Sisolak celebrates bills that expand voting access during ceremonial signing

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday held a ceremonial signing of a handful of bills designed to make casting ballots easier in Nevada, marking a deviation from other states where lawmakers have passed more restrictive voting laws.

The bill-signing ceremony at the East Las Vegas Community Center kicked off the last day for the governor to pen his name on bills passed during the 81st Legislature. The five bills, a couple of which he had already signed, are all election-related:

  • AB121 allows people with disabilities to vote using an electronic system created for uniformed military members and other voters living overseas.
  • AB321 permanently expands mail-in voting while letting voters opt out of receiving a mail ballot, and it also gives Indian reservations or colonies more time to request the establishment of a polling place within its boundaries.
  • AB422 implements a top-down voter registration system, moving away from the existing setup that involves 17 county clerks maintaining their own systems and transmitting voter registration information to the secretary of state’s office.
  • AB432 expands automatic voter registration to other state or tribal agencies, such as those designated by the Department of Health and Human Services that receive Medicaid applications and the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange. 
  • AB126 moves the state to a presidential primary system, ending the use of the caucus.

Sisolak noted that lawmakers in other states have introduced 389 bills that would restrict voting rights, and 20 have been signed into law. He called it an “assault on one of the key tenets of our democracy — the right to vote.”

“But today, in the great state of Nevada, we are so proud that we are sending a strong message that the Silver State is not only bucking the national trend of infringing on voter rights — rather, we’re doing everything we can to expand access to the poll while ensuring our elections are secure and fair,” Sisolak added.

The bill-signings come roughly seven months after a contentious election season, during which Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, received an avalanche of threats and harassment after unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud following former President Donald Trump’s loss. Because of the pandemic, Nevada lawmakers expanded mail-in voting for the 2020 presidential election.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson celebrate the signing of election-related bills at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Mikayla Whitmore/The Nevada Independent)

Sisolak lauded AB321 for permanently enshrining mail-in voting in the Silver State, which he said gives voters more options. He also commended Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) for being a “tenacious fighter” when it comes to preserving and expanding voting rights.

Frierson emphasized that AB321 doesn’t eliminate any voting options — people can vote by mail, deposit their ballots in drop-off boxes or vote in person.

“These are all options and individual liberties that Nevadans have come to enjoy,” he said.

The governor and state lawmakers also celebrated the state’s conversion to a presidential primary, which could place Nevada ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa to become the first nominating state in the nation. But that’s subject to approval from the Democratic National Committee. AB126, which moves Nevada away from a caucus, establishes that presidential primary elections would occur on the first Tuesday in February of presidential election years.

Sisolak touted Nevada’s diverse population as a reason for why it should lead the primary process, saying it “undoubtedly” represents the composition of the country.

The governor has spent the week in Las Vegas, attending a variety of bill-signing ceremonies to usher new measures into law. The legislative session ended at midnight on Memorial Day.

Nevada Supreme Court upholds narrow victory in Clark County Commission race

The front of the Nevada Supreme Court Building

The state Supreme Court Thursday upheld a 15-vote victory last November by now-Clark County Commissioner Ross Miller, denying the legal challenge by former Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, who was seeking a new election.

Chief Justice James Hardesty wrote the unanimous opinion for the court, disagreeing with Anthony’s attorneys, who argued discrepancies in the voting process met the definition of an election being “prevented.” 

“Because voters had the opportunity to vote in the November 3, 2020, general election and were not prevented from casting their votes for District C, we conclude that the district court properly found that the election was not ‘prevented" under (state law),” Hardesty wrote. “Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.”

Anthony, a Republican, filed for a recount on Dec. 4, three days after the Clark County Commission certified the results of the District C election in spite of 139 ballot discrepancies in the district. Those discrepancies had caused the board to consider a special election, but then it reversed course. 

The recount resulted in 74 new ballots included in the count, which found that former Miller, a Democrat and the former secretary of state, won by 15 votes, more than the 10-vote margin from the original results. Miller was ultimately sworn in as commissioner.

The seat on the commission was open because Commissioner Larry Brown was term-limited.

During oral arguments, Hardesty pointed to the District Court’s decision to stick with an affidavit filed in District Court by Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria, which did not indicate that a fair election was prevented. 

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.”

Lawmakers review price tags of expanded mail voting, earlier presidential primary bills

With less than a week left in the session, lawmakers are finally moving to process three major election-related bills aimed at moving Nevada up the presidential primary calendar, permanently expanding mail voting and upgrading the state’s voter registration database.

The three bills were heard Tuesday morning during a meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, with Democratic lawmakers and progressive groups heralding the measures as ways that the state can make it easier to vote, but with Republicans questioning the proposed costs and benefits of several of the bills.

The trio of measures, all of which were presented by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), all had hearings earlier in the session, but the hearings on Tuesday were meant to go over the potential budgetary effects They also signal that legislators are preparing to queue up the measures for floor votes and rapid processing through the final days of the session. After the initial morning hearings, members of the committee voted out all three of the bills late into the night on Tuesday.

Most of the opposition was focused on AB321, a bill seeking to permanently expand mail voting in the state and set in stone the temporary changes adopted ahead of the 2020 election. The bill would make Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely mail voting system, though voters would be allowed to opt out of the system and vote in person if they choose.

Much of the hearing focused on disagreements over how much the bill would cost. Democratic lawmakers questioned a fiscal note submitted by the secretary of state’s office estimating implementation costs would run north of $5.2 million — Frierson said that price tag “simply doesn't necessarily reflect the reality” of election costs, as the 2020 election (a presidential election) only cost $3.9 million.

“I think there's a tendency for folks to look for the ideal, and say ‘well, since we're opening up anyway, let's find an ideal way to do all of this,’ which is not always necessary or practical,” he said.

Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Mark Wlaschin said that changes in election turnout between presidential election years and midterms wouldn’t have a significant impact on the cost of largely mail elections, as all 1.8 million registered voters in the state would be mailed a ballot unless they opted out. 

He said the office also planned to increase the number of ballot drop boxes from about 120 to around 220 (at a cost of $1,500 each), and said the agency did not fully reimburse counties for election costs in 2020 because they had access to federal CARES Act dollars and other funding sources.

Though Wlaschin said the bill could lead to potential cost savings as a larger percentage of the electorate casts votes by mail (lowering the number of in-person polling places needed), he said that would likely not happen over the current biennium and that the secretary of state’s office opposed the bill because of the “negative fiscal impact it would have on the state.”

Wlaschin said the office also believed that it would need around $660,000 to help with a marketing and education campaign on the proposed changes, but Frierson said the agency’s concerns over cost did not take into account potential cost savings from the bill and that other options existed for voter education.

“While we on a couple of occasions have talked about voter education, that clearly was not an issue for the secretary of state before now,” Frierson said. “And there are organizations in the community that do this for free, who would be more than willing to partner with the secretary of state at a significant decrease if not zero cost to do voter education in the community.”

Support and opposition on AB321 fell largely along expected lines — organizations including the Culinary Union, ACLU of Nevada, Battle Born Progress, AARP Nevada and Silver State Voices testified in support, while the Nevada Republican Party (which has run ads opposing the legislation), the Independent American Party and Nevada Right to Life opposed the measure.

The committee heard another potentially significant change to state election procedures in the form of AB126, which proposes that the state leapfrog New Hampshire and Iowa to move to first place in the presidential primary calendar. Frierson, the bill’s sponsor, also presented a conceptual amendment that removes language related to a change in candidate filing deadlines, but otherwise keeps the provisions of the bill in place.

“In conversations both with our local elected officials and with the courts … it would create problems outside of our state budget that outweighed the benefits, as we originally contemplated,” he said.

Wlaschin said the secretary of state’s office estimated that implementing a presidential primary election (as opposed to a party-managed caucus) would cost about $5.2 million per cycle. That fiscal note irked Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), because the next presidential election in 2024 falls outside the current budget cycle.

“The question is, why would you submit a fiscal note on something that will not impact us in this biennium?” she said. “This Legislature, this committee, deals with the budget for this biennium only.”

Wlaschin said the bill would not have an effect on the current budget, “but there will be something later on down the line.”

The bill attracted support from progressive and Democrat-aligned groups, but drew opposition from the state Republican Party. Republican National Committee member Jim DeGraffenreid said the bill would be a waste of resources as states such as New Hampshire were fully prepared to move around their primary dates to keep their plum spot on the nominating calendar.

“New Hampshire has a state law that says they must hold the first primary in the nation, and they will hold their primary as early as necessary to remain first,” he said. “We have no ability to change the laws of the state of New Hampshire, and so this is a waste of our five and a half million dollars to chase that impossible goal.”

Still, Democrats said they were eager to advance the bill if only to get away from the presidential caucus system — Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) said she wasn’t “offended” by the fiscal note and that it was time to “evolve” past the caucus process.

“If we make the process easier to engage in, people will engage,” she said. “We have an electorate that cares, we have an electorate that wants to show up, and all we have to do is remove barriers, and they will engage in a way that our founders absolutely dreamed of.”

Members of the committee also reviewed AB422, a bill that would gradually shift Nevada from a county-led, bottom-up voter registration system to a state-led, top-down system. Frierson said that such a system would make the state’s voter registration system much more efficient and called the bill a “step in the right direction to streamline our state government.”

“Everyone who has been involved with elections has indicated an interest in moving us to a top-down system,” he said. The secretary of state’s office originally submitted a $9.2 million fiscal note on the bill, but Wlaschin said the office intended to use $4.8 million from Nevada’s share of grant funds from the Help America Vote Act and said the measure would not have a financial impact on the state for the upcoming budget cycle.

Updated at 9:45 p.m. to update that all three bills passed out of committee on Tuesday evening.

Legislature dismisses final 2020 election contest against Democratic assemblywoman

The final challenge to the legitimacy of Nevada’s 2020 election ended not with the revelation of scandalous evidence, but with a thud in a quiet, nearly empty legislative committee room on Thursday.

There, three Assembly members — Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas) and Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) — met as a somewhat rare election contest committee to hear and recommend dismissal of an official challenge by former Assembly Republican candidate Cherlyn Arrington, who lost her bid to Democrat Elaine Marzola by nearly 1,200 votes in the 2020 election.

No fiery defenses, groundbreaking evidence or actual lawyering occurred on Thursday — Legislative Counsel Bureau General Counsel Kevin Powers informed the committee that Arrington’s attorney never responded after the election contest committee was formed in late March.

That led the committee to vote to approve recommending that the contest be dismissed with prejudice — meaning it cannot be re-filed over any procedural issues. Roberts voted against the motion, saying he was concerned about “gaps in notification” but acknowledged that “it would be difficult to follow up if they did do that, since the body would be adjourned in a week or so.”

Yeager said that the committee and Legislature as a whole would lose jurisdiction over the case in a little more than a week, so it did not make sense to extend a lifeline to the legal challenge at this point in time.

“I don't think there's enough time, even if the parties were to file something, of course, the responding party would need time, and then there's time for a reply,” he said. “So I don't think we would be able to complete our work during this session.”

Arrington — who along with a host of other losing Republican 2020 candidates filed a series of unsuccessful lawsuits in November seeking to overturn election results — tweeted earlier this week that she had asked for the contest to be dismissed in April, amid an apparent communication snafu with the secretary of state’s office.

For her part, Marzola said on Thursday that she wasn’t paying close attention to the election contest meeting — it started and finished while Assembly members were in a floor session. 

“I know, obviously, that I did win, so I'm really excited about it,” she said. “I've been here over 100, 105 days, serving the state of Nevada, that's what's important to me.”

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.

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.

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: