevada campaign finance world, and doesn’t include donations made to losing candidates or the many political groups and PACs that also spend on legislative races.
We wanted to know who gave the most money, which legislators were favored by certain industries and help readers understand a little more how Nevada campaigns operate. Below are some general highlights and interesting findings found using campaign finance data, and The Nevada Independent reporters will continue to use this information to report future stories and inform coverage of the Legislature.
Gaming, energy and mining industries continue to be top campaign donors.
When campaign season rolls around, candidates and their caucuses know that there’s a circuit of big-money donors in town to hit up for campaign cash. Historically those biggest donors have been from the gaming, energy, and mining industries in the state, a trend that continues to this day. Here’s a look at some of the top donors in the 2016 election cycle and how much they gave and to whom.
- MGM Resorts and its Las Vegas properties gave to 41 legislators — 30 Democrats and 11 Republicans. The 75 donations totaled $305,890.
- Las Vegas Sands Corp. and its Las Vegas properties gave to 34 legislators — 19 Republicans and 15 Democrats. The 53 donations totaled $277,500.
- Boyd Gaming and its properties gave to 40 legislators — 30 Democrats and 10 Republicans. The 80 donations totaled $185,500.
- Caesars Entertainment gave to 43 legislators — 29 Democrats, 13 Republicans and one Independent. The 67 donations totaled $124,000.
- Dotty’s gave to 32 legislators — 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans. The 34 donations totaled $120,000.
- Station Casinos, now known as Red Rock Resorts, and its properties gave to 29 legislators — 20 Democrats and nine Republicans. The 55 donations totaled $91,500.
- Grand Sierra Resort & Casino in Reno gave to 26 legislators — 18 Democrats and eight Republicans. The 26 donations totaled $84,000.
- Wynn Resorts gave to 22 legislators — 18 Democrats and four Republicans. The 30 donations totaled $81,250.
- NV Energy gave to 50 legislators — 30 Democrats, 19 Republicans, and 1 Independent. The 122 donations totaled $128,600.
- SolarCity gave to 13 legislators — nine Democrats and four Republicans. The 13 donations totaled $49,500.
- Newmont Mining Corporation gave to 36 legislators — 24 Democrats and 12 Republicans. The 42 donations totaled $77,100.
- Barrick Gold Corporation gave to 31 legislators — 24 Democrats and 7 Republicans. The 32 donations totaled $77,000.
- Switch gave to 36 legislators — 25 Democrats and 11 Republicans. The 41 donations totaled $106,350.
- TitleMax gave to 30 legislators — 17 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one Independent. The 38 donations totaled $101,000.
- Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce gave to 36 legislators — 26 Democrats and 10 Republicans. The 44 donations totaled $74,500.
- Citizens for Justice, a political action committee for trial lawyers, gave to 48 legislators — 34 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The 96 donations totaled $267,750.
- Taxi companies gave to 50 legislators — 34 Democrats, 15 Republicans and one independent. The 214 donations totaled $476,200.
- Lyft gave to three legislators, all of them Democrats. The three donations totaled $2,500.
- Nevada Trucking Association gave to 24 legislators — 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats. The 33 donations totaled $70,000.
Notable out of state donors:
- Tom Steyer, a prominent California philanthropist and political donor, gave to five legislators, all of them Democrats. He gave eight donations totalling $40,000.
- Kathryn Taylor, a prominent philanthropist and wife of Tom Steyer, gave to six Democratic legislators. She gave eight donations totalling $40,000.
- Fleur Fairman, an analyst at the private investment firm Tinicum Incorporated in New York, gave to five legislators, all of them Democrats. She gave seven donations totaling $7,000.
- Pat Stryker, a Colorado businesswoman and philanthropist reportedly worth $1.5 billion, gave to three Democratic legislators. She gave three donations totalling $15,000.
- Charles Brennan, the founder of Dollar Loan Center, gave to three Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. He gave a total of six donations totalling $11,500.
- Spike Buckley, a Colorado businessman and angel investor, gave to five Democratic legislators. He gave five donations for a total of $25,000.
- John Ellis Bush, better known as Jeb Bush, gave $250 to Republican Senator Scott Hammond.
Other prolific, unexpected donors:
- Breakthru Beverage, a national alcoholic distribution company with a branch in Nevada, gave to 43 legislators — 29 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The 54 donations totaled $27,250.
- ARDA-Resort Owners’ Coalition, a national organization that lobbies for timeshare owners, gave to 43 legislators — 31 Democrats and 12 Republicans. The 43 donations totaled $48,000.
- Ormat Nevada, an alternative and renewable energy company based in Reno, gave to 42 legislators — 28 Democrats, 13 Republicans, and one Independent. The 67 donations totaled $53,000.
- The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony gave to 20 legislators — 13 Democrats and 7 Republicans. The 22 donations totaled $11,000.
- R&S Leasing gave to 19 legislators — 11 Democrats, 7 Republicans and 1 Independent. Their 23 donations totaled $35,500.
The median donation given during the 2016 election cycle was $504.
That held relatively consistent for both Republican and Democrats. The median donation for Democrats was $503 while the median donation for Republicans was $600. The most common donation for both Republicans and Democrats was $1,000, of which there were more than 2,000 separate contributions during the election cycle.
The average donation is skewed by some of the larger, corporate donations and transfers between candidate accounts. But the average overall donation was $1,143, while the average for Democrats was $1,131 and $1,174 for Republicans.
More than two dozen $10,000 checks written during the campaign cycle.
The maximum contribution to any candidate’s campaign is $10,000 ($5,000 for primary campaigns, and $5,000 for the general election). Some individuals and businesses work their way up to that limit through a series of donations throughout the campaign cycle, while others will drop that cash all at once. Businesses and groups who doled out $10,000 checks this campaign cycle included:
- Barrick Gold gave to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford in June
- Clark County Education Association gave to Democratic Senator Nicole Cannizzaro in October
- Citizens for Justice gave to Democratic Speaker Jason Frierson in December 2015
- Dotty’s gave to Democratic Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams in June
- Education Support Employees Association gave to Democratic Senator Joyce Woodhouse
- Eglet Law Group gave to Democratic lawyers Assemblyman Steve Yeager and Cannizzaro in December
- Laborers Union PAC in Southern Nevada gave to Democratic Assemblymen Skip Daly and Will McCurdy. (The national Laborers Union and the northern Nevada Laborers Union each doled out an additional $10,000 each to Daly)
- Las Vegas Sands gave to Democratic Senator Kelvin Atkinson in May
- MGM Resorts gave to Democrats Ford, Bustamante Adams and Assemblyman Justin Watkins
Several candidate accounts and political PACs redistributed their money to other candidates in $10,000 lump sums, including:
- Campaign Committee for Jason Frierson redistributed money to Assemblyman Nelson Araujo
- Committee to Elect David Parks redistributed to Cannizzaro
- Committee to Elect Mo Denis redistributed to Woodhouse
- Debbie Smith Campaign (the late senator) redistributed to Senator Julia Ratti
- Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s Nevada account redistributed to Cannizzaro and Woodhouse
- Leadership in Nevada, Frierson’s political PAC, redistributed to Yeager
- Majority 2016 PAC, one of Ford’s political PACs, redistributed to Cannizzaro
- Nevada’s Future PAC, another of Ford’s political PACs, redistributed to Cannizzaro
Caucus leaders raise almost $1.5 million collectively for their personal campaigns.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford raked in the most of any of the four leaders in the Assembly and Senate. He raised $628,120.90 over the course of 2015 and 2016 ahead of the November election. Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson came in second, amassing $462,555.51 over the same period.
Republican Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson raised $388,650, while Republican Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson raised $0. (However, Roberson was not up for re-election in 2016 and spent most of 2015 and the first half of 2016 pursuing a congressional bid.)
For comparison, Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick raised $631,526.90 over the course of 2013 and 2014 for her campaign ahead of the 2014 election. Over the same period, Anderson raised $104,850 while Roberson raised $809,075.
Ford, who wasn’t up for re-election in 2014, raised $205,808.57 over the course of 2013 and 2014.
Data included in this article represents the most up-to-date information as of January 12th, 2017. Campaign finance reports for the period between Nov. 4 and Dec. 31 of 2016 are due to the Secretary of State’s office on Jan. 17, 2017.
We accept donations from anyone who wishes to support our work. MGM Resorts has donated $250,000 to The Nevada Independent, Switch has donated $250,000 and Boyd Gaming has donated $25,000.
1-23-17: This story has been updated to include a disclosure about donors to the Nevada Independent.