Legislative candidates raised $1.8 million over last three months, campaign finance reports show

It’s been more than a month since races were called in Nevada’s June primary election, but campaign finance reports showing who helped legislative candidates win their contests have only just been published.

Under a state law approved in 2019 and taking effect this election cycle, local and state candidates for elected office are required to file reports detailing their contributions and political spending every three months, similar to requirements for federal candidates. 

But unlike federal candidates, who are required to disclose their donors and political spending ahead of primary and general elections, no such requirement was made in Nevada law for statewide or legislative candidates — leaving voters and the public in the dark on the last two months of fundraising before the state’s primary election.

Reports were required to be submitted to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday, July 15, and cover the period between April 1 and June 30.

In total, legislative candidates reported raising more than $1.8 million and spending $1.9 million during that three-month reporting period. Candidates ended the period with a combined $4.7 million in the bank, led by Democratic legislative leaders Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro ($692,000) and Speaker Jason Frierson ($442,900).

Although only one incumbent legislative candidate lost re-election in the primary (Republican Chris Edwards), the fundraising reports shine a light into the breadth and scope of political fundraising that occurred ahead of some of the state’s most hard-fought primary contents.

Campaign finance reports also provide an inside look into what races each political party thinks will be the most competitive come November, as well as a sense of how much influence certain groups, businesses or other politically powerful interests may have come the 2021 legislative session.

Democrats currently control 29 of 42 seats in the Assembly and 13 of 21 seats in the Senate. A seat flipped in the Senate would give the party a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses.

Fundraising totals reported on Wednesday are significant for another reason: it marks the last time for several weeks that lawmakers will be able to fundraise because of blackout rules around the ongoing special legislative session. State law prohibits any legislator from collecting campaign contributions during a special session and for at least 15 days afterwards — meaning many incumbents in tough races will be at a temporary disadvantage while their opponents can continue fundraising.

Here’s a look at how the fundraising battle played out in some of the state's top legislative primaries, and the state of play in competitive districts a few months before the November general election.

COMPETITIVE PRIMARIES

Senate District 7 

Former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange claimed a narrow victory of 132 votes over Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel and, with no general election opponents, will take the seat, which covers parts of eastern Las Vegas and Henderson.

Lange, who was endorsed by the Nevada State Democratic Caucus, trailed far behind Spiegel in spending and fundraising in the first quarter but dominated in both areas in the second quarter, spending $136,000 and raising $66,000, $5,000 of which came from an in-kind donation of a poll from Nevada State Democrats. 

Her long list of donors included several Democratic senators, including $5,000 each from Cannizzaro's campaign and PACs connected to Mo Denis, Yvanna Cancela and Joyce Woodhouse. Other top donors included $5,000 from the Nevada Hispanic Leadership Fund and $5,000 from Citizens for Justice PAC, a PAC formed to combat the influence of big business and the insurance industry in politics.

The majority of her spending went to advertising. She also spent more than $18,000 on polling and gave $2,500 to Cannizzaro's campaign.

Lange ended the second quarter with just $2,600 in cash on hand, more than $139,000 less than Spiegel's war chest, and will join the Legislature in 2021. 

Assembly District 2

In a Republican primary saturated with candidates, former Nevada REALTORS president Heidi Kasama emerged victorious, with 47.9 percent of the vote. To represent the Southern Nevada district, Kasama will go toe-to-toe with Democrat Radhika “RPK” Kunnel, a law school student and former cancer biology professor.

During the three-month fundraising period in the second quarter, Kasama reported raising $16,385 and spending about $57,000 on expenses related to advertising, consultants and other costs. She ended the second quarter with about $63,600 in cash-on-hand, largely supported by $56,000 she gave her campaign in the first quarter.

Kasama’s top contributions included $3,000 from Republican Assemblyman Glen Leavitt’s campaign fund, $2,500 from Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’s campaign, $1,000 from Assemblyman Tom Roberts’ campaign and $1,000 from the Business Leaders for Ethical Government PAC, which also contributed to Sen. Julia Ratti in 2018.

Kunnel’s contribution totals for the second quarter are much lower than the donations Kasama received. During the three-month donation period, Kunnel received $5,518 in contributions, $2,000 of which are demarcated as in-kind donations. She also received a $900 donation from former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign fund.

The 2 percentage point Republican voter registration advantage in the district indicates Kasama could have the advantage.

Assembly District 4

Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk ran unopposed in the primary and is set to face former GOP Assemblyman Richard McArthur in the northwest Las Vegas Valley Assembly district’s general election. 

Munk, who eked out a narrow victory against McArthur in 2018 with a 120-vote margin out of nearly 30,000 votes cast, reported raising $18,154 during the second quarter, with about $280 in in-kind donations. 

Her largest contribution was $3,000 from the Citizens for Justice PAC (trial lawyers). She reported spending about $2,800 on mostly advertising and some office expenses, ending the second quarter with more than $87,000 cash on hand.

Fundraising for McArthur lagged behind Munk for the first two quarters. McArthur reported $700 in contributions during the second quarter, spending roughly $12,500 on expenses related to advertising and ending the second quarter with about $15,500 cash on hand.

McArthur defeated Donnie Gibson, the owner of a construction and equipment rental company, in the primary by securing 51.2 percent of votes to Gibson’s 48.9. That comes in spite of Gibson outspending him by more than $43,000 in the first quarter and almost $83,000 in the second quarter.

McArthur served three non-consecutive terms in the Assembly, including two terms between 2008 and 2012 and one term from 2016 to 2018. In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by less than 1 percentage point, the race between Munk and McArthur could be close.

Assembly District 19

Republican Chris Edwards was the only lawmaker to lose in a primary election this cycle, after being outraised in the most recent fundraising quarter by opponent and Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black.

Black, who easily defeated Edwards in the primary election with 61 percent of the vote, reported raising more than $67,700 during the three-month fundraising period, including $9,000 in personal loans, $5,000 in in-kind contributions from a graphics company and nearly $6,000 in contributions under $100. She reported spending roughly $30,700, including repayment of loans, and ended the period with about $27,900 in cash on hand.

Her top donors included several family members, the holding company of Planet 13 marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas, the Nevada REALTORS PAC and a PAC run by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore, a former legislative colleague of Edwards who once famously told him to “sit your ass down” on the Assembly floor.

Edwards reported raising $17,800, including sizable sums from Assembly Republicans Robin Titus, Al Kramer, Glen Leavitt and a PAC affiliated with Tom Roberts. He reported spending just over $28,300 and ended the period with $7,100 in cash on hand.

As no Democrats or other candidates filed to run in the race, Black will automatically be elected to the Legislature at the general election.

TOP 2020 GENERAL ELECTION RACES

Assembly District 29

Democratic incumbent Lesley Cohen will face Steven DeLisle, a dentist with several offices in Southern Nevada, in November. Cohen represented the Henderson Assembly district, a swing district, from 2012 to 2014 and lost her re-election bid to Stephen Silberkraus before reclaiming the seat in 2016.

Cohen leads DeLisle in fundraising and cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. Her $17,500 raised was boosted with a $5,000 contribution from Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton's campaign and donations from unions, including $1,500 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, and several PACS connected to firefighters in Nevada.

After spending $1,900 mostly on office expenses, she ended the period with more than $83,000 in available cash.

DeLisle, who took 63 percent of the vote in his Republican primary, raised $11,300 this period. His biggest donor was the conservative Keystone Corporation PAC with a $5,000 donation. He also received $1,000 from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and $500 from Republican Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, who represents part of Washoe County and several rural counties. 

DeLisle spent nearly $18,000 more than Cohen in the second quarter on a mix of advertising, consultants and office expenses. He has nearly $55,000 in available cash.

Assembly District 37

In one of the swingiest Assembly seats this election cycle, the Democratic incumbent Shea Backus is squaring off against Republican challenger Andy Matthews, former president of the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute. 

Backus won the seat from Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant by 135 votes in 2018, and Matthews beat out the three other Republicans in the primary election by carrying 49 percent of the vote.

During the second quarter, Matthews reported raising $39,182. His largest donations came in three $5,000 contributions — one from Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’ campaign, another from William Brady, owner of hospitality industry supplier Brady Industries, and the third from Keystone Corporation, a PAC supporting Nevada conservatives. 

Matthews spent more than $113,000 on expenses related to travel, advertising, consultants and office supplies, ending the second quarter with a cash-on-hand balance of $40,457. 

Though Matthews’ spending far outstripped that of any other candidate in the district, Backus has a higher cash-on-hand fund of $136,421 heading into the general election. During the second quarter she reported receiving $28,496 in contributions with top donations amounting to $8,000 from Citizens for Justice PAC, $2,500 from Southwest Gas and another $2,500 from the International Union of Operating Engineers, a union of heavy equipment operators.

Backus’ expenses for the second quarter amounted to $4,600, which went toward advertising and office expenses.

Senate District 5

There are three candidates on the ballot for the general election in Senate District 5, which includes portions of Henderson and southeastern Las Vegas. The district is currently represented by Democrat Joyce Woodhouse, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

Democratic candidate Kristee Watson led contributions in the district this period, reporting donations of $53,303, while Republican Carrie Buck reported $34,202 and Libertarian Tim Hagan reported none. All three candidates ran unopposed in their June primaries. 

Watson, the program facilitator for literacy nonprofit Spread the Word Nevada, saw major contributions from the Women’s Empowerment PAC, AFSCME, the Nevada Service Employees Union and Citizens for Justice. She also received $2,500 from the Committee to Elect Sen. Dallas Harris. 

Watson reported only $740 in spending and a cash on hand balance of just over $169,000. Buck has a lower reported cash on hand balance at $95,519, and the Republican candidate has been spending far more, reporting $12,386 during the same period, with nearly $12,000 of that going towards consulting.

Buck received a $10,000 contribution from the Keystone Corporation in April and $5,000 from the campaign of Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer. She has also received large donations from the PAC Nevadans for Integrity in Politics and Associated General Contractors.

Hagan has reported $0 in spending and $0 cash on hand.

Senate District 6

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro narrowly won her first bid for office in 2016, and appears headed to another close contest against Republican attorney April Becker in one of the most important legislative races on the ballot.

Cannizzaro raised more dollars during the fundraising period than any other candidate — $114,000 — and ended June with more than $692,000 in cash on hand, with reported spending less than $8,800.

Her top donors included 13 entities giving $5,000, including many labor groups; AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Nevada Service Employees Union, and firefighter unions in North Las Vegas and Henderson. She also received $5,000 contributions from the Nevada REALTORS PAC, Eglet Adams law firm, the leadership PAC of Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and the Majority 2020 PAC (which is run by Cannizzaro).

Her largest reported spending was a $5,000 contribution to Democratic state Senate candidate Roberta Lange.

On the Republican side, Becker reported raising nearly $51,700 and spending close to $58,000 during the reporting period, ending with nearly $150,000 in the bank. 

Her top contributions including $10,000 from the conservative Keystone Corporation, and $5,000 each from Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer’s campaign and a construction company owned by former casino executive William Richardson. 

Senate District 15

Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert emerged as one of the top fundraisers of the cycle, reporting nearly $79,000 in contributions and sitting on the biggest pile of campaign cash of any legislative Republican ($271,000) in her first re-election bid for this Reno-area district. 

Her top donors included $10,000 each from the company operating the Stratosphere and a PAC operated by former Lieutenant Gov. Mark Hutchison, as well as $5,000 from Reno Assemblywoman Jill Tolles and $2,500 from her own PAC (NV First).

She reported spending just over $74,000 during the fundraising period, which primarily went to consultant and advertising expenses.

But Democrats have endorsed and rallied around Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, a county appraiser and the sister of Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who both easily beat back a primary challenge in June and reported raising more than $72,000 (including $13,000 in in-kind contributions) during the fundraising cycle.

Her biggest donors included $10,000 from the federal Teamsters PAC, $5,000 each from AFSCME and labor-backed Nevada Republic Alliance, as well as donations from other Democratic elected officials and affiliated PACs; Joyce Woodhouse, Marilyn Dondero-Loop, Dallas Harris, Yvanna Cancela, Melanie Schieble, Attorney General Aaron Ford and even U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s federal leadership PAC.

Jauregui-Jackins reported only $4,500 in spending and has $117,500 in cash on hand.

Senate District 18

Republican incumbent Scott Hammond will compete against Democratic challenger Liz Becker in November in an effort to maintain his Senate District 18 seat. Hammond has held the seat, which represents the northwestern portion of Las Vegas, since 2012. 

Hammond has reported contributions of $25,000 in the second period of 2020 including $5,000 from the Keystone Corporation, and $2,000 each from District 22 Assemblyman Keith Pickard, the Nevada REALTORS PAC, Enterprise Holdings Inc PAC and Cox Communications. Hammond has reported $69,394 in spending, mostly on consulting and special event costs. He has a reported cash on hand of $23,383.

Becker, who dominated the Democratic primary with 88 percent of the vote, is a former teacher and environmental scientist who previously worked with Southern Nevada Water Authority. Becker has reported raising $23,501 during the three-month period including $5,000 from AFSCME, who also endorsed the candidate in her primary. 

Becker reported spending far lower than her opponent at $1,918.13 in the same period, with the majority going towards office expenses. While her contributions for the period were lower, Becker’s reported total cash on hand is higher than her opponents at $30,268.14.