Indy Fact Check: Ad calling Danny Tarkanian a 'Democratic Donor' relies on 19-year-old donation
Take a few seconds to look up “Danny Tarkanian” on Google, and the likely first result will be a web advertisement from incumbent Sen. Dean Heller calling his newly announced challenger a “Democrat Donor” and the “Wrong Choice For Nevada.”
It’s one of the first volleys directed at Tarkanian — embarking on his sixth run for office — from Heller’s campaign team, which began running the ads the same morning Tarkanian announced his intentions to take on the Republican senator.
And Heller’s team has plenty of experience going after Tarkanian — the same political firm, November Inc., also ran state Sen. Michael Roberson’s congressional campaign in 2016 that ended up falling short against Tarkanian.
But the claim that Tarkanian, who is banking much of his candidacy on his unabashed support of President Donald Trump, is a “Democratic donor” is one that didn’t come up during the last campaign cycle, and was one we found notable given that it’s one of the first salvos in what promises to be a bitter primary campaign.
In 1998, Tarkanian gave $950 to Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who defeated Republican Don Chairez by slightly more than 5,700 votes. Berkley stayed in office until 2013, leaving the House to unsuccessfully challenge Heller during the 2012 election.
Tarkanian said he made the donation because Berkley was a staunch defender of his father (former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian) during her tenure as a member of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents.
“She fought to keep my dad’s job. I respected that, and so when she asked I made the donation,” he said.
Tarkanian called the 19-year-old donation “irrelevant,” and indicated that voters were more concerned with other issues.
“I would much rather give one donation to one Democrat 20 years ago than to vote with (Democratic Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer in voting against the repeal of Obamacare,” he said.
Heller’s campaign did not respond to email request for comment.
Tarkanian also told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he made minor donations to another Democrat — his mother, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian. He said he didn’t recall making a donation, but would have done anything possible to assist his mother’s campaign.
As for Republicans, Tarkanian gave $300 to South Carolina congressional candidate Chad Connelly in March 2017, and between himself and his wife have given state and local candidates a little more than $5,200 since 2007.
Tarkanian did give Berkley $950 almost two decades ago, and made a minor donation to his mother’s political campaign.
While certainly no one will confuse Tarkanian for major Democratic party donors such as George Soros or Tom Steyer, he has undeniably donated to a Democrat. Still, cherry-picking one donation out of decades of conservative donations is a stretch.
We rate this ad Almost Abe.