Follow the money: Breaking down $2.8 million in combined legislative campaign spending from major industries

The Nevada Legislature building

Even as lawmakers perennially tout the strength of their small-dollar fundraising, the driving force of any campaign in any cycle — with few exceptions — is big-money donors. 

Often contributing upwards of six-figures across dozens of campaigns, money from these donors often comprises the vast majority of campaign funds, especially in the most competitive legislative campaigns.

However, while all these contributions are reported to Nevada’s secretary of state every quarter, parsing trends from such reports or determining how corporate or PAC donors are spending in the aggregate is no simple task, as each contribution is siloed either under individual candidates or individual donors. 

To get at those trends, The Nevada Independent analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to every sitting lawmaker elected in 2020. 

That $200 cutoff excludes a small portion of small-dollar fundraising, as well as two lawmakers who were appointed to their seats in 2021 (Sen. Fabian Donate, D-Las Vegas and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May, D-Las Vegas) and any fundraising by losing candidates. 

What is left is an expansive picture of the spending habits of Nevada’s biggest industries, from unions and casinos to health care giants and dark-money PACs. Over the course of our Follow the Money series, we’ve taken a deep dive into the spending of the state’s 10 largest industries, a group of donors that collectively spent $7.8 million of the $10.6 million in big money legislative contributions last cycle. 

Links to all previous installments of this series, including top-line breakdowns of all spending and all fundraising, have been included at the end of this article.

But beyond the largest 10 are the 14 “smallest” industries, according to our categorizations, which still spent upwards of $2.8 million combined. Below is a breakdown of that campaign spending, ordered by industry, from greatest to least. 

Spending nearly as much money last cycle as the much-debated Nevada mining industry were a number of alcohol and tobacco companies, which combined to contribute nearly $319,000. 

Spendiest among industry donors was tobacco company Altria (likely better known by its former name, Philip Morris Companies, Inc.), which gave 30 lawmakers a combined $95,050. Almost all of that money went to Republicans, who received $75,050 to the Democrats’ $20,000. 

Among all legislators, none saw more money from Altria than Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden), who received $9,000. He was followed by Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) with $8,750 and Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) with $7,000. The remaining 27 lawmakers, including eight Democrats and 19 Republicans, received $5,000 or less.

Other major industry donors include beer-giant Anheuser Busch ($50,500), the Nevada Beer Wholesalers Association ($49,000), alcohol distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits ($33,500) and electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs ($26,500). 

Contributing more than $306,000 combined, the state’s transportation industry included a varied mix of donors from car manufacturers, ride-sharing companies, railroads, taxis and associated organizations and individuals. 

Biggest of all was the Nevada automotive dealers PAC, NADEAC, which contributed $52,500 in total, split nearly evenly between Republicans ($27,500) and Democrats ($25,000). Most of NADEAC’s contributions were comparatively small, however, and only two legislators saw more than $2,500 — Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas), each of whom received $5,000. 

Following NADEAC was electric car maker Tesla — operator of the massive gigafactory battery plant in Northern Nevada — which gave 20 legislators $45,000. Most of that, $34,500, went to legislative Democrats, with the two Democratic leaders — Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) — receiving the most of anyone with $5,000 each. 

Other major transportation donors include the Nevada Trucking Association and its president, Paul Enos (a combined $42,500), Union Pacific Railroad ($33,500), rental car company Enterprise ($29,500) and the ride-sharing company Lyft ($21,000).

Twelve telecommunications companies combined to spend more than $300,000 on lawmakers last cycle, with the single largest chunk coming from internet service provider Cox Communications ($120,000). 

The largest internet provider in the state with a near-monopoly on internet service in the Las Vegas metro area, Cox’s spending largely favored legislative Democrats, who received $80,000 to the Republican’s $40,000. That includes one maximum $10,000 contribution to Frierson, as well as $8,000 for Cannizzaro.  

Communications giant AT&T followed with $82,250, again favoring Democrats ($58,750) to Republicans ($23,500). And here, too, the top recipients were Frierson and Cannizzaro, who received $8,000 each. 

Other major donors included internet service providers Charter Communications ($47,500) and CenturyLink ($14,000), as well as satellite TV provider Dish Network ($12,000). 

Though the pharmaceutical industry at large contributed nearly $273,000, more than half came from just one donor: the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which gave 45 lawmakers $140,500. 

Among the most powerful industry groups in the entire country, PhRMA’s contributions favored Republicans, who received $86,000 to the Democrats’ $54,500. Among individual lawmakers, PhRMA’s four top recipients were all Assembly Republicans: Roberts ($8,000), Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington) ($8,000), Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R-Reno) ($8,000) and Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) ($7,000). 

Other major donors include the drugmaker Pfizer ($46,250), National Association of Chain Drug Stores ($17,500), and biotechnology company Amgen ($11,000). Nineteen other donors, including major drugmakers such as Merck, Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson, gave $10,000 or less. 

Though 55 donors in the finance and banking industry combined to contribute more than $214,000, almost two-thirds of that money came from one source: the Nevada Credit Union League (NCUL), the credit union trade association, which gave $86,250 across 46 legislators. 

The NCUL’s spending widely favored Democrats, who received $62,000 to the Republicans’ $24,250. Much of that difference was made up by the sheer number of Democrats receiving contributions (30 Democrats to 16 Republicans), but also by three large contributions to Democratic Leaders. 

Frierson and Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) both received the $10,000 maximum, while Cannizzaro received $9,000. No other lawmakers received more than $5,000 from the group.   

Other major donors include One Nevada Credit Union ($25,500) and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors ($14,500). The remaining 52 donors gave just $9,500 or less. 

Unlike some other major industries, technology-related companies and donors gave to lawmakers in comparatively mid-sized or small amounts, with the largest among them — the data company Switch — giving a total of $62,000 to 21 legislators. 

That money was evenly split between 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans, who combined to receive $31,0000 each. That even-split largely extended down to the individual level, too, with Democrats Cannizzaro, Frierson and Gansert, a Republican, receiving $10,000, while Republicans Hammond and Buck received $5,000 each. The remaining recipients all received $2,500 or less. 

The other significant chunk of technology contributions came from Blockchains, Inc. owner Jeff Berns and his wife, Mary, who combined to give $44,500. Berns was at the center of efforts this session to create so-called “Innovation Zones,” which would have created a semi-autonomous county in rural Nevada supported by the use of cryptocurrency. 

As criticism of the concept intensified over the course of the legislative session, Gov. Steve Sisolak backed away from Innovation Zones last week in announcing the proposal would take shape as a study, instead. 

The single biggest beneficiary of Bern’s contributions was Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden), who received $10,000 each from Jeff and Mary for $20,000 total. Wheeler’s district, District 39, encompasses parts of Storey County, where Berns’ Blockchains company owns roughly 67,000 acres of land that likely would have become the state’s first Innovation Zone, had the proposal passed muster.  

Berns also gave $5,000 to Cannizzaro, Frierson and Settelmeyer, as well as a handful of smaller contributions to six other lawmakers, including both Democrats and Republicans. 

Other technology companies gave comparatively little, with Reno-based precision measuring equipment firm Hamilton Company following Berns with $15,000, and the tax-software giant Intuit giving $12,500. The remaining 25 donors gave $11,000 or less.  

Insurance companies — close cousins to the finance industry — combined to give lawmakers $165,700, with the Farmers Employee and Agent PAC leading all donors with $63,000. 

Farmers’ spending was split nearly evenly between the two major parties, with Republicans receiving $32,000 to the Democrats’ $31,000. No lawmakers received the maximum amount from the group, though four — Frierson, Roberts, Gansert and Titus — did receive $5,000 contributions. The remaining 20 recipients received $3,000 or less. 

No other single insurance came close to Farmers’ spending. The next largest, USAA, gave just $25,500 (of which most, $17,000, went to Democrats), while small business insurer Employers EIG Services gave $24,000 (including $13,500 for Republicans and $10,500 for Democrats). The remaining 20 insurance donors gave $13,000 or less. 

Though the payday lending industry at large gave comparatively little — $128,000 split across 37 legislators — the single largest industry donor, TitleMax, was among the biggest spenders of any industry as it contributed $93,000 to 35 lawmakers. 

Most of that went to 20 Democrats, who received $56,500 to the Republicans $36,500. TitleMax’s largest individual contributions similarly went to Democrats, with Frierson and Cannizzaro each receiving the $10,000 maximum. Gansert followed with $7,500, while the remaining 32 legislators received $5,000 or less. 

Other payday lending donors gave little in comparison to TitleMax. Dollar Loan Center was next-closest with $23,500 contributed, followed by Purpose Financial with $8,500. The remaining three donors gave marginal amounts, including $1,250 from Advance America, $1,000 from the Security Finance Corporation of Spartanburg and $750 from Community Loans of America.

Breaking down the smaller industries

Dozens of donors categorized as “other” combined to become the 14th largest category, with donors who could not be classified as industry-specific — 357 in all — contributing a combined $247,761. Many of these donors were retirees or private citizens, and most, 262, gave $500 or less. 

Lobbyists and lobbying firms were the next-largest donor group trailing payday lenders, with 56 donors contributing $126,401 combined. There were few major donors in that group — all but 10 gave less than $3,000. The only exception was the Ferraro Group, which gave $32,500 spread across 33 lawmakers. The group’s donations were relatively small, however, and the single-biggest recipient — Cannizzaro — received just $3,500. 

Roughly three dozen education companies, teachers and other individuals combined to contribute $83,272, with the biggest sums coming from charter school company Academica Nevada ($28,500), education management company K12 Management Inc. ($13,500) and for-profit college University of Phoenix ($11,000). Notably absent in this category are major teachers unions, such as the Nevada State Education Association and the Clark County Education Association, as both of those organizations are covered in our analysis of union spending. 

Spending slightly less than they did in 2018 were 15 marijuana companies or related individuals, who combined to spend $86,500 (down from more than $91,000 spent in 2018). Most of that money was concentrated in the three biggest spenders: An LLC linked to The Grove dispensary ($24,750), Nevada Can Committee ($23,000) and a company linked to the Planet 13 dispensary ($15,000). 

The remaining two categories were the smallest of all: Nevada tribes, but only the Reno Sparks Indian Colony reported major campaign contributions with $30,500 across 37 legislators, while just seven agricultural donors combined for $10,950 (of which nearly half, $5,000, came from the PAC Nevadans for Families & Agriculture). 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent has published deep dives into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see any of the previous installments, follow the links below: 

Follow the Money: Tracking more than $330,000 in legislative campaign donations from the mining industry

Trucks at mine site.

As lawmakers pursued a historic increase to the mining industry’s tax burden, mining companies and industry PACs combined to contribute more than $330,000 to their campaigns over the course of the 2020 election cycle.

That sum represents a roughly 32 percent increase from the 2018 cycle, making mining one of the few industries to spend more money rather than less amid the pandemic-triggered economic downturn.

Industry spending vastly favored Republican lawmakers, who received almost three times as much money as their Democratic counterparts, a cumulative $243,000 to the Democrats’ $88,000. 

This spending came amid a backdrop of continued Democratic control of both legislative chambers — control that was weakened slightly by losses in a handful of competitive suburban districts. Republicans gained three seats in the 42-person Assembly and one in the 21-seat Senate, leaving the Democratic advantage at 26-16 and 12-9, respectively. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 178 contributions from 18 unique donors fell under the umbrella of mining corporations, PACs or related individuals. 

However, two lawmakers are not included in this analysis: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas). Both were appointed to fill legislative vacancies in February, after a freeze on legislative contributions had already begun ahead of the 2021 session. 

These numbers also do not include candidates who lost their race for the Legislature, and may not represent the total spent by a given donor in the last election, but rather only the amount they spent on winning candidates.  

As the cumulative totals might suggest, individual Republicans dominated the list of mining industry contributions. All but two of the top 15 mining recipients are Republicans, and of the 33 lawmakers who received just $5,000 or less in industry money, 26 were Democrats.  

Even so, with few mining donors spending money at all, the top mining recipients did not receive particularly large sums compared to other industries. The top fundraiser, Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno), raised $25,500 in mining contributions from five mining donors: Nevada Gold Mines ($10,000), the Nevada Mining Association ($5,500), Comstock Mining ($5,000), Kinross Gold USA ($3,000) and Coeur Mining ($2,000).  

Seevers Gansert was followed by Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) with $20,000; Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) with $17,500; Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) with $16,500; and Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) with $15,500. 

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson followed close behind with $14,500 raised, making him the only Democrat in the industry’s top 10 recipients and the lone Democrat to receive more than $10,000 in combined contributions. 

Overall, there were few mining related donors in 2020. Just 18 gave any money at all, and almost all of it was contributed by the biggest donors. 

The top three — Nevada Gold Mines, the Nevada Mining Association and Cortez Gold Mine (owned by Nevada Gold Mines) — alone combined for almost 76 percent of the $331,780 total, while the top-five combined for almost 90 percent of all industry money contributed last cycle. 

A joint venture between mining giants Barrick and Newmont, Nevada Gold Mines led all industry donors last cycle with $92,250 contributed across just 15 legislators. 

Unlike most major industry-specific donors, nearly all of Nevada Gold Mines’ contributions went to Republicans, who received $85,000 to the Democrats’ $7,250. That gulf is so vast and Nevada Gold Mines gave to so few lawmakers that the average Republican received more money ($7,727) than all four Democratic recipients combined. 

Also relatively unique in Nevada Gold Mines’ spending habits is the number of maximum contributions from the company. Nevada law limits donors to $5,000 per election (primary and general), for a total maximum contribution of $10,000 per cycle. 

Such maximums are relatively rare, even among major donors, who frequently spend the maximum once or twice on party leaders or vulnerable candidates in swing districts before spreading out smaller contributions across a wider pool of candidates. 

But Nevada Gold Mines contributed $10,000 to six lawmakers, all Republicans and all but one (Roberts) from Northern Nevada: Seevers Gansert, Roberts, Goicoechea, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno), Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) and Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks).  

Five other legislators — four Republicans and one Democrat — received $5,000, while the remaining three received $1,000 or less. 

Though formally the third-largest donor, contributions made by the Nevada Gold Mines-owned Cortez Gold Mine function as an extension of that joint-venture, and as a result, as an extension of Barrick and Newmont. The mine reported $74,500 in spending across 24 legislators, which, when combined with Nevada Gold Mines, raises the joint-spending by Barrick and Newmont last cycle to $166,750. 

That amount is slightly more than the $162,500 that Barrick and Newmont combined to spend on legislative elections in the 2018 midterms, before the creation of Nevada Gold Mines. 

Much like Nevada Gold Mines, most of the Cortez mine spending flowed to Republicans, who received $55,000 to the Democrats’ $19,500. With another handful of Republicans receiving the maximum from Cortez, the average split per party also vastly favored GOP lawmakers, who received an average of $5,500 to the Democrats’ $1,393. 

Those maximum contributions went to three Republicans — Hammond, Buck and Settelmeyer. Cortez otherwise gave $5,000 to five lawmakers (including two Democrats, Frierson and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), while the remaining 16 recipients received $2,500 or less. 

An industry association backed financially by a number of the state’s largest mining companies, the Nevada Mining Association combined to spend $85,500 across 41 legislators, or enough to make it the second-largest mining donor last cycle. 

The sum is a sizable increase from the PAC’s spending in 2018, when it gave just $56,250 in the aggregate. 

As an industry PAC, most of the association’s money came from the same companies contributing as their own entities. That includes Nevada Gold Mines (which gave the association $50,000), Newmont (which gave $20,000) and Coeur Mining ($10,000). 

Unlike other industry donors, the Nevada Mining Association split its money almost down the middle of the two parties, spending $43,000 on Democrats and $42,500 on Republicans. On average, the split was still fairly close, with the average Democrat receiving $2,150 to the average Republican’s $2,023.

The two biggest beneficiaries of that spending were legislative leaders, with Cannizzaro receiving $9,000 and Frierson following with $6,500. The association’s spending was otherwise largely diffuse, with five lawmakers receiving between $5,500 and $3,500, and the remaining 34 receiving $2,500 or less. 


Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: 

Nevada Democrats report $453,000 in March fundraising

Following intra-party turmoil over the election of party leaders backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, the Nevada Democratic Party raised nearly $453,000 in March, including more than $370,000 from small-dollar donors, according to the party’s disclosure filed late Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.

The state party also reported that it had more than $440,000 cash on hand at the end of the month. Ahead of the contested leadership election, the party had reported raising nearly $50,000 in February and more than $521,000 cash on hand.

The filing period encompasses the March 6 election of a slate of Democratic Socialist candidates, led by party Chair Judith Whitmer, who took over the party’s leadership and led to the mass resignation of the staff. It also includes the sudden transfer of $450,000 out of the party's coffers to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee just a few days prior to the vote, as establishment Democrats braced for a loss. 

Their election could make it difficult for Democratic candidates to deflect GOP criticism that Democrats are too liberal for the state. 

The party's efforts were boosted by fundraising emails from Congress' biggest progressive stars, namely Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Known for supporting substantial progressive reforms such as the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, the pair have joined other national progressives in becoming fodder for Republicans eager to cast all Democrats as socialists.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is up for re-election in 2022, recently said she supports capitalism when asked whether using Ocasio Cortez to raise funds bothered her. But Cortez Masto also said she expects Democrats to run winning campaigns up and down the Nevada ticket.

Follow the Money: Energy industry donors contributed more than $400,000 to lawmakers ahead of 2021 session

Amid continuing attempts by a Democratic-led Legislature to grapple with the effects of the energy industry on the climate, a handful of Nevada’s largest energy companies shelled out more than $401,000 to legislative campaigns through the 2020 cycle. 

That total was down roughly 19 percent compared to spending in the 2018 cycle, when the industry cumulatively spent almost $500,000. The drop was largely driven by a decrease in spending from statewide utility and energy giant NV Energy, which spent about 22 percent less this cycle compared to last, a difference of more than $47,500. 

This spending came as Democrats continued to hold on to control of both chambers of the Legislature, even as they lost a handful of seats across the board. Republicans gained one seat in the 21-person Senate and another three in the 42-seat Assembly, leaving the Democratic advantage at 12-9 and 26-16, respectively. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 348 individual contributions from 15 donors fell under the umbrella of energy corporations, individuals or related PACs. 

However, two legislators are not included in this analysis: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas). Both were appointed to legislative vacancies in February, a point at which contributions to lawmakers had already been frozen ahead of the start of the legislative session. 

These numbers also do not include candidates who lost their race for the Legislature, and may not represent the total spent by a given donor in the last election, but rather the amount they spent on winning candidates only. 

Though the money contributed by the energy industry was largely evenly distributed across almost every single sitting legislator (only one, Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks), did not report receiving energy-related contributions), legislative leaders continued to be among the biggest recipients of industry contributions. 

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) once again led the way with $28,500, followed closely by her Assembly counterpart, Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), who received $27,250. 

Three other lawmakers received sums in excess of $15,000, including Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) with $19,300; Sen. Chris Brooks with $19,000 and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), also with $19,000. 

Other reported totals were generally small. Six lawmakers reported between $11,250 and $10,400 in energy contributions, while the remaining 49 reported $9,750 or less. 

NV Energy, despite the spending decrease this cycle, was still by-far the largest single energy donor with more than $167,000 spread across the campaign of nearly every lawmaker elected last year. 

That money comes from an industry dominated like few others by just a handful of corporate or PAC-related interests. 

Alone, NV Energy’s sum amounts to almost 42 percent of all industry money contributed through the 2020 cycle. But combined with the next four closest donors — Southwest Gas ($124,000), Ormat Nevada ($37,500), Valley Electric Association ($28,500) and the Nevadans for Reliable, Renewable and Affordable Energy PAC ($16,000) — the share of the total contributed by the top donors alone rises to more than 93 percent of all industry contributions. 

This is explained in part because there were few energy-related donors — just 15 in total. Among them, the lowest 10 combined for less than 7 percent of overall spending, contributing a combined $27,700. 

Spread across 56 legislators, the utility’s $167,500 in spending widely favored Democrats both in the aggregate and on average. Overall, NV Energy gave a cumulative $126,000 to legislative Democrats, compared to just $41,500 for Republicans. Averaged to account for the Democrats’ numerical advantage in the Legislature, the utility still spent about 70 percent more on Democrats than Republicans, $3,500 to $2,075. 

At the top of the list of NV Energy’s contributions are Frierson and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), a longtime renewable energy advocate who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, each of whom received the $10,000 maximum.

Two other Democrats, Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), followed with $7,500 each, and the remaining 52 legislators received just $5,500 or less. 

Second only to NV Energy, Las Vegas-based utility Southwest Gas was among a handful of donors to increase its contributions in 2020 en route to spending $124,000 on 54 legislators — a jump of about 23 percent compared to 2018. 

Much of that spending went to Democrats in the aggregate, who as a group received $74,250 to the Republicans’ $49,750. However, the average Republican received slightly more than Democratic counterparts, $2,487 to $2,184. 

Much of that average difference stemmed from a $10,000 contribution to Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), the only lawmaker to see the maximum allowed amount from Southwest Gas. 

Other major recipients include Cannizzaro with $7,000, Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert with $6,000 and Monroe-Moreno with $5,000. The remaining 50 lawmakers saw $4,500 or less. 

The largest of the “small” energy donors last cycle, Ormat Nevada — the Nevada subsidiary of renewables company Ormat Technologies — spent $37,500 across 45 legislators, a sharp 25 percent dip from the $50,500 it spent in 2018.

Like the rest of the industry, Ormat’s donations — though generally small — still favored Democrats in the aggregate. Democrats combined to receive $26,000 to the Republicans’ $11,500, or a difference on average of $897 for Democrats and $719 for Republicans. 

Unlike the major utilities, Ormat did not spend any large amounts on any single candidate, instead spreading its money in comparatively small amounts over several dozen lawmakers. 

Still, Cannizzaro and Frierson led the pack with $2,500 a piece. Four others received $1,500 — Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks), Gansert and Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) — while the remaining 39 received just $1,000 or less. 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: 

Cortez Masto, Lee top prior first-quarter fundraising tallies as congressional campaigns eye 2022 midterms

Congressional representatives across the state reported race-leading fundraising hauls this week, positioning each with an early money advantage more than a year in advance of next summer’s primary elections. 

Leading all fundraising was Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV), who reported more than $2.3 million in fundraising ahead of what is expected to be a competitive re-election bid. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who is not up for reelection until 2024, reported $341,794.

In the House, District 3 Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) led the state’s delegation with $607,407 raised through the first quarter; District 4’s Steven Horsford (D-NV) followed with $363,210; District 2’s Mark Amodei (R-NV) reported $77,749; and District 1’s Dina Titus (D-NV) reported $48,080.

With so much time left before the formal filing deadline for congressional elections next spring, the field of challengers in each district remains relatively small. Even so, two Republican challengers in the state’s two swing districts reported six-figure fundraising hauls, including Sam Peters in District 4 ($135,000) and April Becker in District 3 ($143,000).

Below are some additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate, broken down by district from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) — incumbent

Ahead of her first-ever bid for re-election as a U.S. senator and as Democrats prepare to defend their razor-thin margin in the Senate, Cortez Masto reported $2.3 million in fundraising, boosting her cash on hand by roughly 55 percent to nearly $4.7 million. 

A vast majority of that money, about $1.8 million, came from individual donors, including roughly $1.35 million in itemized contributions and $460,000 in small-dollar unitemized donations. Cortez Masto also raised an even $349,000 from PACs, more than $51,000 from political party committees and nearly $86,500 from other fundraising committee transfers.  

With a fundraising total orders of magnitude larger than any other candidate in Nevada through the first quarter, Cortez Masto also has by far the most individual donors of the entire field with thousands of itemized contributions reported, including several dozen contributions of the legal maximum. 

By law, individuals can contribute up to $2,900 per candidate per election (i.e. for the primary and for the general) in federal elections, while PACs and other committees can contribute up to $5,000 per election. Major donors will often contribute that maximum twice, once for the primary and again for the general, up front, giving candidates between $5,800 and $10,000.

Among the many donors who maxed out their contribution to Cortez Masto were a handful of Nevada regulars, including businessman and major Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,900 in the first quarter, $5,800 overall) and MGM Resorts International ($5,000).

With nearly $663,000 spent this quarter, no Nevada politician came close to Cortez Masto in outlays. Most of that money, $382,206, went to nine firms involved in fundraising operations, including mailers ($213,406) and online ($168,800). 

Jacky Rosen (D) — incumbent

With more than three years before she’ll face voters again, Rosen reported a comparatively modest $341,794 in contributions last quarter, but her campaign has more than $1.85 million in cash on hand. 

Of that money, most ($226,165) came from individual contributions, with the rest flowing largely from PACs ($14,000) and authorized committee transfers ($97,600).

Among the several dozen donors giving Rosen the legal maximum were Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun ($5,800) and his wife, Myra Greenspun ($5,800); Niraj Shah, CEO of the furniture retailer Wayfair ($2,900); and a leadership PAC linked to former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, the Seeking Justice PAC ($5,000).  

Most of the $137,000 spent by Rosen was for regular operating expenditures, though her campaign twice spent $5,000 for online advertising from New York-based firm Assemble the Agency. 

A district that covers much of the southern half of Clark County, including some of the Las Vegas metro’s wealthiest suburbs, District 3 has switched hands between the two major parties three times since its creation in 2002. 

For three cycles, that control has been maintained by Democrats, following a narrow win by Rosen in 2016, and subsequent victories by Lee in 2018 and 2020. Still, a narrow victory in the district by Donald Trump in 2016 and small voter registration gaps have marked District 3 as one of a few-dozen nationwide that may become key to deciding which party controls the House after the 2022 midterms.

Susie Lee (D) — incumbent

Frequently the top-fundraiser among Nevada’s House delegation, Susie Lee continued her streak last quarter with $607,407 in contributions. After Lee largely depleted her campaign reserves in a pricey bid to keep her seat last year, that first-quarter fundraising has left her campaign with just over $484,000 in cash on hand. 

Nearly all of that money — $493,070 — came from individual contributions, with the remaining $114,000 coming from big-money PAC contributions. 

Among those individual donors were several dozen contributing the $2,900 maximum. Those big money donors were largely local business leaders — including Cashman Equipment CEO MaryKaye Cashman, MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle and former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren — though the group also included television showrunner and producer Shonda Rhimes.

Among PACs that contributed the $5,000 maximum were a mix of business interests (including PACs related to Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International), and unions (including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and SMART, the sheet metal and transportation workers union, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.) 

Lee reported spending nearly $146,000 last quarter, an amount second only to Cortez Masto among the delegation members. Most of that money went to campaign consulting and staffing costs, with the single largest chunk — $32,000 spread over five payments — going to Washington, D.C.-based digital consulting firm Break Something. 

April Becker (R)

After her unsuccessful run for the Legislature in 2020, attorney April Becker is challenging Susie Lee (D) for her seat in Congress. In the first quarter of 2021, Becker raised $143,444 mostly from individual contributors. 

Becker received $2,000 from PACs, such as the Stronger Nevada PAC and (although not officially endorsed by) the campaigns for fellow Republican politicians, former Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei. 

Several of her big individual contributors included family members; donations from individuals with the last name Becker totaled $29,500, nearly a fifth of the total contributions. Local business owners also contributed to Becker, including some car dealership owners: $5,000 from Gary Ackerman of Gaudin Motor Company; Cliff Findlay and Donna Findlay of Findlay Automotive each donated the maximum of $2,900, totaling $5,800; and Donald Forman of United Nissan Vegas gave $5,800.  

Co-owners of the Innovative Pain Care Center, Melissa and Daniel Burkhead, each gave $5,800 totaling $11,600. Other contributors included several medical professionals, real estate investors and attorneys.

In the first quarter, Becker kept most of the money collected, $131,460, reporting spending only $11,983 on more fundraising efforts. 

Mark Robertson (R)

Also hoping to challenge Susie Lee, Army veteran Mark Robertson raised $61,631 in his first time running for a political seat. The sum includes $7,451 he loaned his campaign.  

Although he collected less than half than Becker in the first quarter, retirees were large contributors to his campaign, some nearly reaching the $5,800 maximum for both the primary and general elections. 

Several local architects, engineers and construction contractors were also among the contributors, including $5,000 combined from Kenneth and Michelle Alber of Penta Building Group, $3,000 from Brock Krahenbuhl, a contractor for GTI Landscape and $3,000 from Wayne Horlacher of Horrock Engineers. 

Robertson reported spending $25,148, including $5,250 on campaign consulting, $3,138 on office supplies and $3,270 on video and print advertising production services. After the expenditures, Robertson is left with $44,034 cash on hand. 

A geographically massive district — larger than some states — that encompasses parts of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and much of the state’s central rural counties, District 4 has been held by Democrats for all but one cycle since its creation in 2011. That exception came in 2014, when Republican Cresent Hardy unseated then-freshman Democrat Steven Horsford in an upset. 

Horsford retook the seat in 2018, defeating Hardy in an open race after incumbent Democrat Ruben Kihuen declined to mount his own re-election bid amid a sexual harassment investigation. Horsford later won re-election in 2020, beating Republican Jim Marchant by 5 percentage points. 

Steven Horsford (D) — incumbent

With $363,209 in reported fundraising, Horsford boosted his campaign war chest by more than 50 percent last quarter, lifting his cash on hand to $757,142. 

That fundraising was driven mostly by $205,883 in individual contributions, though Horsford also brought in a much larger share of PAC contributions ($157,251) than his delegation counterparts.

Among Horsford’s single-largest contributors was Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun and his wife, Myra, who both contributed the $2,900 maximum for the primary and general elections, or $11,600 combined. 

Horsford’s biggest PAC contributions came from a mix of political committees linked to the Democratic Party, unions and corporations. That includes $10,000 from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC (of which Horsford is a member), $5,000 from the public employees union AFSCME and $5,000 from MGM Resorts International.   

A vast majority of the $102,000 spent by Horsford’s campaign last quarter went to operating costs, salaries and consultants, though — like his fellow incumbents — a sizable portion ($21,000) still flowed to a pair of fundraising and finance compliance consultants. 

Sam Peters (R)

After finishing second in last year’s Republican primary for District 4, veteran and local business owner Sam Peters led Republican fundraising efforts in the district this quarter. Peters’ campaign raised more than $135,000, which came entirely from individual contributions.

Those contributions were driven largely by retirees, as two-thirds of the 100 big-money contributions over $200 came from donors listing themselves as retired. Peters’ campaign was also boosted by a few maximum or near-maximum donations, including $5,800 from Frank Suryan Jr., CEO of Lyon Living, a residential development company based in Newport Beach, California, and $5,800 from Suryan’s spouse.

After spending a little more than $24,000, mostly on campaign consulting and fundraising services, Peters ended the quarter with nearly $115,000 in cash on hand, nearly double the amount he had at the end of the first quarter of 2021.

A district that includes Reno and much of rural Northern Nevada, District 2 has for two cycles been the only federal seat in Nevada still held by a Republican. The one-time seat of former Sen. Dean Heller and former Gov. Jim Gibbons, both Republicans, the seat has been held by incumbent Republican Mark Amodei since 2011, when he defeated Democrat Kate Marshall in a special election to replace the outgoing Heller. 

Mark Amodei (R) — incumbent

After Amodei spent close to a thousand dollars more than he raised through the first three months of 2021, his campaign war chest sits at $323,347 entering the second quarter.

His fundraising of nearly $78,000 came largely from big-money contributions totaling more than $50,000, including roughly 30 donations between $1,000 and $2,000. But Amodei was also boosted by several maximum or near-maximum donations from Margaret Cavin, owner of plumbing company J&J Mechanical in Reno ($5,600), and Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research ($5,800).

Amodei’s fundraising was also boosted by a few large contributions from political committees, including $5,000 donations from PACs affiliated with MGM Resorts International and New York Life Insurance, $3,500 from a PAC affiliated with the aerospace company Sierra Nevada Corporation and $2,500 from Barrick Gold, a mining company.

Amodei’s spending was distributed across a wide range of categories, as he spent $7,625 on radio advertising, $4,000 on campaign consulting, nearly $20,000 on fundraising consulting, $12,750 on accounting services and more than $7,500 on meals and entertainment for contributor relations — including nearly $700 paid to cigar companies and more than $2,000 spent at Trattoria Alberto, an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Located in the urban center of Las Vegas, the deep blue District 1 has been held by incumbent Democratic Rep. Dina Titus since 2012. Titus won the seat after losing a previous re-election bid in nearby District 3 in 2010, which she had held for one term after a win over Republican Rep. Joe Heck in 2008.

Dina Titus (D) — incumbent

With no clear challengers in the district, Titus finished the first quarter with the least money raised of any Nevada incumbent — she received $48,080, which was $1.85 less than she raised through the same period last year.

More than half of those funds were given by four PACs that contributed a combined $25,000. The American Institute of Architects’ PAC, a PAC associated with the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC gave $5,000 each, a pro-Israel PAC called Desert Caucus donated $10,000.

Titus also received $14,280 from individuals, including a $1,000 contribution from former Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin and a maximum contribution of $5,800 from Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research.

After spending $37,000 in the quarter, Titus brought her cash on hand total to almost $340,000.

Rep. Steven Horsford announces $363,000 in first quarter fundraising

The campaign for Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford announced $363,000 in first-quarter fundraising Tuesday, an amount that lifts his campaign war chest to more than $750,000 through the first three months of the midterm election cycle. 

Those total receipts exceed the $309,000 Horsford raised in the first quarter of 2020, though it falls slightly short of the $370,000 he raised in the same time period in 2019. It also comes a distant second to funds raised by fellow Southern Nevada Democrat Susie Lee, whose campaign announced yesterday that she had raised more than $600,000 through the first quarter. 

Even so, the three-quarters of a million Horsford now maintains in cash on hand is more than double the $309,000 he had at this point last cycle. 

Horsford’s campaign touted in a release Tuesday that more than 1,240 donors contributed to his fundraising last quarter, with a median donation of just $10. Still, ahead of the public filing of campaign finance reports later this week with the Federal Election Commission, it is unclear how much of his fundraising came from PACs or other major donors. 

Horsford was originally elected to represent District 4 — which includes the northern half of metropolitan Las Vegas as well as a handful of counties in the state’s rural center — in 2012, following the district’s creation in a year prior. 

After losing the seat to Republican Cresent Hardy in 2014, Horsford returned in 2018 after incumbent Democrat Ruben Kihuen declined to run for re-election amid allegations of sexual harassment. 

Horsford won re-election last year by a margin of 4.9 percentage points over former Assemblyman Jim Marchant, his narrowest margin of victory in the district so far. That margin, coupled with Republican victory in the district in 2014, will likely once again mark Horsford’s seat as one of several dozen targets for Republicans eager to take control of the House in 2022. 

Follow the Money: Tracking more than $607,000 in legislative campaign contributions from lawyers, legal groups

With nearly a quarter of the Legislature holding legal day jobs or with a J.D. on their wall, it comes as little surprise that law firms, legal groups and lawyers contributed more than $607,000 to legislative campaigns last cycle.

It was enough to make lawyers the seventh biggest “industry” in terms of legislative campaign contributions, though, amid the pandemic, it was still a slight drop from the $630,000 the group gave lawmakers in the 2018 cycle

These contributions favored Democrats by a margin of more than 3-to-1, likely buoying some Democratic campaigns in an election that saw the party’s hold on the Legislature slightly erode. 

Though Democrats maintained control of both chambers, Republicans gained one seat in the 21-person Senate and another three in the 42-seat Assembly. They trail 12-9 in the Senate, and 26-16 in the Assembly. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending in that period, and more generally show to whom the largest contributions flowed and how much they were worth overall. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 540 contributions from 172 contributors broadly fell under the umbrella of “lawyers and legal groups.” 

However, two legislators are not included in this analysis: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas). They were both appointed to fill vacancies in February, after contributions to lawmakers were frozen ahead of the start of the legislative session. 

Contributions overall favored Democrats $470,451 to the Republicans’ $136,880 — with Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), a deputy district attorney in Las Vegas, leading the way with $48,581 in legal-industry contributions. 

Unlike many of Cannizzaro’s major donors in other industries, however, no top donor gave her campaign the $10,000 maximum allowed under Nevada campaign finance law. The firm Lewis Roca led all of Cannizzaro’s legal donors with a $7,000 contribution, though the firm Holland & Hart gave $6,500 and four others gave $5,000.

Other top recipients were largely Democrats, including Assemblywoman and attorney Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson) with $45,800; Assembly Speaker and public defender Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) with $45,250; and Assemblyman and attorney Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) with $30,500.

Only one Republican (and the only non-lawyer among the top recipients), Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-Reno), made the top-five recipients with $29,450, and no other Republicans cracked the top 10. 

Unlike some other major industries, contributions from lawyers, law firms and legal groups were generally diffuse. Only six lawmakers received more than $20,000, with a median haul of $7,750.

Though the total amounts of legal donations received by lawmakers remained comparatively small, several of the biggest industry donors gave so much that they were among the biggest legislative donors of the entire cycle. 

That includes the top three donors — the trial lawyer’s PAC Citizens for Justice ($203,500) and the firms Lewis Roca ($103,000) and Kaempfer Crowell ($60,250). 

Together, those three donors combined for more than 60 percent of all legal or law firm money contributed last cycle. Expanded to the top 10 donors, big-money contributions greater than $5,000 accounted for nearly 79 percent of all industry donations. 

In all, the remaining 162 smallest donors gave $128,081 in the aggregate, or about 21 percent of the total. 

A trial lawyer PAC founded as a means to oppose corporate backed efforts at “tort reform” meant to restrict jury trials in civil cases, Citizens for Justice is often among the biggest legislative donors of any industry in any given electoral cycle. 

2020 was no different, as the PAC doled out more than $203,000 to 36 legislators. That money widely favored Democrats, who received $180,000 to the Republicans’ $23,500 in the aggregate, or a per-lawmaker average of $6,206 to just $2,257. 

Almost half of the total, $90,000, came in maximum contributions to nine different Assembly Democrats, including six lawyers — Frierson, Flores, Marzola, Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson) and Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) — and three non-lawyers: Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas).

Three more lawmakers, all Assembly Democrats, received $7,500, while the remaining 24 received $6,000 or less, with a median total of $5,000.

A large regional law firm with offices in five western states, including Nevada, Lewis Roca (formerly Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie) was among the top donors in any industry last cycle with $103,000 contributed across 55 legislators, though almost all of it came in comparatively small amounts. 

Those contributions also widely favored Democrats, who received about 2.8 times more than Republicans in the aggregate, $76,000 to $27,000. On average, it amounted to $2,171 for Democrats, and $1,350 for Republicans. 

No single lawmaker received the maximum amount from Lewis Roca, though Democratic leaders Frierson ($9,000) and Cannizzaro ($7,000) did receive substantially more than most other recipients. One legislator, Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, received $5,500, while the remaining 52 recipients received $4,000 or less.  

A Nevada-based firm with offices in Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City, Kaempfer Crowell gave legislators $60,250 in total last cycle, enough to make it the third largest legal donor with almost twice as much spent compared to the next-nearest donor. 

Like the rest of the industry, Kaempfer Crowell’s contributions favored Democrats, who received $39,000 in total compared to $21,250 for the Republicans. The difference was much smaller on average, however, with Democrats receiving just $1,258 to the Republicans’ $1,118. 

The firm’s contributions were universally small, in comparison to other major donors, and no lawmaker saw more than the $3,000-each given to Cannizzaro and Frierson. Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) followed with $2,500, though the remaining 47 recipients received $2,000 or less, including 24 recipients who received less than $1,000. 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: 

Rep. Susie Lee reports raising more than $600,000 through first quarter of 2021

Susie Lee at a podium wearing a blue shirt

In the months after securing her second term in Congress last year, Democratic Rep. Susie Lee’s campaign announced more than $600,000 in first quarter fundraising Monday, raising her cash on hand to nearly $500,000. 

Lee, who represents the swingy District 3 in Clark County has for years been among the top congressional fundraisers in Nevada as she has sought to win or defend her seat in two competitive elections. But her reported tally last quarter tops the same period in 2019, when she reported a haul of $450,000.

Her cash on hand also exceeds the first quarter of 2019, when she reported roughly $408,000 in her campaign war chest. 

The total falls short of Lee’s peak fundraising during the height of the election cycle last year, though; she reported raising more than $700,000 in the second quarter of 2020. 

Lee’s campaign touted “grassroots support” in the announcement Monday, noting a median contribution of $23.50 from more than 1,200 donors. However, until campaign finance documents filed to the Federal Election Commission are made public later this week, it remains unclear what percentage of Lee’s total came from small-money donors, or whether contributions came in response to certain events, such as the Jan. 6 insurrection or the inauguration of President Joe Biden. 

In a 2020 election when House Democrats took a drubbing nationwide, losing 13 seats even as Biden won the White House, Lee won her own race for District 3 by nearly 3 percentage points — far more than the 0.2 percent winning margin secured in the district by Biden.

District 3, among the most competitive House seats in the country, will likely remain a target for Republicans next year, even amid possible efforts by Democrats to firm up advantages in the district through the coming redistricting process. With more than a year to go before the 2022 primary, two Republican candidates — Mark Robertson and April Becker — have already announced bids for the seat.

Follow the Money: Breaking down more than $769,000 in gaming-industry spending on legislative campaigns

Amid the most dire threat to casino profits in the history of the Las Vegas Strip, a gaming industry hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic still gave more than $769,000 to 52 state lawmakers over the course of the 2020 campaign cycle. 

Even so, the effect of the pandemic on campaign spending was clear: Industry campaign contributions dropped by roughly 52 percent compared to the $1.6 million spent in 2018, and almost 60 percent compared to the $1.9 million spent in 2016. 

Among some donors, that drop was even steeper. MGM Resorts International has for years been by far the largest single gaming donor, contributing upwards of $340,000 on average, of which more than two-thirds usually went to Democrats. 

But in 2020 — in the midst of the pandemic, land sales and a broader restructuring — MGM gave just $42,000 across its properties and subsidiaries. It’s a drop of roughly 88 percent compared to 2018, and it puts the casino giant in the same spending realm as Boyd Gaming ($58,000); the Meruelo Group, which owns the Sahara in Las Vegas and the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno ($52,500); and Golden Entertainment, which owns the STRAT and PT’s Pubs, among other casino properties ($44,750).  

These spending trends come as a backdrop to the electoral reality of the 2020 cycle. Though Democrats continued control of both houses of the Legislature — extending their state government trifecta for another two years — Republican gains chipped away at the edges of that majority. Republicans gained one seat in the Senate, where they now trail 12-9, and another three in the Assembly, where they are behind 26-16. 

In order to assess broad trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending in that period, and more generally show to whom the largest contributions flowed and how much they were worth overall. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 276 contributions from 43 donors fell under the umbrella of the gaming industry. 

However, it is important to note that because parent companies often contribute to the same candidates through multiple subsidiaries — a process that effectively allows the largest companies to sidestep legal limits on maximum campaign contributions — this analysis treats those contributions as if they came from the parent company in order to simplify overall spending trends.

Also of note, two legislators are excluded from this analysis: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas). Both were appointed in February by the Clark County Commission to fill legislative vacancies, a point at which contributions to lawmakers had already been frozen ahead of the start of the legislative session. 

Though 53 legislators reported receiving at least some money from the gaming industry last cycle, a vast majority of it went to just five lawmakers: Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert ($161,000), Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro ($106,500), Sen. Carrie Buck ($63,500), Sen. Scott Hammond ($60,500) and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson ($59,500). 

Together, those five combined to receive $451,000 in gaming contributions, or about 59 percent of all the money donated by the industry last cycle. 

Based on broader trends in campaign fundraising, it comes as little surprise that these five legislators are the biggest fundraisers, as they all were either in highly competitive elections (such as Gansert (R-Reno), Buck (R-Las Vegas) and Hammond (R-Las Vegas)) or were expected to reprise a role in leadership (such as Frierson (D-Las Vegas) — or both (Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). 

Still, no legislator saw as much gaming money as Gansert, whose $161,000 was more than a fifth of all gaming contributions. Most of that money came in the form of large contributions from the biggest gaming operators, including $30,000 from companies linked to Las Vegas Sands; $20,000 each from Station Casinos properties and companies linked to Marnell Gaming; $17,500 from Golden Entertainment and its subsidiary, American Casino and Entertainment Properties; and $10,000 each from Peppermill Casinos, the Meruelo Group, Caesars Entertainment and Boyd Gaming. 

Outside the top five, legislators generally saw little in the way of gaming contributions. 37 of the remaining 47 recipients received less than $10,000, and the median legislative fundraising haul from these gaming donors was just $4,500. 

While most industries will have a handful of individual donors contributing a plurality, or even majority of the campaign money, the gaming industry was unique in that it was functionally dominated by the top-10 donors, who combined for nearly 88 percent of all the industry money contributed last cycle. 

This is partly because of the construction of this analysis. Contributions by properties or LLCs owned by a parent company — such as the ownership of the Venetian by Las Vegas Sands or the Sahara by the Meruelo Group — were counted under the single umbrella of the parent company.  

However, the greater determining factor is simply the increased degree to which the largest gaming companies use their subsidiaries to donate $10,000 maximum contributions to the same candidates. In all, parent companies for Las Vegas Sands, Station Casinos, MGM Resorts International and Golden Entertainment all saw subsidiary companies contribute in combined amounts that exceeded $10,000 for at least one candidate. 

Similar spending patterns are relatively rare across other industries, where the mechanisms for spending in excess of that maximum are usually beyond the scope of most donors. Of note, only one other major donor — Nevada REALTORS — contributed more than $10,000 to one candidate, though it did so through a trio of PACs, not corporate entities. 

By far the single-largest industry donor and among the largest donors of the entire cycle, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and two of its subsidiaries, the Venetian Resort and the Sands Expo Convention Center, gave $161,000 to just 13 lawmakers last cycle. 

Even so, that total is a far cry from spending by the Sands in 2018 and 2016, when it doled out $240,000 and $310,500, respectively. 

That spending could also represent a final salvo for the company in Nevada politics, where it has long been among the biggest donors under the stewardship of billionaire founder and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Widely known for his status as a Republican mega-donor on the national stage, Adelson died in January following a lengthy illness, and the company has since sold its Las Vegas properties for $6.25 billion as it signaled an exit from the Strip and a focus on foreign markets.

Most of the Sands’ contributions flowed to state Republicans, with $30,000 each going to Sen. Scott Hammond, Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert and Sen. Carrie Buck. Some Democrats did see major contributions from Sands companies, however, including Cannizzaro ($30,000), Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) ($10,000) and Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas)($10,000). 

One lawmaker, Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) received $5,000, though the remaining six — a group of five Republicans and one Democrat, all in the Assembly — received just $2,500. 

With $116,000 contributed across 41 legislators from a handful of different properties, Station Casinos was one of few gaming donors to actually contribute more in 2020 than it did in 2018, when it only gave $108,500. 

Station Casinos’ spending clearly favored legislative Republicans, who received $66,500 to the Democrats’ $49,500. On average, it meant individual Republicans received about 55 percent more than their Democratic counterparts, $3,500 to $2,250. 

Station Casinos’ single largest recipient was Gansert, who received $20,000 in the aggregate. One other lawmaker, Cannizzaro, received more than the maximum ($10,500), while another two — Buck and Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) —  received $10,000 even. 

Most other recipients generally received far less, however, and 32 lawmakers who received at least some money from Station Casinos properties saw $2,500 or less. 

Contributing $108,000 across 40 lawmakers, Caesars Entertainment was another gaming donor that saw contributions tick up in a dire 2020. In comparison, the company gave legislators $92,000 in the aggregate in 2018, making Caesars just the eighth-largest industry donor at the time. 

Though spending from Caesars slightly favored Democrats overall — $56,500 to the Republicans’ $51,500 — individual Republicans still received more money on average, $3,218 to the Democrats’ $2,354. 

Three lawmakers, Frierson, Gansert and Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas), received the $10,000 maximum, while another three, Cannizzaro ($8,500), Hammond ($7,000) and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) ($7,000), saw larger-than-average contributions. 

Most recipients received far smaller amounts, however, including 32 legislators who saw $2,500 or less. 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: 

Follow the Money: Breaking down more than $840,000 in legislative campaign contributions from business interests

The Legislature on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session in Carson City.

Amid a pandemic year that stalled the Las Vegas economy and severely tested the bottom lines of businesses small and large, chambers of commerce and other business interests gave 61 of 63 Nevada lawmakers more than $840,000 in the 2020 election cycle.  

That amount is a sharp increase from the 2018 midterms, where the same group of donors gave just $682,000 overall, and it represents a drastic reversal in party preference. 

In 2018, business-related contributors widely favored legislative Democrats ($400,000 in combined contributions) to Republicans ($282,000). But in 2020, with a handful of Republican challengers unseating Democratic incumbents, the totals have flipped. Sitting Republican lawmakers combined to receive nearly $520,000, compared to roughly $322,000 for Democrats. 

Democrats extended their control of both houses of the Legislature last cycle, though Republicans picked up one seat in the Senate, where they trail 12-9, and three in the Assembly, where they are behind 26-16. 

In order to assess board trends in campaign spending, The Nevada Independent categorized and analyzed more than 7,700 individual contributions of more than $200 made to sitting lawmakers in 2019 and 2020. 

These contributions capture nearly all campaign spending in that period, and more generally show to who the largest contributions flowed and how much they were worth overall. 

The data in this story show only a slice of the campaign finance pie: 617 contributions from 189 unique donors fell under the umbrella of “business” — a catch-all category in our analysis used to measure donors who might not otherwise fit neatly into other industries. 

However, two legislators are excluded from this analysis, both appointed to their seats following a freeze on legislative campaign contributions: Sen. Fabian Donate (D-Las Vegas), appointed to fill the seat of former Sen. Yvanna Cancela after her departure for a position in the Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services; and Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas), who was appointed to replace Assemblyman Alexander Assefa after he resigned amid a criminal investigation into campaign finance misuse and a residency issue. 

No single lawmaker was a bigger recipient of business-related contributions than Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno), who banked $100,150 from 48 individual contributors. That sum includes three donations of the $10,000 maximum from UFC parent company Zuffa, California businessman Dennis Troesh and the Sparks-based plumbing supply company Western Nevada Supply. 

Gansert was followed by Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas), who received $79,250; Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), who received $65,000; Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) with $62,000; Assemblyman Andy Matthews (R-Las Vegas) with $58,400; and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) with $55,700. 

In comparison, most other lawmakers received relatively little from the same group of donors. Of the remaining 55 lawmakers who reported at least one business-related contribution, 39 received $10,000 or less in total, a group that includes 30 Democrats and nine Republicans. 

Most business-related contributions were disproportionately concentrated among a handful of the biggest donors, with just the top-10 contributors combining for more than 52 percent of the $840,000 total.  

Even so, only one donor, Zuffa, spent six figures, while just one other, the Vegas Chamber, spent more than $50,000 — comparatively small amounts in an election that saw more than $10.6 million in overall contributions. 

A sports promotion company founded by Station Casinos’ CEO Frank Fertitta III as the parent company for UFC, Zuffa is frequently among the largest single donors of any given election cycle. In 2020, that support amounted to $128,000 across 40 legislators, enough to make the company the sixth biggest legislative donor in the entire election, among all industries. 

That amount also more than doubles the company’s spending from last cycle, which totaled just $51,750.  

Much of the money was concentrated among 28 Democrats, who received $89,000 compared to just $39,000 spread across 12 Republicans. Those amounts nearly equalize on average, however, with the average Republican receiving $3,250 to the average Democrats’ $3,178.

Like most major donors, many of Zuffa’s top recipients were a mix of legislators either locked in highly competitive reelection campaigns, in positions of legislative leadership, or both. 

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) and Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) all received the $10,000 maximum, while Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) followed behind with $8,000 and $7,500, respectively. 

Zuffa’s other recipients generally received far less, with seven lawmakers receiving $5,000, and the remaining 28 receiving $3,500 or less. 

The largest chamber of commerce in the state, the Vegas Chamber (formerly known as and often referred to in campaign finance filings as the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce) led all business groups in contributions with $74,000 across 29 lawmakers, or about 8.8 percent of business-related contributions made last year. 

That combined total represents a small dip compared to spending last cycle, when the chamber led all business donors with more than $88,000 in contributions. 

A slight majority of that money went to Republicans — $39,000 to the Democrats’ $35,000 — though Democratic lawmakers received slightly more on average, $2,692 to the Republicans’ $2,437.

Most of the chamber’s contributions were fairly small, averaging out to roughly $2,500 overall. Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, the chair of the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee, was the only legislator to see a maximum $10,000 contribution from the Vegas Chamber. 

Carlton was followed by Hammond, who received $6,500, and four lawmakers — Cannizzaro, Frierson, Gansert and Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Las Vegas) — who received $5,000. Of the remaining 23 recipients, none received more than $3,500. 

Waste management company Republic Services — contributing under its Nevada-based subsidiary Republic Silver State Disposal Inc. — gave more than $46,000 to 42 legislators, a slight reduction from spending in 2018, when the company gave lawmakers nearly $58,000 combined. 

Overall, the company’s contributions vastly favored Democrats, who combined to receive $32,750 to the Republicans’ $13,500. Those differences also remained in the average contributions, with Democrats receiving $1,310 to the Republicans’ $794. 

Unlike most other top donors last cycle, Republic Services’ contributions were relatively small. Just two legislators — Frierson ($7,500) and Cannizzaro ($5,000) — received more than $2,000, while 20 other recipients received just $500.

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

As part of our Follow the Money series The Nevada Independent will be publishing deep dives over the coming weeks into the industries that dominated legislative campaign spending in the 2020 campaign cycle. To see previous installments, follow the links below: