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.

Nevada’s newly flush Rainy Day Fund closely eyed as coronavirus fears squeeze economy

Front of the Nevada Legislature building at night

Empty casinos and shrinking hotel occupancy rates caused by fears of the spreading novel coronavirus will have ripple effects beyond mass layoffs and plummeting stock prices — the pandemic also threatens to kneecap state tax revenue and threaten funding levels for education, health care and a host of other government services.

Speculation is already growing as to how the coronavirus, which has caused decreased visitation to Nevada — forcing the closure of major casino resorts and the planned temporary closure of all non-essential businesses in Reno —  will dramatically alter the state’s economy and leave taxable revenues below the level anticipated by lawmakers during the 2019 budget cycle. 

But unlike past economic doomsdays, Nevada leaders have a little more wiggle room in the event of a fiscal emergency — the state’s long-neglected Rainy Day Fund is relatively robust for the first time in more than a decade, with $401 million currently socked away in the state’s budgetary reserve account. Taking money from the account either requires tax revenues to fall below projections or for state leaders to declare a “fiscal emergency.”

Maggie Carlton, a longtime Democratic lawmaker and chair of the Interim Finance Committee, said that lawmakers were watching the coronavirus situation play out, but that dramatic action — such as declaring a special legislative session or tapping into the Rainy Day Fund — wasn’t yet needed, especially as tax revenues have overperformed projections.

“The Rainy Day Fund should be your go-to at the last minute. It’s not something that you take lightly,” she said. “Before you access those dollars, you have to be sure that you’ve worked all other contingency plans out first.”

Although the governor or a two-thirds majority of the Legislature have the ability to call a special session, it doesn’t appear that one is on the immediate horizon. Democratic legislative leaders Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said in a statement Monday that they have “no plans to go into a special session at this time,” but added they were keeping all options open.

“In situations involving emergency preparedness, it is critical to carefully and continually evaluate all options on the table should the need arise to pursue those options,” they said in a joint statement.

Carlton said she would be concerned about further risking public health by bringing in lawmakers, lobbyists and other interested parties from around the state into relatively cramped quarters in Carson City.

“I don’t believe a special session is needed right now, and the worst thing we could do is put a whole bunch of people in a building like our Legislature and expect them to stay healthy,” she said.

Lawmakers would likely need to know the full scope of any economic damage before taking dollars out of the reserve fund. A helpful, if somewhat dated, benchmark in a 2015 Mercatus Center study estimated that Nevada would need $430 million in existing general fund dollars and the Rainy Day Fund to make it through an “average” recession without cutting spending or raising taxes. A severe recession (90th percentile of all possible economic contractions) would require $1.13 billion in available funds — much more than what the state has on hand.

Former lawmaker and Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin, who served on the Interim Finance Council and Finance Committee while in office, said that Gov. Steve Sisolak, who has vocalized his concern about the state’s economy amid the outbreak, needs to start preparing for a special session and possible changes to the tax system as soon as possible. 

“He’s going to see the bank account drain,” he said. “We can’t let it get down to zero.”

At the moment, the Interim Finance Committee — which approves spending for state agencies during the interim period between legislative sessions — has about $26.8 million in an unrestricted, general budgetary fund account, which is normally used for unexpected shortfalls or other short-term emergencies as they arise. The committee also has about $54 million in restricted funds, which are earmarked to specific projects approved during the legislative system but allocated at a later time and date, rather than at the start of a fiscal year.

Lawmakers can also access the Disaster Relief Account, a broad-based budgetary category with $12.79 million in funds that can be used for any purpose or distributed to agencies or local governments as part of relief for disasters and emergencies.

But tapping into the Rainy Day Fund — officially called the “Account to Stabilize The Operation of State Government” — takes a few additional steps.

State law requires the regular transfer of dollars into the Rainy Day Fund — 40 percent of the “unrestricted balance” in the general fund at the end of a fiscal year, minus 7 percent of all appropriations made out of the fund. It also requires a regular transfer of 1 percent of “total anticipated revenue” projected by the Economic Forum for a fiscal year, a change first adopted in 2017 under former Gov. Brian Sandoval. 

The amount of money in the Rainy Day fund cannot exceed 20 percent of all appropriations made during a fiscal year. According to a Fall 2019 Fiscal Survey of States, the budgeted Rainy Day fund is about 8.9 percent of fiscal year 2020 appropriations — the highest percentage amount in the last decade.

That decision, plus last-minute financial maneuverings in the 2017 Legislature to move some tax dollars from retail marijuana sales to the reserve fund, helped improve the financial solvency of the Rainy Day Fund, which sat perilously empty for five of the eight preceding fiscal years

Taking dollars out of the fund requires one of two triggers — either actual tax revenue falls 5 percent or more below the amount anticipated by the Economic Forum, or if the governor and Legislature jointly “declare that a financial emergency exists.”

Once that happens, the Board of Examiners — composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state — recommends a transfer amount to the Interim Finance Committee, which can modify, approve or disapprove the requested transfer as desired. Once approved, the dollars go into the state’s general fund and can be “allocated directly by the Legislature to be used for any other purpose.”

Although the state’s Interim Finance Committee isn’t scheduled to meet until next month, committee Chair Carlton said she and the Legislative Counsel Bureau were already taking precautionary steps to safely prepare for the meeting. It will likely be held in Carson City, and lawmakers will follow social distancing rules by bringing up groups of state workers in groups depending on agenda topic, as opposed to packing everyone into one committee room.

Still, she acknowledged that the situation remains extremely fluid. 

“We are in totally uncharted territory,” she said. “We are going to work very closely together to assess Nevada’s needs and try to address them as quickly as possible, with the landscape changing minute by minute.”

Sisolak has already ordered several revenue-reducing measures to be put in place for the state government. The state’s budget division sent out a memo on Thursday after Sisolak’s emergency declaration giving state agencies broad authority to purchase “tissues, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, disinfecting spray and other germicides” as needed to clean commonly touched surfaces and employee work areas.

On Sunday, Sisolak announced immediate closure of all K-12 schools in the state, as well as the closure of all state offices to the public as soon as possible while directing essential services such as unemployment or the DMV to be transitioned to either online or over-the-phone. He also instituted a hiring freeze and encouraged state agencies to “limit spending to essential, emergency purchases.”

“We must protect the health and safety of the public and our state workforce while ensuring that the important work of our state government does not grind to a halt,” he said on Sunday.

Two additional memorandums sent by the governor’s finance office on Monday implemented the hiring freeze with limited exceptions (upon approval from the governor’s office) and prohibited all travel out-of-state or internationally for state workers, while limiting in-state state travel to “mission-critical” travel.

Law and profits: Marijuana industry flush with lawyers, in spite of Bar’s warnings

Woman holding money at dispensary

There are scores of standout names among the well over 1,000 owners and officers of marijuana businesses that have sought or won licenses in Nevada.

There are former high-ranking state lawmakers, philanthropists who sit on the boards of prominent charities and real estate developers who have left their fingerprints on casinos and shopping plazas throughout the state. There are well-known lawyers and judges and former law enforcement officers.

The mix reflects the high bar that Nevada officials set for entering a heavily regulated market for a substance that still remains illegal on the federal level. Among other things, business entities seeking a medical marijuana license in 2014 were required to have at least $250,000 in liquid assets and enough resources to cover a year of operations.

Below are some of the more recognizable lawyers and community pillars who are, or have been, involved in the state’s marijuana business. Look out for coming installments of “The Cannabis Files” for more notable names from The Nevada Independent’s ownership analysis.

Mynt dispensary in Reno

Mynt dispensary in Reno is seen on Nov. 9, 2019. Photo by Mark Hernandez.


State records show that at least 60 people who are owners or board members of marijuana companies that sought licenses in Nevada are lawyers. That’s not counting the many lawyers who do not have a personal stake in the business but serve cannabis clients, including in the numerous lawsuits swirling over the latest state dispensary licensing round.

It’s indicative of the complexity of running a marijuana business.

“The marijuana industry, more than nearly any other industry, requires thoughtful and strict compliance,” explained Bob Groesbeck, an attorney and co-owner of the Planet 13 Dispensary who formerly served as mayor of Henderson. “Attorneys have, by necessity, been involved [in] every step of the process.”

But the widespread involvement of attorneys wasn’t — and still isn’t — clear-cut, considering marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. After Nevada lawmakers authorized medical marijuana dispensaries in 2013, lawyers wondered whether conduct even distantly related to cannabis might run afoul of Nevada lawyers’ Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2, which prohibits assisting a client in conduct that violates the law.

The federal-state conflict raised questions among local government attorneys about whether advising on sprinkler safety requirements in grow houses or the distance between a fire hydrant and a dispensary might be considered abetting actions that are federally illegal. Then-Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin told the Nevada Supreme Court in 2014 that some local governments were going without legal counsel or hiring out-of-state lawyers because of the ethical ambiguity.

"I hope you will approve or modify this, that I may have legal counsel as a representative of the public," Coffin told the court, according to The Associated Press.

In May 2014, the Nevada Supreme Court adopted a policy of allowing lawyers to advise clients on marijuana issues if the conduct was legal under state law. 

But advising a marijuana client is one thing; owning part of a marijuana business is another. That conflict came to the fore in 2016, when the state Bar asked the Nevada Supreme Court to adopt new language saying that participating personally in the marijuana industry “may result in federal prosecution and trigger discipline proceedings under SCR 111.”

Some owner-lawyers told the Las Vegas Sun they feared that the state would force all attorneys to either give up their law license or divest of their ownership in the marijuana industry, selling their stake potentially below market value. They also expressed frustration that the issue had not been resolved years earlier, before some got involved in the cannabis business in the first place.

The Nevada Dispensary Association urged a softer approach, arguing that “ownership in a [medical marijuana enterprise] does not ‘reflect upon the attorney’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness to practice law.’” Lawyer Eva Segerblom argued the policy would “be a direct interference with one’s right to earn a living.” Groesbeck, who wrote that he was proud of both his work as a lawyer and someone helping sick people access marijuana, asked the court to reject “draconian” rules on the matter.

“I do not believe I should be forced to throw away a law license that I have held and honored for over a quarter century simply because I have chosen to operate under a privileged license issued by the state,” he said.

In an order dated Feb. 10, 2017, the Nevada Supreme Court updated its Rules of Professional Conduct with the language, in spite of two justices suggesting wording that would offer more qualifications on the possibility of discipline.

“Because use, possession, and distribution of marijuana in any form still violates federal law, attorneys are advised that engaging in such conduct may result in federal prosecution and trigger discipline proceedings under SCR 111,” the current rule says. 

But the warning doesn’t appear to have triggered the disciplinary crackdown some feared, and many lawyers are upfront about their participation as owners in the industry, affirming the value that attorneys provide to the business.

Others have a less positive view of lawyer involvement. Steve Pacitti, an owner with Medical Cannabis Healing LLC, said his background is in working with businesses to ensure they have a viable corporate structure.

He thinks many attorneys who don’t have a corporate law background have migrated to the cannabis space because they see it as more lucrative and may be giving out bad advice that could lead to troubles down the road.

“The majority of lawyers got into the space opportunistically,” he said. “Because of poor structure and oversight, in addition to the incredibly poor and unrealistic statutory and regulatory framework around the industry, I anticipate a tremendous amount of litigation within many marijuana companies as investors find they are not being fairly treated by the operators.”

Here are some of the many lawyers who have applied for a license or have an ownership interest in a marijuana business:

Edward Bernstein, an owner with Silver State Wellness LLC and Paradise Wellness Center LLC, is a prominent Las Vegas-based attorney, philanthropist and television host known for his tagline “Enough Said, Call Ed.”

Several marijuana company owners are judges. James Bixler is an owner with Southern Nevada Growers Inc. who served as a judge in Las Vegas Justice Court and the Eighth Judicial District Court since 1980. While he retired in 2015, he became a senior judge who still presides over some cases. 

Neil Beller is a former owner with NCMM LLC, a cultivation company that unsuccessfully sought a retail dispensary license last year. He is a board member of New Horizons School, and is active at the synagogue Temple Ner Tamid, according to his website. He has also been a deputy district attorney and an alternate municipal judge.

Among the other lawyers are Michael Cristalli, a board member of Qualcan LLC. A lawyer with Gentile, Cristalli, Miller, Armeni, Savarese PLLC, his firm plays a prominent role in a case challenging the Nevada Department of Taxation’s distribution of 61 dispensary licenses issued in December 2018. The legal fight is still ongoing.

Then there’s Pacitti, an owner at Medical Cannabis Healing LLC and a Las Vegas lawyer. He specializes in negotiating and preparing trademark, copyright and rights of publicity licensing agreements for high-profile clients such as Shaquille O’Neal, Hulk Hogan and Andre Agassi. He negotiates celebrity appearances for various nightclubs and was instrumental in finalizing agreements with Mariah Carey, Nick Lachey, and others. He also represents world champion boxers. 

Parking space marked for Thrive Dispensary

A parking space outside the future Thrive Dispensary in Reno on Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by David Calvert.


A reputable name was an important piece of winning approval before local government boards, and helped add legitimacy to an industry that was just emerging from the shadows. 

In 2014, applicants were asked to share with the state previous experience they had working in nonprofits or businesses, as well as past community involvement and a resume listing educational achievements. And they were evaluated on the amount of taxes or financial contributions the owners and board members made to the state over the last five years.

It was a system that favored wealthy and well-connected members of the community, although some of the “old guard” have stepped back from key roles in their companies and passed on responsibility to marijuana industry experts seeking to create multi-state, publicly traded chains.

Among the marijuana owners who are heavily involved in nonprofits in the community are:

Robert Ellis, who was previously an owner at Tryke Companies and is now a board member at Gravitas Henderson. Ellis owns R&S Investment Properties and is a prominent philanthropist who has been known to donate $200,000 in Christmas gifts to Southern Nevada children in a single holiday season. He and his wife have an elementary school in Henderson named in their honor, and were named “Distinguished Nevadans” by the NSHE Board of Regents in 2015.

Peter Guzman, a real estate broker and president of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, is a board member with Deep Root Medical LLC. Guzman said that because he knew who was leading the group — Gary Primm, who has an extensive background in the gaming industry — he didn’t have hesitation about getting into the marijuana industry.

Guzman is not the only member of the group to have ties to the industry — former Latin Chamber President Otto Merida is an owner at Nevada Holistic Medicine LLC. 

Norberto Madrigal, a vice president of the Latin Chamber affiliated with Lunas, a family-owned construction cleanup company, is an owner with Herbal Choice Inc.

Other philanthropists round out the ranks of marijuana owners. Phillip Peckman, CEO of Peckman Capital Corporation, is an owner with Thrive Cannabis Marketplace. He’s been on the board of the Council for a Better Nevada, a group of community leaders that advocates on education and other policy issues, and is a supporter of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Julie Murray, who is also an owner at Thrive, is the head of philanthropy consulting firm Moonridge Group, and helped found the Las Vegas-based Three Square Food Bank.

Jody Ghanem, an owner at Wellness Connection of Nevada LLC, previously owned Radio City Pizza in downtown Las Vegas and is the development director at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in downtown Las Vegas. She is a former Rockette and came to Las Vegas in 1979 after being hired by Liberace. She was previously an advisory board member at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Her late husband, Dr. Elias Ghanem, was known as a doctor to the stars including Elvis Presley and was chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, where he played a role in revoking Mike Tyson’s license to box after he bit Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Look out for the next installment of “The Cannabis Files” — a look at the politicians, gaming executives and developers involved in the industry. If you missed the kickoff, check out “Growing Pains,” an overview of the issues that have put Nevada’s cannabis industry at a crossroads.

Jodie Snyder, Riley Snyder, Michaela Chesin, Taylor Avery, Trey Arline and Zach Murray contributed research to this project.

Breaking down nearly $2 million of congressional campaign cash

Voter registration forms

Through the third quarter of 2019, more than $1.9 million filled the campaign coffers of nearly a dozen candidates across Nevada’s four congressional districts, according to filings made this week with the Federal Election Commission. 

Roughly $800,000 stayed among the incumbent Democrats looking to defend their competitive seats in the South, with much of the rest flowing to the fractured Republican primary field in those same districts — District 3, represented by Rep. Susie Lee, and District 4, represented by Rep. Steven Horsford. 

Just 10 percent, roughly $200,000, was raised by the other two incumbents in safe districts, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in Las Vegas’ District 1, and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei in the sprawling District 2 in Northern Nevada.

But with the 2020 race to control the House of Representatives still distant — Nevada’s filing deadline doesn’t come until next March and primary voters won't hit the polls until June — early fundraising through 2019 may prove key in deciding which congressional campaigns, challengers or otherwise, make it over the finish line. 

Below is a breakdown of third-quarter fundraising data by congressional district, in order by the total money raised by declared candidates in that district. 

District 3

Lee led the congressional candidates in third-quarter fundraising, bringing in more than $490,000. Most of that money, about $304,000, came in the form of individual donations. That includes dozens of donations which hit $2,800 individual maximum, including contributions from Wynn Resorts co-founder Elaine Wynn and Walt Disney Studios co-chairman and chief creative officer Alan Horn. 

There were also a number of smaller — though still large — donations from a handful of Las Vegas regulars, including William Hill CEO Joseph Asher ($1,000) and Boyd Group President William S. Boyd II ($500). 

And though the vast majority of Lee’s fundraising was comprised of small-dollar contributions —  including nearly $170,000 brought in through the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue and another $10,000 from a similar platform called Democracy Engine — she also received a number of large donations from political action committees. 

That includes contributions by pro-choice group Emily’s List ($11,300 bundled together, including earmarked donations funneled through Emily’s List), the New Democrat Coalition, a coalition of House Democrats billing itself as pro-fiscal responsibility ($10,000 total) and the Nancy Pelosi-affiliated “PAC to the Future” ($10,000 total).  

Also among those group-donations was an eclectic collection of corporate, industry and issue-based PACs ranging from Walmart ($5,500) to Exxon-Mobil ($1,500) to the League of Conservation Voters ($2,000) to the national arm of the plumbers and pipefitters union ($5,000).

On the spending side of Lee’s report, tens of thousands went to online ads and digital consulting, including nearly $40,000 to the Colorado firm 4Degrees, Inc. Another $9,000 went to fundraising consulting from Virginia-based Fiorello Consulting, and $6,000 went to Seattle-based Blue Wave Political Partners for compliance consulting. 

Among Republicans vying for Lee’s seat, former Treasurer Dan Schwartz — who also launched an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018 — held a narrow fundraising edge, bringing in $264,000 in Q3. Only $84,000 of that sum came from individual donations, however, with the bulk coming from $180,000 in personal loans to his campaign. Of those individual donors, 22 gave him the $2,800 maximum.

The other Republican contender, former pro-wrestler and Fox News regular Dan Rodimer, followed closely behind Schwartz, raising $251,000, of which $65,000 came through loans. 

Among those who maxed their contributions to Rodimer, a significant chunk — seven of 23 — came from his one-time home of Florida. Many of those donors also donated additional funds to Rodimer’s hoped-for general election campaign, doubling their contributions from $2,800 to $5,600 — standard practice among large congressional campaigns and something no donor did for Schwartz.

Two other Republican challengers in District 3, real estate agents Tiger Helgelien and Zach WalkerLieb, both quit their congressional bids during the third quarter, filing termination paperwork in October and August, respectively. WalkerLieb had managed to raise nearly $40,000 early in the year, including a $10,000 loan, while Helgelien reported raising roughly $12,000 before ending his campaign. 

District 4

Like Lee, Horsford far outpaced individual Republicans in his district, raising roughly $300,000, or more than double the next-closest Republican fundraiser.  Unlike Lee, however, much of Horsford’s fundraising has come from PAC spending, including about $142,000 in Q3 2019 and more than $637,000 through the election so far — good for roughly 57 percent of Horsford’s total fundraising for the 2020 cycle. 

And much like his fellow Democrats across the country, Horsford raised a sizable chunk of his individual contributions through ActBlue, totaling nearly $112,000 in the aggregate. 

Separately, among his big-money third-quarter donors are the Credit Union Legislative Action Council ($6,500 in Q3 with $10,000 given overall), cable-giant Comcast ($5,000 in Q3 with $7,500 overall) and U.S. Anesthesia Partners Inc. ($5,000)

The largest single chunk of Horsford’s spending was focused on digital consultant Mothership Strategies, which received more than $38,000 between July and September. Horsford also spent an additional $15,000 on the Strathdee Group and more than $12,000 on Woods Strategies, both for fundraising consulting.

Former Miss Nevada and Las Vegas business-owner Lisa Song Sutton led the increasingly-crowded pack of Republicans jockeying for Horsford's seat, hauling in $127,000, with $108,000 individual contributions — the most of any Republican candidate. No PAC money or loans were necessary for Sutton to end the quarter with $99,000 cash on hand. 

She was closely followed by veteran and Las Vegas businessman Sam Peters, who brought roughly $112,000, with $42,000 coming from individual donors and an additional $69,000 from candidate loans for the campaign. And though Peters' filing reported more than $135,000 cash on hand to end the quarter, his actual remaining cash is likely closer to $73,000. That accounts for roughly $49,000 in spending subtracted from about $123,000 in total funds, leaving Peters with the fourth-most cash on hand in the field.

Another veteran, ex-congressional staffer Charles Navarro, raised $80,000, including almost $23,000 in individual contributions. Navarro took out $75,000 in loans for his campaign and currently has close to $77,000 cash on hand. 

Former Summerlin-area Assemblyman Jim Marchant — the top fundraiser among Republicans in Q2 — fell to $58,000 raised, just about half the $118,000 he raised through July. Though he has still raised the most of any Republican so far this cycle, his $92,000 cash on hand now puts him behind both Song Sutton and Peters in the fundraising race. 

Among Republicans, Marchant has become the biggest spender, doling out more than $51,000 through September. Almost half of that money — nearly $21,000 — went to local political consulting firm McShane LLC, while another $16,500 went to North Carolina-based fundraising consultant Saligram and Associates 

Northern Nevada business woman Randi Reed brought in a total of $47,000 from individual donors, without any PAC contributions or loans. As of now, her cash on hand is almost $41,000 with many contributions coming from construction companies.  

Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo, the only candidate hailing from outside populous Clark County, raised a total of $45,000, almost exclusively with Nevada-based contributions and without any PAC support or loans. His cash on hand now sits at $28,000.

And Nurse Catherine Prato, a late addition to the primary field, raised  $29,000, spent $1,000 and was left with $28,000 cash on hand. More than $8,000 has come from one donor, Todd Lefkowitz, who donated to both the primary and general campaigns. 

District 2

In ruby-red District 2, Amodei has fundraised in the absence of a hard push from either his right or left to unseat him, ultimately pulling in more than $91,000 in the third quarter. 

More than half of his contributions, almost $54,000, were made by individuals, while the remaining $37,000 came from PACs. Notable contributors to Amodei included Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin ($2,700), Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman ($1,000) and PACs connected to Amazon ($1,000), AT&T ($4,000), Comcast ($2,000), General Motors ($5,000) and Exxon Mobil ($2,500).

Amodei reported expenditures on a variety of typical campaign and fundraising expenses, but he also contributed $500 to Republian state Sen. Heidi Gansert’s re-election campaign, $3,000 to the Douglas County Republican Party to sponsor a BBQ, $214 to former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s Morning in Nevada PAC for tickets to the annual Basque Fry and nearly $32,000 to a Carson City marketing company for radio advertising.

Still, the congressman maintains the notable distinction of having spent more than he’s raised through 2019, bringing in roughly $288,000, but spending more than $334,000.

The biggest third-quarter beneficiaries of that spending: consultants. Amodei paid $17,000 to Reno consultant Danielle Cherry, another $32,000 to the Carson City marketing firm Wyman and Associates for radio ads, more than $10,000 to the M Group for fundraising consulting and another $10,000 in accounting fees. 

Amodei still substantially outraised likely Democratic opponents, including his 2018 general election opponent Clint Koble. Koble, who is mounting another bid, reported raising more than $23,000 and spending $21,600 during the October fundraising period, and has just $403 in available cash on hand at the end of the reporting period.

District 1

Titus, whose district encompasses the deep-blue urban core of metropolitan Las Vegas, fundraised through the third quarter with no declared challengers, bringing in nearly $99,000 through the end of September.  

About 49 percent of the contributions to her campaign, or $48,250, came from PACs. The largest donation was $10,000 from UNITE HERE Tip Campaign Committee — affiliated with the umbrella organization of the Culinary Union — while the second-largest donation this quarter was $3,000 from Credit Union National Association PAC. Three other PACs including National Elevator Constructors, SABRE Holdings Corp. (whose subsidiaries provide travel technology and booking services) and U.S. Travel Association gave $2,500 each.  

Contributions from individuals amounted to $50,733. The president and CEO of Arcata Associates, a Nevada-based company that supports federal government agencies and commercial aviation companies, gave the largest individual donation of $2,800. The American Association for Justice Politics, the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owner Association gave contributions of $2,500 each. Former Las Vegas Councilman Bob Coffin contributed $1,000. 

Her campaign committee spent $6,585 each month of the quarter on a fundraising consultant, as well as $6,400 in digital consulting fees over that period. Her campaign also spent more than $400 on event tickets for the Las Vegas Greek Food Festival hosted by St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. 

Correction - 8:30 p.m. - An original version of this story included fundraising figures for candidate Sam Peters for all of 2019 and not fundraising in the third quarter. It has been updated to reflect Peters' third-quarter fundraising only.

Correction - 10/22, 8:30 a.m. - An earlier version of this story did not identify a misfiling for candidate Sam Peters, who, though he reported $135,000 cash on hand, actually maintains $73,000 cash on hand.

Las Vegas homeless ordinance stirs community concerns

Homeless people on the sidewalk

A proposal to make it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep in a public right-of-way in downtown and residential areas of Las Vegas is being met with resistance from a variety of voices, including presidential contender Julian Castro who showed up at City Hall Wednesday to speak to protesters outside.

The Las Vegas City Council proposal would apply if sleeping space is available at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center or another non-profit service provider in the so-called “Corridor of Hope.” People could be fined up $1,000 or be sentenced to up to six months in jail. 

During the council meeting, the ACLU of Nevada, Make the Road Nevada, Faith Organizing Alliance and several other groups gathered in protest.

“We feel that this is the wrong approach to work with our homeless community,” said Lalo Montoya, political director for Make the Road Nevada.

“Criminalizing them is not the way to go about it. Our city is one of the top ten in terms of not having shelters or affordable housing for our homeless population,” Montoya added. “We believe we need to talk about resources for our most vulnerable Nevadans.”

Gerald Gillock, an attorney whose law firm is located in an area the ordinance would be enforced, says he supports relocating homeless people from the downtown area but also said the city needs to take responsibility for providing bathrooms or clean up. 

“That enforcement does not include any provisions for the city providing any type of portable sanitation,” Gillock said during the City Council’s public comment period on Wednesday morning. 

“What happens is, the homeless sleep on the city street alongside every day, and the city has determined they have a right to be there. But every single one of those people has to go to the bathroom,” Gillock said. “I know the city is doing something with this ordinance, but it’s not all you can do.” 

Outside the meeting, Gillock further explained his complaint.

“The ordinance does not require them to put out any bathrooms. Right now, every single day, 18 to 25 people are going to the bathroom in the alley behind my office. Just walk down 4th Street, and it’s a total stench,” Gillock said in an interview.

Gillock is concerned that, with the way the ordinance is written, police can suspend it at their discretion, and his office will continue to experience the same problems.

“All the police have to say is ‘it’s full,’” and it’s full right now. It’s full before the ordinance even starts,” Gillock said. “If [the city] says they have a civil right to be there, then they have to provide the sanitation.”  

Gillock was referring to bed capacity in the Courtyard Homeless Resources Center, a city-funded facility that does not provide shelter, but rather a temporary "safe zone" in an open-air area where homeless people may sleep on mats on the floor. 

When it came time for the Mayor Carolyn Goodman to introduce the ordinance for discussion, City Council members voted unanimously to proceed without further discussion. The next hearing on the matter will be Oct. 14.

Former Councilman Bob Coffin said on Twitter that the City Council had no choice but to create the ordinance because the Legislature did not approve funding to address homelessness. 

Castro saw it otherwise.

“We should never criminalize desperation, whether that is people who have no choice that are living on the streets, or in public rights of way, or immigrants who are seeking a better life in our country,” Castro said to approximately 40 protestors while the new ordinance was being proposed inside the building.

Coffin was unimpressed and said, “[Julian Castro] is woefully uninformed about the problem in our city. He does not realize that our ability to cope with homelessness was severely limited by the Democratic Legislature’s refusal to allow the City of Las Vegas to raise money to expand our facilities.”

Assembly Bill 73, which originally was designed to create a steady revenue stream for homeless services and creation of affordable housing, was essentially gutted through an amendment sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Dina Neal that scaled back specifics and asked local governments to create task forces to identify funding sources. 

Indy 2020: 19 Democratic presidential candidates swing through Las Vegas for labor forum

Audience members posing for a photo before the AFSCME Public Service Forum

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.

Good morning, and welcome to the first iteration of Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the  2020 presidential election in Nevada. We’ll also occasionally touch on other election news, including what’s going on in Nevada’s competitive House races and the battle for control of the Legislature. Tell your friends. Subscribe here. It’ll be peachy.

With the number of presidential candidates in town this weekend, it feels like the caucuses must be nigh. They’re not, unfortunately. There are exactly 200 days until Nevada’s Feb. 22, 2020 Democratic caucuses. On the bright side, that means there are many, many more iterations of this newsletter in your future. Always look on the bright side of life, dear readers.

Please reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions, or dog gifs (no cats, please) at

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


19 presidential candidates were in Las Vegas this weekend: They were here for a labor forum hosted by AFSCME and HuffPost (and co-moderated by the Boss), but many of them attended additional campaign events while they were in town too. 

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke vacuumed dog hair off of a carpet while shadowing a home-care worker in northwest Las Vegas. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris courted black voters at Victory Missionary Baptist Church on the Historic Westside. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren drew a crowd of 750, the largest of the weekend, to Green Valley High School in Henderson.

But the mood at the campaign events turned somber on Saturday and Sunday after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton left 31 dead. Candidates called for universal background checks, red flag laws, and bans on the sale of high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, among other policy priorities. It wasn’t lost on the candidates that they were hearing the news in the town that experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Assault weapons are “military weapons,”  Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said at a town hall in North Las Vegas, “and I don’t have to explain that to the people of Las Vegas.”

Four of my colleagues and I fanned out across Southern Nevada to follow the candidates around this weekend. Here’s what you need to know about what they said.

Health care took center stage at the AFSCME forum: The most interesting point candidates were pressed on is how union health plans — hard fought for by workers in contract negotiations — would be affected by candidates’ individual health-care proposals. Sanders said he could guarantee that plans under Medicare-for-all would “absolutely” be at least as good if not better than union insurance. Some of his more moderate opponents continued with the refrain that Medicare-for-all would kick people off of insurance plans they like.

“I just think if you allow words like Medicare-for-all to escape your lips you’ve got a responsibility to explain how you get from point A to point B,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said. “The best way I can think of to do it that doesn’t involve kicking millions of Americans off of health-care plans they like” is to offer Medicare as a public option for people to voluntarily buy into.

Wounds of 2016 Democratic caucuses still not healed: There’s a lot in here (4,253 words, sorry, I promise it’s worth it) in this story I wrote looking at the intra-party tensions that remain in the wake of the Democratic caucuses three and a half years ago. Some Sanders supporters are worried that changes the party is making to the caucus process will make it even more complicated and less transparent than the confusing process from before. For others, their feelings about the party — and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — have started to color their perception of Sanders, who has brought on some members of Team Reid in 2020. It’s a lot. I won’t reiterate it all here. But if you’re interested, give it a read.

No Republican 2020 caucuses: My colleague Riley Snyder reported this week that Nevada Republicans are proposing a rule change that will allow the GOP to establish an “Alternative Presidential Preference Poll.” The poll would allow the party’s central committee members to dole out delegates — and allow for a smoother nomination of President Donald Trump — without a presidential preference caucus.

An interview with Mayor Pete: I sat down with the South Bend mayor over the weekend to talk Yucca Mountain, online gaming, sex work and climate change. I also asked him if Nevada is a priority, given the fact that he just announced his state director and he’s only been to the state three times since announcing his presidential bid. Check it out.


Staffing changes

  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg has brought on Paul Selberg, former executive director of the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus, on as state director. Mohamad Shatara is joining Team Pete as Nevada organizing director.
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced changes to his Nevada team. Kristian Carranza, previously Castro’s Nevada organizing director, has been promoted to state director. Michael Cullen, formerly a practicing attorney, is Nevada political director.
  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has brought on Gene Benavides as Nevada state director. Benavides previously worked for Hillary for America, as deputy political/constituency director for For Our Future PAC, and as political director for the Nevada State Democratic Party.

Early endorsements

Before you continue reading, a disclaimer: It is Aug. 6. Like I noted up top, there are 200 days until the caucuses. It is early. None of these endorsements are going to tip Nevada in any candidate’s favor. The big-ticket endorsers have yet to endorse. In fact, Gov. Steve Sisolak, in a press gaggle before the AFSCME forum on Saturday, said he’s not sure if he’s going to endorse before the caucus.

“I’m certainly not going to endorse yet. Like I’ve said, my endorsement, my opinion, is not as important as the men and women that are working in the state of Nevada,” he said. “I get one vote, they get one vote.”

You have been warned.

  • Vice President Joe Biden received endorsements from two former members of Congress, Shelley Berkley and Jim Bilbray, and three sitting members of the Assembly — Susie Martinez, Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod and Ozzie Fumo. Other new endorsers include former Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, former Assemblyman Elliot Anderson and former Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin.
  • Castro picked up two endorsements on Friday from DNC Committeewoman Allison Stephens and Assemblyman Edgar Flores. Castro attended a house party at Flores’s house on Friday evening. (It also happened to be Flores’s birthday, and Indytern Taylor Avery tells me the event kicked off with a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday.”)
  • Harris was endorsed by two female lawmakers — Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse. She also has support from Las Vegas City Councilman Brian Knudsen.
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker received 16 “community leader” endorsements, including several community, labor, education and immigration activists. No big names though.

Upcoming visits

  • Vice President Joe Biden is slated to return to Nevada on Sept. 27. It’s part of a monthlong cross-country swing. Other stops in the West include Los Angeles (Sept. 25-26), Park City, Utah (Sept. 28), and Denver (Sept. 28). For specific details of the stops he’ll be making, keep your eye on our 2020 Candidate Tracker.


A new candidate in swingy CD3: The latest candidate to announce is Tiger Helgelien, Las Vegas real estate agent, small business owner and husband of Elizabeth Helgelien, formerly Halseth, the former state senator. Helgelien will face former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz and real estate agent Zach WalkerLieb in the Republican primary. My colleague Jacob Solis has the details.

Republican primary in CD4 gets crowded: Businesswoman Randi Reed became the latest Republican to announce for the seat last week. The increasingly crowded Republican primary field includes former Assemblyman Jim Marchant, Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo, former Hope for Prisoners re-entry manager Charles Navarro, former Miss Nevada and business owner Lisa Song Sutton, veteran and business owner Sam Peters and small business owner Rebecca Wood. More from Jacob.


Lucy Flores on Joe Biden’s rise (Washington Post)

Union workers weigh in on AFSCME forum (Las Vegas Sun)

Not all AFSCME attendees like Medicare-for-all (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Wrap on Democratic presidential candidates’ outrage over mass shootings (AP)

Update 8-6-19 at 8:29 a.m.: A previous version of this newsletter stated that California Sen. Kamala Harris had been endorsed by Assemblywoman Selena Torres. Though they appeared together at an event over the weekend, Torres has not yet endorsed in the race.

With a trio of new council members in the wings, let the City Hall games begin

Las Vegas City Hall

It rarely pays to wax nostalgic about the issues, events and characters at Las Vegas City Hall.

Scratch the surface of even the most benign proposal before the City Council, and you’re likely to find a long shadow of influence and a special interest. That doesn’t necessarily make the board unique, or the action scandalous -- at least not always. It’s simply the way the business of government operates.

Just when you’ve decided that an elected official, on balance, is a well-meaning soul, he winds up ensnared in a corruption sting. After cutting a deal, he makes with the tearful goodbyes -- and then returns to City Hall a year later as a glad-handing lobbyist in the system he previously soiled. That, too, is really nothing new or special about local government. Study it awhile, and you’ll be tempted to believe possessing the ability to feel shame is the only real sin around here.

The coming week marks a new chapter in Las Vegas government with the addition of three new members of the council: Brian Knudsen in Ward 1, Victoria Seaman in Ward 2 and Olivia Diaz in Ward 3. From all appearances, each brings strengths to a job that’s much more difficult than it looks.

Knudsen has more than 15 years of experience in city and state government, many years spent working with nonprofits and consulting on behalf of the College of Southern Nevada and Clark County School District as well as a master’s degree in public administration from USC. He expresses great devotion to community service and has been a vice chair of the Downtown Las Vegas Alliance. Whether that makes him a big-hearted consensus-builder or a well-connected business insider will be something worth watching.

Seaman fills the seat vacated via special election following the resignation earlier this year of hapless rookie Councilman Steven Seroka. No one who has watched Seaman campaign can doubt her energy. The question, as with all council newcomers, is whether the former Republican assemblywoman will be known more for her powerful political friendships than her independence. The Badlands Golf Course controversy at Queensridge will test her from the start.

Former Democratic Assemblywoman Diaz will represent Ward 3, one of the most economically challenged areas of the city. The daughter of immigrant parents, Diaz is an elementary school teacher who compiled an impressive list of powerful endorsements and enjoyed sweeping support from labor unions. She’ll need to keep those friends on speed dial if she’s going to carve out substantive improvements to her ward.

New members of the council are scheduled to be sworn in at the July 3 meeting.(There’s probably a “political fireworks” metaphor lurking in there somewhere.) 

Knudsen and Diaz are, respectively, replacing longtime council members Lois Tarkanian and Bob Coffin. Each exits after a long career in public service.

The term-limited Tarkanian finished with 14 years at City Hall and spent much of that tenure fighting for the creation of a medical district in her ward. The woman who started public life best known as the wife of college basketball coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian showed a remarkable resiliency politically by first racking up a dozen years as as a member of the Clark County School District Board of Trustees. Upon her retirement, the local Easter Seals charity named a public service award in her honor.

Coffin was even longer in public life with 24 years in the state Senate and the past eight on the council. Coffin decided not to run for re-election, citing health reasons, but it was hard to imagine he was having any fun on the job after being targeted in multiple lawsuits associated with his opposition to the proposed condominium development at Badlands.

Which brings us to the well-worn political adage that elections have consequences. In the city, where most registered voters can’t be bothered to participate in the election process, a new era is about to begin.

Will the 2019 iteration at the city become known as Michele Fiore’s council? The fiery conservative councilwoman from Ward 6 made little secret of her disdain for City Manager Scott Adams earlier this year prior to the two-year renewal of his employment contract. She’s a big supporter of Badlands/Queensridge developer Yohan Lowie and the EHB Companies project. She’s also looking to repeal an ordinance adopted by the council on a split vote last year that effectively delayed the development.

With Fiore pressing for a hearing and possible vote on the matter in July, and three of the four council members who voted for the ordinance no longer at City Hall, expect the political honeymoon for Knudsen, Seaman and Diaz to be very brief.

As hard as it may be to imagine, the council’s turbulent recent history soon might be remembered as the good old days.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Contact him at On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Diaz, Knudsen and Seaman to join Las Vegas City Council after winning municipal races

Former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz won a tight battle Tuesday for the Ward 3 Las Vegas City Council seat, defeating neighborhood activist Melissa Clary by 74 votes.

But Brian Knudsen and Victoria Seaman coasted to victory in their bids for the Ward 1 and Ward 2 council seats. Knudsen secured about 53 percent of the 4,134 votes cast in the Ward 1 race, while his opponent, Robin Munier, garnered 47 percent.

Seaman, a former assemblywoman and conservative activist, surged early in the Ward 2 special election and held onto her lead — snagging nearly 40 percent of the 7,540 votes cast in that race. Trailing her were Hilarie Grey (31 percent) and Valerie Weber (16 percent). The other candidates in that race all received less than 7 percent of the votes cast.

As votes started rolling in early Tuesday evening, Clary had a slight edge in the Ward 3 race. Only 36 votes separated them when absentee ballot and early voting results were reported. Ultimately, Diaz pulled ahead once all voting centers reported results, capturing 51 percent of the 2,644 votes cast in that race. Clary received nearly 49 percent of the votes.

Diaz will replace Councilman Bob Coffin, who chose not to seek re-election. The former assemblywoman’s victory marks her re-entry to elected office. In December, Diaz resigned from the Assembly to run for the City Council seat.

Diaz and Clary emerged the victors in a heated primary election that pitted them against five other candidates, including former Congressman Ruben Kihuen. Once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, Kihuen faced allegations of sexual harassment, toppling his congressional career. He opted not to seek another term and, instead, made a bid for the Ward 3 council seat. But he finished third in the primary.

In the run-up to the general election, Diaz became the target of negative campaign flyers circulated in her downtown ward. The flyers claimed the former assemblywoman “lied to voters.”

The Las Vegas Sun reported that EHB Companies, the developer affiliated with the divisive Badlands Golf Course project in Ward 2, funded the political action committee distributing the flyers. A website affiliated with the flyer also falsely claimed that Diaz was under investigation by the secretary of state’s office.

Knudsen’s victory means he will succeed term-limited Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian for the Ward 1 seat.

Knudsen spent almost a decade working for the City of Las Vegas and then nearly a year as president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada. He lives in McNeil Estates neighborhood with his husband, Brian Eagan, and their two adopted children.

His opponent, Munier, is a special assistant to the City Council.

Eight candidates threw their names in the ring for Ward 2 seat after former Councilman Steve Seroka abruptly resigned in March, triggering a special election. Seaman, who was part of a recall effort targeting Seroka, will serve the remainder of his term. (If Gov. Steve Sisolak signs Assembly Bill 50 into law, the terms for all City Council incumbents, including those elected Tuesday, will be extended by about 18 months, which means Seaman wouldn't have to run again until 2022.  The legislation would require municipalities to move their elections to even-numbered years.)

Seroka, a first-term council member, ran his campaign largely focused on the controversial development project for the shuttered Badlands Golf Course, which straddles the high-end Queensridge neighborhood.

The project has been a yearslong debate that has sparked several lawsuits, some of which name the city as a defendant.

This story was updated with new vote totals at 8:51 p.m. and again at 9:35 p.m. Tuesday with final results. This story was updated 4:36 p.m. Wednesday to include more information about term limits.

Inside City Hall: Peeved Councilwoman Fiore guts city manager Adams

It was a slow day at Las Vegas City Hall. So Councilwoman Michele Fiore livened things up by performing a human sacrifice.

Seizing on a clause in City Manager Scott Adams’ standard contract, an irritated Fiore persuaded enough of her fellow council members to effectively break his professional work agreement in the name of reviewing his performance. The push might have made more sense had Adams not received a performance review less than a year ago. He was awarded a bonus then, but was eviscerated on Wednesday during one of the most calamitous and chaotic council meetings I’ve witnessed in more than three decades of watching City Hall.

Although Mayor Carolyn Goodman and others on the council and at the city have lauded Adams’ professionalism and policy expertise, Fiore makes no secret of her dissatisfaction with him. As she told KSNV TV 3 after the contentious session, “As someone who sits on the council, we set policy and budget, so as I would ask him to review things, or maybe this doesn’t really fit in the budget – so some of these things in the past year-and-a-half that I brought to his attention, Mr. Adams has voiced that he has listened to me. However, he just went about and did whatever he’d like.”

That’s the problem with being the city manager. Although you serve at the pleasure of the part-time council, whose members are historically buffeted by political caprice and visions of grandeur, you’re paid to be the professional adult in the room.

Fiore’s stated beef focused on elements of Section II of Adams’ contract, which was set to renew automatically on Saturday for another two years with the term to start on July 6. Under a provision of the agreement, Adams had to be given a 90-day notice of termination prior to his renewal date. Wednesday’s meeting was the last one before the July deadline.

For the record, the document is standard and modeled on one recommended by the International City/County Management Association. It was vetted by city legal staff and publicly available. The standard it failed was the one set by Fiore, who argued Adams should have his contract reviewed – especially with new members coming to the council after the upcoming election.

“I’m just asking for fairness,” she said. “And in fairness there’s going to be five council members that haven’t had the opportunity to work with this city manager.”

Since we’re talking about fairness, it’s hard to keep professional city managers when they are subject to a public dressing down from a council member.

As Adams noted, “Because with staggered terms on councils, the political vagaries of councils, a manager could never pull off a tenure of enough time serving as your city manager to get the job done. A manager would always be subject to the individual whims of council members and their tenure would be very limited, and you’d never get anything done. And that is why the contract is written the way it is.”

After reading a litany of challenges and successes under his watch at the city, Adams said,  “I’m sitting here listening to the discussions of a unilateral negotiation of my contract,” Adams said. “Let me be very clear: If you vote today to terminate the contract, you’re getting rid of me. It’s a two-way contract. You don’t get to decide with me what I want to do. If you vote to not renew today, it doesn’t feel good. I feel like we’ve been in a very good relationship contractually, personally, and professionally.”

Earlier in the meeting, Councilman Bob Coffin, often Fiore’s foil, tried to short-circuit the last-minute item from the agenda. His motion failed in a 3-3 split with Goodman and Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian joining him. Moments later, the ailing Goodman went home for the day — and Tarkanian declared she’d voted in error.

That was nothing compared to what came next.

Fiore made her case that she wasn’t comfortable with the language of the city manager’s contract, that he should have a performance evaluation before every renewal. She found willing listeners in council members Stavros Anthony, Cedric Crear and Tarkanian. All declared their respect and admiration for Adams before voting to terminate and renegotiate his contract.

Fiore’s displeasure with Adams came to a head after he posted on Facebook the news of her call for a late addition to the council’s agenda: “Looks like an interesting Council meeting this week. Councilwoman Michele Fiore requested an emergency addition of an item to reconsider my contract.”

Her response: “Your post, Mr. Adams lacks Integrity, and you wonder why I've requested a review. Your FaceBook Post speaks very loudly of your character.”

Fiore’s political allies have buzzed for weeks about the pay and benefits Adams and his assistant managers receive. It’s little secret that a shift on the council’s balance of power could make her a lock for mayor pro-tem at a time Goodman is battling cancer. Fiore also became irritated with Adams when he failed to take her hiring suggestion and failed to move someone who displeased her.

Fiore also wasn’t alone in her discontent. Tarkanian talked nonspecifically about “concerns” about the city manager, noting that Fiore had done a “sharp job” of noticing the automatic renewal date. Crear also favored matching the renewal with an evaluation.

Only Coffin demonstrably defended Adams. “It’s your personal dislike,” he chided Fiore, and later predicted the council had just sunk itself into a potentially costly legal quagmire.

At times the two bickered like siblings with Fiore attempting to raise her argument with Coffin interrupting her at every pause. I don’t know if “Robert’s Rules of Order” has a section on sending elected officials to a timeout, but these two deserved one.

When it finally came time to vote on Fiore’s motion, the critical rhetoric was softened, but the slight clearly stung Adams no less.

With 15 years at the city and more than four decades of public policy experience, Adams signed his two-year employment contract as city manager on May 17, 2017. Fiore was elected that June. The trouble started not long after.

Save Fiore, every council member expressed deep respect and appreciation for Adams.

If they love him any more, he’ll be out of a job and in need of a blood transfusion.


Kihuen’s bid for City Council seat ends in loss to Diaz, Clary; Goodman wins third term

Former Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s attempt to revive his political career fizzled Tuesday when he lost his bid for a Las Vegas City Council seat by a razor-thin margin.

Former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz and activist Melissa Clary emerged with the most votes in the Ward 3 race, meaning they will head to the general election in June. Diaz captured 33 percent of the votes. The former congressman, who chose not to seek re-election amid sexual harassment allegations, received just over 28 percent of the votes cast in the election -- five votes fewer than Clary.

Candidate for Las Vegas City Council Olivia Diaz stands outside a polling location at William Moore Elementary School on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The loss marks a narrow but swift fall for Kihuen, who was edging out Clary when the early vote results were posted earlier Tuesday evening. Clary works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, however, secured enough votes to win re-election outright, continuing the family legacy in that office. Early vote and absentee totals indicate Goodman received more 83 percent of the votes, reaching the majority threshold to win that election outright. While municipal primary elections can be overlooked and often see low turnout, they carry significance given the ability of a candidate to win a race — rendering a general election unnecessary — if he or she receives a majority of votes.

The victory assures her a third and final term in office. Goodman’s husband also served the maximum three terms as Las Vegas mayor immediately before her tenure began. If she serves the duration of her third term, that means the Goodmans will have shepherded the city for 24 years.

Goodman announced in January that she was seeking a third mayoral term despite a breast cancer diagnosis.The mayor said she would be receiving treatments on Fridays when city hall is closed but downplayed any notions of health issues interfering with her role.

“Otherwise, I am completely healthy and can continue to work effectively as the mayor of Las Vegas during treatment,” Goodman said at a January press conference. “Believe me, I have more energy than a pack of wolves and look forward to serving the wonderful community and people of Las Vegas for four more exciting years, if, in fact, they choose to re-elect me.”

In the crowded Ward 1 race, the two candidates continuing to the general election will be Brian Knudsen, who captured nearly 27 percent of the vote, and Robin Munier, who received around 20 percent of votes cast. Despite a high-profile campaign, addiction recovery advocate Dave Marlon reported about 17 percent of the vote and missed the cutoff for the general election.

Incumbent Cedric Crear easily won a full term in the Ward 5 race, garnering 60 percent of the early votes. Crear won a special election last year, replacing former Councilman Ricki Barlow, who resigned after pleading guilty to a felony charge of misusing campaign funds.)

Benard McKinley casts his ballot at a polling location inside William Moore Elementary School in Las Vegas on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The Ward 3 race received the most attention given Kihuen’s presence. Multiple allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against Kihuen in late 2017 and early 2018, leading the freshman congressman to announce he wouldn’t run for re-election amid a congressional ethics probe. The nine-month investigation determined that Kihuen — a former state senator once viewed as a rising Latino star in the Democratic party — ”made persistent and unwanted advances toward women who were required to work with him,” which violated House rules.

Seemingly undaunted by his role in the #MeToo movement, Kihuen mounted a comeback by applying to run for the Las Vegas City Council seat held by Councilman Bob Coffin, who decided against seeking re-election. The move didn’t go unnoticed.

Soon, an anti-Kuhuen campaign sprouted.

Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank and the “Nevada Values Pac” launched a website called The site featured graphic details and text messages that were released by the House Ethics Committee following its investigation of the sexual harassment claims against him.

Although that group did not endorse other candidates, former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz attracted staunch support from the state’s Democratic establishment, including endorsements from Sen. Jacky Rosen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and an endorsement from the state’s powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226.

Even so, campaign posters featuring Kihuen popped up in Las Vegas and the race forged ahead. Earlier this month, Kihuen participated in a forum with the other six candidates. But, in the end, it wasn’t enough to curry favor with prospective voters.

Swank and the group that campaigned against Kihuen praised voters for their choices in the primary election.

The general election is June 11. Here are primary results from other Southern Nevada municipalities:

North Las Vegas

Incumbent Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown easily won re-election outright, garnering more than 85 percent of the vote over her sole opponent, Christopher Burns, who received around 15 percent of the vote.

But her fellow incumbent councilmember Richard Cherchio will be forced to advance to a general election. Early vote and absentee results showed Cherchio with just over 45 percent of the vote, below the majority threshold to automatically win re-election. Advancing to the general election with Cherchio is Pete Shields, who earned around 21 percent of the vote in the six-person primary.


All five municipal races on the ballot for Henderson residents were decided on Tuesday and won’t advance to a general election, with candidates winning outright in every race on the ballot.

Council members Dan Shaw and Dan Stewart each easily cruised to re-election, with Shaw winning 83 percent of the vote and Stewart capturing 86 percent of votes cast in his ward. And incumbent, Henderson Municipal Court Judge Mark Stevens, also won re-election, earning close to 71 percent of the vote.

In the race to replace Councilwoman Gerri Schroder in Henderson Ward 1, Michelle Romero captured over 60 percent of the vote and thus will join the Henderson city council .

This story has been updated with more election results and corrected to fix a misstated date.