Follow the Money: Business interests contribute less to lawmakers than in past two cycles
Buoyed by UFC parent company Zuffa and the Vegas Chamber, business interests large and small collectively gave Nevada lawmakers more than $634,000 during the 2022 election cycle — eighth most among all categories of contributors, according to an analysis by The Nevada Independent.
But those in the business category gave significantly less than in past cycles, including decreases in contributions from several top donors: Zuffa, the Vegas Chamber and waste management company Republic Services. Contributions from business interests during the 2022 cycle were 25 percent lower than in the 2020 cycle ($840,000) and 7 percent lower than in the 2018 cycle ($682,000).
From those business interests, Democratic lawmakers received nearly twice as much as their Republican counterparts ($419,000 to $215,000), though the difference was driven largely by Democrats’ majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. Thirty-seven Democratic lawmakers received an average of $11,326, compared with an average of $10,261 for 21 Republican lawmakers.
With nearly 200 donors collectively making nearly 500 contributions of $200-plus, the umbrella category of “business” included companies that generally have a stake in legislative actions that affect employers and businesses. It excludes many other businesses, however, that fit more squarely into another category, such as casino operator MGM Resorts in the gaming category, property management companies in the real estate category and natural gas and electric companies in the energy category (Energy businesses will be examined in the next edition).
This story is part of The Nevada Independent’s “Follow the Money” series tracking money in politics. This installment, and others published throughout the legislative session, will analyze the fundraising activity of state lawmakers, with deep dives into how different industries and top contributors doled out money. Find other installments here.
The data offers a look at how the state’s most powerful companies and political organizations contribute to policymakers who set laws affecting businesses and residents alike. It also provides context for the 120-day legislative session, as lawmakers face pressure from the same groups and individuals who donated to their campaigns.
Breaking down the top contributors
As it has in past cycles, Zuffa — the UFC parent company founded by Station Casinos executives Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta — led the category, contributing $94,500 to 39 legislators. Still, that was a significant dropoff from the 2020 cycle when the group contributed $128,000 to state lawmakers.
The group gave just one maximum contribution of $10,000, which went to Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), who led all lawmakers in fundraising from business interests.
Though nearly half of the contribution pie was made up of smaller donors, with 188 donors giving $200 to $10,000 for a total of more than $300,000, the top three donors (Zuffa, the Vegas Chamber and the Henderson Chamber of Commerce) combined to make up nearly one-third of all contributions from business interests.
The Vegas Chamber, the state’s largest business organization representing thousands of members in Southern Nevada, similarly saw a drop off in contributions from $74,000 in the 2020 cycle to less than $70,000 in the 2022 cycle.
That included contributions totaling more than $4,000 to just four lawmakers: $5,500 to Sen. Julie Pazina (D-Las Vegas), $5,000 to Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), $4,500 to Assemblyman Gregory Hafen (R-Pahrump) and $4,012 to Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas).
Billing itself as “the voice of business in Nevada,” the Vegas Chamber puts a heavy emphasis on advocacy and government affairs, with nine lobbyists registered this legislative session.
With wide-ranging priorities from education and health care to economic development and tax policy, the group is tracking hundreds of bills this session. That includes support for restructuring governance of the state’s higher education system through a bill (AB118) that would reduce the number of university regents.
The group’s 2023 legislative guide includes priorities from the Southern Nevada Forum — a regular meeting of lawmakers, the chamber, other business groups and residents to determine regional priorities ahead of the legislative session. Priorities from the forum listed in the guide include restructuring the Clark County School District to a hybrid appointed and elected board, modernizing the state’s grants office, expanding film tax credits, expanding career technical education and funding Graduate Medical Education.
In January, the Vegas Chamber lauded Gov. Joe Lombardo’s State of the State address, expressing support for his proposals to raise the Commerce Tax threshold from $4 million in annual revenue to $6 million, invest more in K-12 education and set aside more money in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, an emergency savings account.
In a distant third behind the Vegas Chamber, the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, which similarly describes itself as “the voice of business in government” for various businesses in the state’s second-most populous city, contributed $39,900 to 31 lawmakers.
The group distributed those funds widely, sending no more than $2,200 to any one lawmaker and no less than $1,100 to those it contributed to. Though many top legislative donors leaned toward Democratic candidates in the 2022 cycle, the Henderson Chamber contributed more than $22,000 to Republican lawmakers, compared with less than $18,000 for Democratic lawmakers.
Only two other companies contributed more than $25,000: Vidler Water Company and Republic Services.
Though contributions from Vidler remained roughly flat during the past two cycles ($23,750 in 2020 and $29,500 in 2022), Republic Services gave significantly less in the last cycle, down from more than $46,000 to just $25,500.
Breaking down the top recipients
Yeager, who holds the top leadership spot in the Assembly and has perennially ranked among the Democratic Party’s top legislative fundraisers, was the single largest recipient of funding from the business category ($83,600).
He received two maximum contributions of $10,000, one from Zuffa and one from Las Vegas Paving Corp., a company with a wide portfolio of public and private works projects in Southern Nevada.
Yeager was followed by Hafen, who received nearly $38,000 from business interests, including a $5,000 contribution from Phantom Fireworks Chief Executive Bruce Zoldan.
Just two other lawmakers received more than $25,000 from contributors in the business category: Sen. Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) ($26,300) and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) ($25,750).
Follow the Money explained
The Nevada Independent tracked and categorized more than 8,000 donations of $200 or more from Jan. 1, 2021, through the end of the election cycle on Dec. 31, 2022.
Donors are limited to giving a maximum of $10,000 to a single candidate, but major corporations easily surpass that limit by contributing through various affiliated entities or businesses — a process sometimes referred to as bundling.
Some wealthy donors, ranging from lawyers to doctors to casino magnates, may also boost contributions to a single candidate by donating the maximum amount under their name and under their spouse’s name.
Each donation was categorized by the industry or field of the organization or individual who contributed, and the entire set of donations was analyzed for patterns and trends. Our analysis has also sought to track bundled contributions where possible, linking contributions from LLCs or subsidiary companies to their largest parent company or individual donor. Total contributions from MGM Resorts International include not only money donated directly from MGM, but also from the properties it manages, for instance.
Data collected does not include donations made to losing candidates, nor does it break down small donations under the $200 threshold or fundraising activity for the many PACs or political groups that spend in support of candidates.
It also excludes Assemblywoman Sabra Newby (D-Las Vegas), who was appointed after the election and did not raise funds.
Still, the $200 threshold captures the vast majority of all the money contributed to elected lawmakers during the past two years. All legislative contributions less than $200 in the 2022 cycle — more than 7,400 individual transactions — totaled just $221,000.
Roy Visuett contributed data analysis to this report.
This story is a part of The Nevada Independent’s weekly Follow the Money series, which examines the amount of money contributed by major industries to individual state lawmakers. For a list of all our Follow the Money stories, click here.