GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham looking to attend Laxalt Basque Fry as former AG eyes Senate race

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Wednesday he hopes to attend former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s Basque Fry in August as Senate Republicans hope to win back the majority in the midterm elections by focusing on conservative issues that they argue resonate with Latinos in Nevada and other swing states.

“I’m looking at that,” Graham said. “I don’t know if I can make it. Adam’s a good guy and would be a good candidate for us out there.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, would not rule out attending.

So far, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is the only confirmed Republican senator set to attend. Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) said he was invited but can’t make it due to his schedule. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he has no plans to attend. Both have attended in the past. 

Laxalt, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, is considering running against Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), who is seeking re-election after her first term in office. 

Scott confirmed that he had spoken with Laxalt, former Sen. Dean Heller and other potential candidates that he would not name. Heller now appears to be laying the groundwork to run for governor.  

“I've talked to quite a few people in Nevada,” Scott said. “Ultimately, it's a personal decision whether people want to run or not.”

President Joe Biden won Nevada by just two percentage points and the NRSC is eyeing Cortez Masto’s seat as it looks to pick up the one seat Republicans need to break the Senate’s 50-50 party split. For the moment, Democrats control the chamber through Vice President Kamala Harris, who can break tie votes. 

On Thursday, the NRSC released a poll conducted in Spanish of 1,200 Latino voters in eight swing states, including Nevada, that it believes shows that Latinos are allied with the GOP on issues such as immigration and capitalism. 

While the poll only included 300 Latinos from Nevada, Scott argued that the survey shows that the GOP can connect with Latinos and win them over. That's something Scott prides himself in doing after winning a close Senate race in 2018. Scott beat his Democratic opponent by 10,033 votes.

“If you look at this poll, they're like a typical Republican,” Scott said Wednesday. “They're aspirational. They have a faith in God. They care about freedom. They care about opportunity. They're not into big government. They want the rule of law, and they want good schools. That's a Republican.”

Jazmin Vargas, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said that the poll didn’t reflect the unpopularity of Republicans’ policies with Latinos. She cited Republican opposition to the American Rescue Plan, which was enacted in March and provided $4 billion for Nevada and direct payments of $1,400 for most individuals. 

“A fake poll from the NRSC won’t change Senate Republicans’ record of attacking Latinos’ access to affordable care, their refusal to support DREAMers, and their unanimous vote against a coronavirus relief package that has provided direct economic relief to millions of Latino families and small businesses,” Vargas said, adding that a poll in April showed that 76 percent of Latinos approve of the law.

“Latinos will hold every Senate Republican accountable for their toxic agenda in November next year,” Vargas continued.

Conducted by OnMessage Inc., a Virginia-based Republican political polling and consulting firm, the NRSC poll also had respondents from Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

The survey found that 63 percent of those polled agreed that “capitalism is the best form of government because it gives people the freedom to work and achieve their potential.”

The question reflects Republicans’ strategy to paint Democrats as too liberal. It also comes after the leadership of the Nevada Democratic Party was taken over by a slate of Democratic Socialist candidates in March.

On immigration, 72 percent agreed that the government “should do what is necessary to control our southern border and stop the surge of illegal immigration happening right now.” 

Another 69 percent opposed “allowing illegal immigrants to receive the same welfare and unemployment benefits as citizens.” 

Fifty-eight percent also said they agreed that too many people were living off of government assistance.

Scott, who also served as Florida governor, said he planned to use the poll to show his fellow Republicans what is possible when it comes to talking to Latino voters.

“I did it in my races, so there's no reason we can't do it across the country,” Scott said.

Scott said he did not know if there would be a contentious primary for the GOP nomination in Nevada, but he said that tough primaries can help fortify a candidate for the general election. 

Asked whether he believes former President Donald Trump would play a role, Scott said he hopes he does, adding that Trump remains popular with GOP voters.

“If you look around the country, his agenda is very popular,” Scott said. “So I think he can be helpful.”

Trump’s endorsement could give any contender an edge in the primary, and Laxalt, who won Trump’s backing for his 2018 gubernatorial bid, helped lead an effort in Nevada to spread false claims that improprieties in the state's election led to Trump’s defeat. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also eyed Laxalt for the Senate race. 

But with a recent rise in nonpartisan voter registration, a candidate that embraces the idea that the election was stolen could run the risk of turning off independent voters in a general election.

Graham said that Trump and other Republican candidates would be wise to move on from the 2020 election.

“I think there comes a point where you need to pivot forward,” Graham said. “Generally speaking, 2022 is about ‘what are you going to do for me and my family.’”

Graham said Trump is not the first politician to have a hard time letting go of a campaign. 

“He's got some legitimate concerns, but he will be well-served, I think, by looking forward,” Graham said. “Time will tell.”

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee announces run for governor as Republican, weeks after switching parties

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee launched his campaign for governor on Monday, framing himself as a candidate who will fight socialism and cancel culture in Nevada.

His announcement featured an 80-second video that showed Lee riding a bicycle through the desert and included images that accompany his narration about his life. In the short “ride,” Lee tells his story — from starting up a plumbing business to being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer to running and being elected mayor of North Las Vegas to recently switching from Democrat to Republican.

“I’m running for Governor of Nevada because I want to stop our state’s tightening embrace of socialism and make Nevada the best state in the nation to work, raise a family, and visit,” Lee said in a tweet announcing his run for governor

In a press release, Lee said that Gov. Steve Sisolak has “mismanaged” the economy of Nevada, while he as mayor has “turned around” North Las Vegas from an “economically broken city” to one with a better environment for investors and new businesses, and said he plans to apply that philosophy with the rest of the state.

“I’ve always made my own path. Socialism is a cancer, and if we don’t fight back … it’ll kill us,” Lee narrates in the video. “By the grace of God, I beat cancer, and together as Republicans, we’ll beat this, too.”

In April, Lee announced that he was switching parties because of the state Democratic Party’s recent leadership takeover by members of the Democratic Socialists of America. 

Lee was first elected as mayor of North Las Vegas in 2013. Prior to becoming mayor, he served as a Democratic member of the Legislature for 15 years – two terms in the Assembly from 1996 to 2000, and two terms in the state Senate from 2004 to 2012. Lee lost a state Senate re-election bid in 2012 in the primary to Democrat and current office-holder, Sen. Pat Spearman, whose campaign was supported by party members and advocates who believed Lee was too conservative.

In 2011, Lee said he was going to run for Congress but later dropped out, citing support for his colleague, Rep. Steven Horsford, as the reason.

Lee also said in the press release that he will stand up for Nevadans’ constitutional rights and focus on embracing small government, as well as defending free speech, protecting unborn life and supporting the right to bear arms.

Lee is the only announced candidate against Sisolak, who is seeking re-election in 2022. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Rep. Mark Amodei and former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, all Republicans, have also said they are considering running for governor.

In 2020, Sisolak reported raising upwards of $2.4 million for his re-election bid.  

Nevada’s gubernatorial election candidate filing period is not until next March.

Democrat, former Athletic Commissioner Aguilar jumps in race for secretary of state

Sign in front of the Nevada State Capitol building

Attorney and former state Athletic Commissioner Cisco Aguilar is launching a campaign for secretary of state, the latest candidate to hop in the race to replace term-limited incumbent Barbara Cegavske.

Aguilar, a Democrat, rolled out his campaign on Tuesday touting endorsements from a host of high-profile Democrats and education advocates, including former Secretary of State Ross Miller, Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, philanthropist Beverly Rogers and tennis legend Andre Agassi. (Aguilar previously worked as general counsel for Agassi’s management company, Agassi Graf.)

In a statement, Aguilar said he wanted to run for the seat to “defend every eligible American’s right to vote,” remove barriers to voter participation and to make elections as transparent as possible to “maintain the public trust.”

“We have an opportunity to become more efficient as a government, reduce bureaucracy, and enhance access to services that are too often out of reach for many Nevadans,” Aguilar said in a statement. “Our recovery as a state is dependent on empowering our small businesses, reaching out to some of the hardest hit communities, and restoring Nevadans’ faith in government.”

Aguilar spent eight years as a member of the state’s Athletic Commission, which oversees and licenses boxing and other unarmed combat. He also is the founding chairman of Cristo Rey St. Viator, a college preparatory high school.

Two Republicans have also announced intentions to run for the statewide office. Sparks City Councilman Kris Dahir announced a bid for the office in February, and former Assemblyman Jim Marchant has also announced plans to run for the seat.

Cegavske, a Republican, won re-election to the office in 2018 over former Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo by a narrow margin, fewer than 6,500 votes out of nearly a million cast. Cegavske was the only Republican candidate to win statewide in the 2018 midterms, but has drawn criticism from many in her own party (including an official censure) for her assertion that no large-scale fraud occurred in the state’s contentious 2020 election.

The office of secretary of state is likely best known for its role in managing and overseeing state elections, but the office is also granted authority over commercial recordings, notaries public and the securities division in the state.

Rep. Dina Titus denies she is aiming for ambassadorship, signals support for death penalty repeal

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) on Monday denied reports that she is interested in leaving her House seat to become an ambassador in the Biden administration, calling them "rumors" and saying she is focusing on serving the needs of her constituents.

Titus’ remarks came during a press conference after she addressed the Legislature in a virtual speech promoting President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan and touting several pending Carson City bills, including ones pushing for criminal justice reform and greater voting access. 

"I have the best district in the country. We've got the airport, the Strip, Downtown, it's ethnically diverse, racially diverse; we just want to be sure that we come back stronger than ever," Titus said. "So that's what I'm doing, not packing my bags."

Her statements come almost a week after progressive activist Amy Vilela announced plans to run against Titus in a primary election. Titus declined to comment on Vilela’s announcement and said that she is instead concentrating on the immediate needs of her constituents, not the 2022 election.

"I've walked this district many times and I will do it again. So right now it's a year and a half ‘til the next election," Titus said. "Bringing back health care, getting shots in arms, children in school, people in jobs, money in pockets — those are my priorities right now."

During the press conference, Titus also declined to take a position on a pending bill that would repeal the death penalty in Nevada. She expressed general support for abolishing capital punishment but said it is not her role to dictate the Legislature’s actions.

“I'm generally opposed to the death penalty because there have been too many accidents and it's more expensive to issue the death penalty than to keep somebody in for life,” Titus said. “But that's up to the Assembly and the governor to decide.”

Contrasting with Titus’ early support for Biden during the 2020 presidential primary, one of her likely primary opponents, Vilela, served as a state co-chair for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) presidential campaign. In 2018 Vilela ran for Nevada's 4th Congressional District, finishing third in the primary behind now-Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) and state Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas). Vilela centered her campaign on a push for Medicare for All — a quest inspired by the death of her 22-year-old daughter, who Vilela believes did not receive adequate care because a hospital did not think she was insured. 

The Netflix documentary "Knock Down the House'' featured Vilela's campaign alongside those of three other progressive women running for Congress, including current Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO).

"From Covid to climate change, politics-as-usual simply isn't working for regular people," Vilela said in a press release. "It's time to elect leadership that will fight like lives depend on it."

Nevada's 1st Congressional District covers the heart of the Las Vegas Valley, and is considered a safe Democratic seat given the overwhelming majority of registered Democrats relative to Republicans, though district boundaries are likely to change after the redistricting process later this year. 

Titus said that Nevada’s population is rapidly growing and that regardless of how lawmakers choose to draw boundaries in other districts, she hopes hers remains intact.

“You don't ever want to break up certain ethnic communities or geographical jurisdictions, but the Legislature will take all that into consideration,” Titus said.

Titus, who served more than 20 years in the Legislature and was the longtime state Senate minority leader, has represented the 1st Congressional District since 2012.

Cortez Masto raised $2.3 million last quarter

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) raised $2.3 million in the first quarter of the year, a Nevada record for federal office this early in the campaign cycle, leaving her re-election campaign with $4.66 million in cash on hand, her campaign will announce later Friday.

Her fundraising figures come after congressional Democrats passed a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package in March, which included $1,400 direct payments to Americans and extended unemployment aid. Nevada has suffered from high unemployment spurred by the pandemic. In February, the state posted the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, tied with New Mexico, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Nevada Democrat’s 2022 re-election race is expected to be hotly contested with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, focused on defeating her. President Joe Biden only won the state by 2.5 percent in 2020, the same margin as Hillary Clinton in 2016.  

The NRSC launched its first ad against her this cycle late last month. No GOP candidates have yet entered the race, but former Attorney General Adam Laxalt is believed to be considering a run. 

According to her campaign, Cortez Masto raised money from more than 21,000 individuals this quarter, and 96 percent of the contributions were $100 or less.

By comparison, Cortez Masto is ahead of former Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who raised $1.42 million during the first quarter of 2017 and had $2.65 million in cash on hand, according to his  Federal Election Commission disclosure.

Cortez Masto officially launched her campaign in February.

Lawmakers debate expanding automatic voter registration, implementing top-down registration system

On the heels of a transition to automatic voter registration (AVR) at the DMV and same-day voter registration, lawmakers are considering bills that proponents say further streamline civic participation and bring more Nevadans into the process.

One bill, AB422, would centralize voter registration record keeping that is currently distributed among the 17 counties. Another, AB432 — which faced more resistance from clerks worried about whether they would have the time and resources to implement it — would involve new agencies to help Nevadans register to vote or update their records.

Here are highlights from the hearings the bills received on Tuesday in the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. The committee did not immediately vote on the measures.

Clerks concerned about expanding AVR

After Nevada voters approved the automatic voter registration system at the Department of Motor Vehicles in 2018, more than 142,000 new voters were registered — and more than 300,000 voter registrations were updated during transactions at the DMV since the law took effect in 2020.

A bill from Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) would bring more agencies into the process — enlisting the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange and Medicaid program into the work of transmitting personal information updates to the secretary of state to get a person registered for the first time or update the voter rolls.

Agencies that don’t have enough information to confirm a person’s eligibility to vote would be prohibited from transferring the information to the secretary of state. Individuals could opt out of having their information transferred during an interaction with one of those agencies.

Supporter Annette Magnus of Battle Born Progress said the measure would increase election security by offering more opportunities for updates, leading to cleaner voter rolls. And backer Rev. Leonard Jackson of Faith Organizing Alliance said it would further expand opportunities for people of color to vote — he said more than half of Medicaid beneficiaries are Black or brown Nevadans.

But the bill drew concerns from election administrators and other government personnel who  warned the implementation of such programs often takes years, and the bill becomes effective Jan. 1, 2022.

“When you increase our administrative need for resources and our staff, with everything else that's going on and implementation, and also with redistricting coming up, we are concerned about the ability to support these new programs,” said Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria.

Carson City Clerk-Recorder Aubrey Rowlatt asked that agencies send registrars complete information rather than requiring county staff to track missing information down through correspondence that may or may not be returned.

Watts said he heard election officials’ concerns and was committed to making technical adjustments, including to the timeline. He framed the bill as a way to “deliver a better experience for everybody in our state.”

“We moved from only registering people on paper forms, within the span of a decade, to now offering online voter registration and further digitizing the way that our voter registration is conducted — again, reducing errors streamlining the process, making it more convenient for everyone,” he said. “The purpose of AB432 is to build on that progress.”

Top down voter registration gets a warm reception

Members of the committee also heard details on AB422, a proposal that would shift Nevada from a county-led, bottom-up voter registration system to a state-led, top-down system. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson presented the bill and said the current system of having 17 county clerks maintain their own systems and transmit voter registration information to the secretary of state’s office “inherently makes the process slower.”

“This delayed information sharing is cumbersome and inefficient,” Frierson said. “With our 21st century voting policies that include automatic voter registration and same day voter registration, it's time that we modernize our system to match that innovation.”

Frierson said the legislation, once passed, would immediately allow the secretary of state’s office to begin working on implementation of a top-down system, with an anticipated implementation date before the 2024 election. 

Progressive groups said the bill would create a more efficient election process in the state and make it easier to identify and prevent duplicate registrations.

“It's important to acknowledge that Nevada is a transient state, and being able to see information across the board will streamline the process for county clerks, and ensure that there is a more secure way of managing the voting process at all polling locations,” Silver State Voices Executive Director Emily Zamora said.

The secretary of state’s office, which favors the proposal, is requesting $1.5 million from lawmakers this budget cycle to start the process of upgrading to a top-down voter registration system.

No one testified against the bill.

Cortez Masto launches 2022 re-election bid

With a message largely focused on providing better access to health care, immigration reform and helping Nevada rebound from the pandemic-triggered recession, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) officially announced her bid for a second term Wednesday.

In a video announcing her campaign, Cortez Masto highlighted her vote to fend off a 2017 GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

“I have fought again and again to make health care affordable for all Americans, including casting a critical vote to protect the Affordable Care Act when Republicans were so close to repealing it,” Cortez Masto said. 

Enacted in 2010, the sweeping health care law was designed to insure more people, including expanding Medicaid eligibility, establishing insurance exchanges and requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. Repeal of the ACA would have affected 1.2 million Silver State residents with pre-existing conditions and 371,000 who were covered because of the expansion of Medicaid.  

Cortez Masto also underscored her background as a daughter of immigrants and signaled her support for immigration reform. 

With regard to economic recovery, she criticized Senate Republicans for opposing a $1.9 trillion Democratic-drafted COVID-aid package that is expected to be considered by the Senate as soon as next week. A recent CBS News/YouGov poll showed that 83 percent of those asked supported passing a new economic relief package. 

“Despite broad bipartisan support for this urgently needed COVID relief, every Republican in the Senate has signaled their opposition to this package,” her campaign said in a release.

Republicans have argued that the bill costs too much and includes funding for programs extraneous to tackling the pandemic. The CBS poll showed 39 percent of those polled thought the size of Biden’s bill was “about right,” another 40 percent said it should be larger and 20 percent said it was too big.

Nevada is suffering from the nation's second-highest unemployment rate, 9.2 percent in December. Widespread unemployment may spark a potential eviction crisis, which Cortez Masto has argued threatens to exacerbate the pandemic. 

The first Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate, Cortez Masto defeated Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) in 2016 by just a little more than two percentage points — and her 2022 race is also expected to be tight. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which exists to elect more Republicans to the Senate, released its first ad of the cycle against Cortez Masto last week.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also called attention to some of her votes on amendments offered to the budget resolution, Congress’ annual spending framework. Those votes usually end up in political attack ads.

Nevada’s candidate filing deadline is more than a year away, and no high-profile Republican candidates have yet publicly announced intentions of challenging Cortez Masto. 

With the GOP’s crosshairs on her back, Cortez Masto is looking to beef up her war chest to prepare for what is likely to be an expensive campaign. Along with a video announcement, Cortez Masto and her allies, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, have launched a fundraising effort. She headed the DSCC last cycle.

As The Nevada Independent reported earlier this month, Cortez Masto’s campaign entered this year with more than $3 million in the bank, in addition to $209,000 in her All for the Country leadership PAC. 

“That will just be the beginning, and with Cortez Masto's deep connections to Democratic leaders from her time at the DSCC, she will be well-positioned financially for the 2022 race,” her campaign said.

Serving as chair of the DSCC is likely to give Cortez Masto a leg up on raising funds for her 2022 race because the position introduced her to the Democrats’ national network of donors. 

Cortez Masto was the first Latina and second woman to head the DSCC. She helped flip the Senate to Democratic control—the first time in six years—with two runoff races last month in Georgia won by Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and that unseated two incumbent Republicans. 

While the Nevada Democrat has stepped away from the DSCC chair post, she will remain a part of the Senate Democratic leadership as vice chair of outreach.

With Democrats now in the majority in the Senate, Cortez Masto was tapped to lead a subcommittee on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that oversees public lands and the mining industry. Both are key to Nevada. 

Cortez Masto starts 2021 with $3 million war chest

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) raised more than $1 million in the last three months of 2020, mostly from individual donors, finishing the year with more than $3 million in the bank, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

While her re-election is well over a year away—she’ll face voters in 2022—Cortez Masto’s seat is poised to be a top target for the GOP. She won the seat, left by former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), in 2016 by just over 2 percentage points by defeating former Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV). 

Cortez Masto’s war chest compares favorably to that of the two previous chairs of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. Cortez Masto was appointed DSCC chair in November of 2018.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), who previously served as DSCC chair, finished the 2017 through 2018 filing period with more than $300,000 cash on hand, according to FEC documents. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), who served as DSCC chair before Van Hollen, finished his two-year DSCC chair stint with $1.5 million in the bank. Tester also won re-election two years after serving as DSCC chair.  

Of the $1 million she raised in the fourth quarter of 2020, $980,000 came from individuals. 

The first Latina and second woman to head the DSCC, Cortez Masto helped flip the Senate to Democratic control with two runoff races last month in Georgia won by Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and that unseated two incumbent Republicans. 

Cortez Masto also raised more than $2.4 million online for other Senate candidates in the 2020 cycle while serving as DSCC Chair —including nearly $800K for Ossoff and Warnock, according to the Nevada State Democratic Party.

Cortez Masto’s leadership PAC, All for Our Country, similar to the previous filing, is expected to report more than $200,000 cash on hand going into 2021 and raising more than $1 million over the two-year election cycle that ended last year. 

Gov. Steve Sisolak reports more than $2.4 million in 2020 fundraising ahead of looming re-election bid

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak has reported raising upwards of $2.4 million for his re-election bid next year, an amount that roughly doubled the size of his campaign war chest to more than $4.53 million.

Sisolak’s 2020 haul, reported to the secretary of state Wednesday, is roughly 50 percent more than the $1.6 million he raised through 2019, though it remains a far cry from the more-than $11.3 million he raised during his contentious bid to win the seat in 2018. 

Sisolak’s fundraising report comes amid national unrest related to the 2020 election and follows several failed recall efforts attempting to oust the governor that came after a number of restrictions were put in place in the earliest days of the pandemic. The report also arrives as the 2021 legislative session approaches and with it, a budget crisis stemming from economic damage caused by coronavirus shutdowns

Though many of the individual contributions made to the governor’s campaign came in small dollar amounts, the vast majority of Sisolak’s 2020 fundraising — $2,356,277 — came in the form of contributions greater than $100, with 124 contributors giving the governor the $10,000 maximum donation. Taken together, those largest contributions total more than half of all the money Sisolak raised last year at more than $1.2 million. 

When accounting for other donations, including those totaling $5,000 (143 total), and $2,500 (52 total), the amount raised through top-dollar contributions alone increases to roughly $2.05 million. 

Of the largest contributions of $10,000, nearly a quarter-million came solely from gaming companies, manufacturers or trade groups, including: 

  • $70,000 from companies or properties owned or operated by Station Casinos
  • $50,000 from MGM Resorts International properties
  • $50,000 from Marnell Gaming companies, properties or individuals (owner of the Nugget in Sparks)
  • $30,000 from Las Vegas Sands properties or companies 
  • $20,000 from Meruelo Group companies or properties (owner of the Sahara in Las Vegas and Grand Sierra Resort in Reno)
  • $20,000 from companies linked to sportsbook William Hill
  • $10,000 from Golden Entertainment (owner of the Strat in Las Vegas)
  • $10,000 from the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers

Together, the gaming industry formed the single largest industry bloc of the governor’s donors. However, these totals likely only represent part of the overall contributions made by gaming companies or individuals related to the industry, as it does not include contributions made by industry executives or related LLCs. That includes a number of esoterically named holding companies or development companies, which often contribute in smaller amounts.  

Business-related donors otherwise formed the second largest share of Sisolak’s biggest contributors, contributing at least 26 maximum donations for a total of $260,000, while real estate and development related donors formed the third-largest bloc with 18 contributions totaling $180,000. 

Notably absent from Sisolak’s 2020 filing are the state’s largest mining companies, which will likely find themselves at the center of a legislative fight to raise the state’s tax revenue in 2021 — a fight that comes after mining taxes first came back to the fore during a special legislative session last summer. 

Their absence, however, is likely little more than a coincidence of campaign contribution timing. State law limits maximum contributions by campaign cycle, not by year, and several major mining companies — including Newmont and Barrick Gold — maxed out their contributions to Sisolak in 2019

Other notable names for those who contributed the maximum of $10,000 include Marc Badain, chairman of the Raiders; Key and Rory Reid, sons of former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid; Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, whom Sisolak appointed; and an LLC tied to Elaine Wynn, a businesswoman and philanthropist.

Sisolak also saw major contributions from seven companies linked to Las Vegas Golden Knights owner and Fidelity chairman Bill Foley, as well as a maximum contribution from Foley himself, for a total of $80,000. 

With no campaign to mount through the 2020 cycle, Sisolak reported comparatively little in campaign spending, about $229,900.  

Nevada Independent intern Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

Update, 1/13/21 at 5:35 p.m. - This story was updated to include more details about contributions made to Gov. Sisolak in his 2020 annual filing.

How Cortez Masto’s fundraising stacks up heading into likely competitive 2022 midterm election

The embers of the 2020 election are still burning, but many national political analysts already are looking to the 2022 midterms given the likely knife-edge margins in the U.S. Senate affecting how President-elect Joe Biden will be able to govern.

Nevada will again be front and center in the national political conversation, with Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s Senate seat expected to be one of the top targets for Republicans — Nevada is one of three Democrat-held seats in potentially competitive states (others including New Hampshire and Arizona) up for grabs in 2022.

Cortez Masto hasn’t officially announced her re-election bid and her campaign website is still largely focused on her 2016 race, but the nation's first-ever Latina U.S. Senator quietly filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Dec. 28 indicating that she plans to run for a second term in 2022.

If 2020 is any indication, candidates for competitive U.S. Senate seats are fundraising at higher levels than ever before, meaning candidates including Cortez Masto will have to start preparing for expensive campaigns earlier than ever. 

So after four years in office, what do Cortez Masto’s campaign fundraising totals look like heading into the next election cycle?

After ending the 2016 campaign with just $220,000 left in the bank, Cortez Masto has built a substantial cash reserve —  more than $2.3 million in cash on hand in her main campaign account, and about $209,000 in her leadership PAC, All for Country. 

But she and her future Republican opponent can be expected to raise much more than that — the 2018 U.S. Senate race between Jacky Rosen and Dean Heller saw the candidates raise a cumulative $41 million over the course of the campaign, not including spending from outside groups.

Since taking office in 2017, Cortez Masto has raised roughly $5.4 million in her primary campaign account, which includes $2.9 million raised between 2019 and 2020 and $2.5 million raised between 2017 and 2018. Those totals are below the average amount raised per cycle for U.S. senators, according to numbers tracked by The Center for Responsive Politics, but the average is likely thrown off by senators running for re-election.

Over that same period of time, she reported spending about $3.3 million combined, leaving her with the $2.3 million in cash on hand.

Cortez Masto’s cash on hand total is about a million dollars more than what former Sen. Heller, a Republican, had in his campaign account two years ahead of his ultimately unsuccessful re-election campaign in the 2018 midterms.

Nevada’s candidate filing deadline is more than a year away, and no high-profile Republican candidates have yet publicly announced intentions of challenging Cortez Masto. Challenges in the state’s last two U.S. Senate races — Democrat Rosen in 2018, and Republican Joe Heck in 2016 — announced their respective candidacies about 18 months before Election Day.

Ultimately, fundraising levels for individual campaigns are just one portion of spending on elections, given the vast influence and spread of Super PACs and so-called “dark money” groups, which run thinly-veiled “issue” ads targeting candidates but are not required to disclose their donors.

In the 2016 Senate race, outside groups reported spending more than $91 million, largely on television and other advertisements supporting or opposing Cortez Masto and Heck. In 2018, outside groups spent $66 million in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

Cortez Masto instead spent much of her political energy on leading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the formal arm of Senate Democratic candidates. The organization, which Cortez Masto was tapped to lead in 2018, made headlines for substantial fundraising but ultimately saw a net gain of just one Senate seat after defeating incumbents in Arizona and Colorado while losing in Alabama (two Georgia Senate races will be decided in a Jan. 5 runoff election).

Serving as chair of the DSCC, which is part of the Senate Democratic leadership team, could help Cortez Masto raise funds for her 2022 race by introducing her to the Democrats’ national network of donors. 

But when asked whether she thinks it will help her in her re-election, Cortez Masto demurred and said she accepted the post because it was good for the state to have a seat at the leadership table.

“It gives me the opportunity to weigh in on behalf of the needs of Nevada with our leadership when we're when we are addressing policy needs or resources,” Cortez Masto said.

Serving on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax and trade policy, will also help her raise campaign dollars. Members of the panel are sought out by all sorts of industries seeking to affect the nation’s tax and trade agenda. Cortez Masto got the post after agreeing to be DSCC chair. Her appointment to the tax panel in 2018 came in addition to serving on the Senate Banking Committee, which also is a beacon for large national donors.“

Winning a seat on the senate tax-writing committee guarantees members that they will attract generous donations from banks, insurance companies, real estate agents, accountants, and securities and investment firms,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks congressional fundraising.

Updated at 2:02 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, to correct the amount of cash on hand that former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller had in his campaign account prior to the 2018 election cycle.