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Follow the Money: Nearly $1.4 million in PAC money, candidate transfers in 2018 election cycle

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
State Government
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Since their inception in the 1940s, Political Action Committees (PACs) have dominated campaign spending — and Nevada is no exception.

In total, 280 PACs, political groups and inter-candidate contributions accounted for $1.4 million across 62 legislators, or about 12 percent of the $11.7 million spent on the legislature through the 2018 election cycle. It’s a total eclipsed only by the state’s powerful gaming industry ($1.7 million), though unlike that industry, there were few dominant contributors and no single donor gave more than a five-figure dollar amount.

Top contributors were all Democratically aligned, and included Emily’s List ($77,000), billionaire Tom Steyer ($50,000), Everytown for Gun Safety ($50,000) and the campaign committees for former Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson ($50,000) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson ($38,500), both Democrats. In comparison, the top Republican-leaning PAC — the Keystone Corporation — gave just $29,000.

A vast majority of PAC money or candidate transfers also flowed to the 42 legislative Democrats, who received $1.2 million to the Republican’s $215,000. On average, it meant Democrats received 38 percent more than Republicans per donation, with $2,024 to the GOP’s average of $1,466.

Broken down by category, a majority of the money — $728,000 — was spent by nearly 200 candidates, politicians (both current and former) or candidate committees, with the remaining $663,000 spent by political groups or affiliated PACs. However, PACs spent about 37 percent more on average than candidates or politicians, with $2,295 versus $1,672.

These groups, by virtue of the way they first collect and then disburse their money, conceal the origin of political donations. Although government-mandated campaign finance disclosures may show which companies or individuals donated to which PACs or campaign committees, they can’t track that money to its final destination.

For this reason, the categories have been grouped together for the purposes of this analysis.

The top individual recipients were also nearly all Democrats — though most large recipients were running for hotly contested swing seats. Democratic Sen. Melanie Scheible received the most of all candidates with $242,700, with Democratic Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop ($214,584), Republican Sen. Keith Pickard ($77,728), Democratic Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow ($64,500) and now-Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro ($47,618) rounding out the top five.

Only one legislator — appointed Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen — did not receive money before a freeze on contributions for the legislative session took effect in January.

Lawmakers in the Senate also outraised the Assembly counterparts, $769,000 to $622,000 in total, which translates to an average of $2,616 to $1,443, respectively.

Although this analysis encompasses most PAC spending this cycle, it is also limited to PACs linked to political groups or causes, such as the National Rifle Association or pro-choice group NARAL. It does not include industry PACs, such the Nevada Home Builders Association or the Nevada Mining Association, which cumulatively spent hundreds of thousands on legislative races in the last two years.

As always, we’ve triple checked the math. But if anything seems off, feel free to contact us at [email protected].

Check out our previous Follow the Money pieces on the gaming, real estate and mining industries.

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