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Follow the Money: Outside groups spent around $27 million in governor's race over last four months

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Election 2018
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Nevada candidates in statewide races were boosted by more than $27.2 million in reported spending by outside political action committees over the last four months, according to campaign finance records reviewed by The Nevada Independent.

More than two dozen political action committees registered with the Nevada secretary of state’s office reported raising just over $34 million and spending $33.9 million over the past 10 months primarily in the state’s gubernatorial race between Republican Adam Laxalt and Democrat Steve Sisolak.

Spending from outside groups far outstrips the amounts the two gubernatorial candidates reporting raising and spending on their most recent campaign finance reports, which covers June 8 to Oct. 12. Laxalt reported raising $2.9 million and spending $6 million over the four month reporting period, while Sisolak raised $4.1 million and spent nearly $3.9 million.

Comparatively, PACs supporting Laxalt raised just over $9.9 million over the same four-month time period while spending $11.9 million, while those supporting Sisolak spent $13.3 million and raised $15.2 million. At least seven PACs reported spending more than $1 million over the four month period, including two supporting Laxalt and four backing Sisolak.

To make this analysis, The Nevada Independent cross-checked any entities that had reserved television advertising time or paid for digital ads on Facebook throughout the 2018 campaign, and then compiled their fundraising and spending totals reported in the Nevada secretary of state’s campaign finance database. Groups supporting federal candidates — which are tracked by the Federal Elections Commission — were not included.

Unlike individual political candidates, who are prohibited from accepting more than $10,000 from an individual or business, political action committees registered in Nevada are allowed to raise and spend unlimited sums in support or opposition of a candidate.

And unlike federal groups required to report any major independent expenditures they make in support or opposition of a candidate within a 24- or 48-hour period, no such immediate requirement is placed on state-level PACs. Instead, they’re required to report all spending and funds raised on the same schedule as individual candidates, meaning they were not required to disclose any spending or contributors over the crucial four-month period between the state’s primary election and Oct. 12, several days before the start of early voting.

More than 80 percent of the $33.9 million reported spent in all of 2018 by the 24 PACs, or $27.3 million, was made in the four-month period after the primary election.

And already, groups are placing large advertising reservations in the runup to Election Day. A Super PAC called “Fighting for Nevada” has made $1.2 million in ad reservations with initial spots attacking Sisolak. The group’s funders include Station Casinos, Zuffa, the Nevada Subcontractors Association PAC and Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, but it won’t be required to report its total contributions and spending until Nov. 2, four days before the election.

The totals also don’t cover groups running “issue” ads that have declined to register with the secretary of state and report their fundraising and spending totals. These include “United for a Better Tomorrow,” which ran ads attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani ahead of the state’s June primary, and another group called “Tenth Amendment Project” running ads supporting Laxalt.

Republican PACs

The PAC that reported raising and spending the most over all of 2018 is the Republican Governors Association backed “RGA Nevada PAC,” which raised and spent about $8.7 million over the last four months. The RGA’s top contributors in 2016, the most recent year records are available, include $5 million from Las Vegas Sands properties, $2.3 million from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, $2 million from Koch Industries and $1.86 million from Mountaire Corporation.

Freedom Partners Action Fund has reported $1.89 million in spending over the most recent campaign finance period. The lone reported contribution to the group is a $250,000 donation made by Elling Halvorson, the founder and chairman of a major helicopter tour company.

Laxalt has also been boosted by a new PAC called “Building a Stronger Nevada,” which has run positive digital and television ads supporting his candidacy. The group, which raised close to $900,000 and spent nearly $867,000 over the four-month reporting period, has been funded by a group of 11 homebuilders including Lennar Homes ($204,000), DR Horton ($144,500), KB Homes Las Vegas ($127,500) and M.D.C. Holdings Inc., the parent company of Richmond American Homes ($100,000).

Part of Laxalt’s economic development plan calls for reducing permit fees for home construction as part of a push for affordable housing.

And in the state’s race for attorney general, “Nevada Freedom PAC” has reported spending and raising a tick over $742,000 in the most recent reporting period. Its sole donor is the Republican Attorneys General Association, which raised more than $26 million in 2017 and has reserved more than $1.4 million in ad time in Nevada television markets.

Other top PACs that have spent money on advertising include:

  • Morning in Nevada PAC, which hosts Laxalt’s annual “Basque Fry” fundraiser and has run digital ads attacking Sisolak. It has raised more than $305,000 this year and spent over $344,000, primarily in the last four-month reporting period.
  • LifePAC, affiliated with Nevada Right to Life, has run a handful of ads on Facebook attacking Sisolak’s position on abortion. It reported raising $12,500 and not spending anything in the last reporting period.

A PAC called “Parents for Safe Schools,” which appears to be behind a Facebook page running English and Spanish-language anti-transgender ads targeting Sisolak, did not report raising or spending any funds in the most recent campaign finance period.

Democratic PACs

Ubiquitous on television for its ads comparing Laxalt to a “backwards bus” and a “busy bee,” the top-spending PAC supporting Democrats and attacking Republicans was a newly formed PAC called Nevada Families First. First registered in April, the PAC reported raising $6.26 million and spending $5.1 million over the four-month reporting period. Its largest donor was the Democratic Governors Association, which transferred more than $3.6 million to the PAC.   

Other top donors include Everytown for Gun Safety ($900,000), labor Super PAC Working for Working Americans ($500,000), former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee ($250,000), the Service Employees International Union’s political arm ($250,000) and a business owned by Democratic megadonor Stephen Cloobeck ($250,000).

Another $2.4 million was reported spent by “AFSCME Nevada,” over the reporting period,  which also reported raising $2.3 million. As the name suggests, the PAC’s funds all came from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has contributed $3.5 million and spent slightly less throughout 2018.

Other top-spending PACs include the Nevada Conservation League PAC, which raised $3.8 million and spent $1.97 million over the four month fundraising period. It’s largest single donor was the the League of Conservation Voters Political Engagement Fund ($3 million), with other major contributions coming from the Democratic Governors Association ($200,000), 501(c)(4) nonprofit America Votes ($200,000), a national left-leaning 527 organization funded by megadonors George Soros, Tom Steyer and Donald Sussman State Victory Action ($100,000) and Las Vegas resident Richard Schnedier ($151,000).

PAC President Andy Maggi said the entity plans to spend about $3.4 million on the governor’s race, with another $350,000 to $400,000 spent on legislative and local races.

Other PACs involved in the governor’s race that reported spending more than $1 million over the four-month fundraising period include:

  • The Michael Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety, which reported spending $1.3 million without reporting any contributions. $900,000 of the reported spending went to Nevada Families First.
  • Nevada Law & Justice PAC, a PAC funded by groups tied to Hungarian billionaire and Democratic donor George Soros that reported spending $1.16 million. Despite raising more than $1.2 million in its effort to boost attorney Rob Langford’s unsuccessful primary challenge against Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, it ended up remitting nearly $770,000 back to an affiliated national PAC over the reporting period.
  • Nevada Leads, the political arm of the Clark County Education Association, which raised and spent slightly more than $1 million during the reporting period. The PAC has run ads attacking Laxalt, was funded by the teachers’ union and an unusual $500,000 contribution from a political ad firm.

Other PACs that have run television or digital ads in the governor’s race with largely single-source donors include:

  • Working People Rising, which raised more than $813,000 and spent $591,000 over the reporting period. The PAC, which is active in federal races as well, raised around $270,000 from groups affiliated with the AFL-CIO and $540,000 in in-kind contributions from other labor organizations.
  • Nevada Priorities, an offshoot of the Super PAC that backed Hillary Clinton, reported raising $585,000 and spending $518,000 over the reporting period. The group, which has received $1.06 million and spent $798,000 so far this year, reported contributions from two sources — Priorities USA Action and State Victory Fund.
  • Strong Public Schools NV, the political arm of the Nevada State Education Association, reporting raising $435,000 — all from the National Education Association — and spending nearly $344,000 over the fundraising period. The PAC, which heavily backed Giunchigliani in the gubernatorial primary, has raised $2.2 million and spent $1.9 million since the start of the year.

Women Vote, a PAC funded by the progressive pro-choice group EMILY’s List, reported spending and raising $18,000 during the fundraising period a few days after the state’s primary election. The group in total raised and spent more than $2 million in an unsuccessful effort to boost Giunchigliani in the gubernatorial primary.

In the state’s race for attorney general, a group called “DAGA NV People’s Lawyers Project,” reported raising (and spending $35,300) over the fundraising period, all from the Democratic Attorneys General Association. The group is part of a nationwide $15 million push to elect Democrats to attorneys general positions and has run ads in Nevada.

Disclosure: Several donors to The Nevada Independent are mentioned in this story. You can see a full list of donors here.

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