Follow the Money: Campaign finance reports show GOP edges in key Assembly races, tight contests in State Senate

Front of the Nevada Legislature building at night

A year after legislative Republicans became close to an endangered species after widespread 2018 electoral defeats, the party’s attempted comeback was boosted by candidates in several key races outraising incumbent Democratic lawmakers during the last year.

Details from the 2019 contribution and expenses reports, due on Jan. 15, detailed how much legislative incumbents and candidates raised over the last calendar year and painted a more hopeful picture for Republicans in several “swing” Assembly races, with a more mixed view in competitive state Senate seats.

Although there are 63 seats in the Legislature — 42 Assembly members and 21 senators — actual control of the body, or more likely whether or not Democrats have a two-thirds majority (required for passing any increase in taxes) in either body, will likely come down to just a handful of competitive seats up in 2020. 

Changing the balance of the state Assembly, where Democrats enjoy a 29-13 seat advantage, could be the best ticket for Assembly Republicans. In at least three races — Assembly Districts 4, 29 and 37 — Republican candidates reported raising at least six figures and each substantially outraised the Democratic incumbent in the seat.

Only 10 seats are up for election in the Senate, with members serving staggered four-year terms. Democrats control 13 seats — one shy of a super-majority — but have not endorsed candidates in the two most likely pick-up districts; Heidi Gansert in Senate District 15 and Scott Hammond in Senate District 18. And those incumbents will start with a significant financial advantage — Gansert raised $245,000 in 2019, and Hammond also pulled in $107,800.

Senate Democrats will also have to work to defend two competitive seats — Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s Senate District 6 and the open Senate District 5, vacated by termed-out Sen Joyce Woodhouse. They’ll also have to deal with a competitive, three-way primary in safely Democratic Senate District 7 between caucus-backed Roberta Lange and two long-time Assembly members, Richard Carrillo and Ellen Spiegel.

And with no major statewide or federal races (beyond congressional seats and the presidential election) on the ballot, it’s likely that more attention and funds will make their way to down-ticket legislative races, especially ahead of an expected redistricting after the 2020 Census that could determine the political trajectory of the state over the next decade.

Fundraising reports, especially those filed nearly a year before an election, aren’t a perfect barometer of the success of any particular candidate, but offer a helpful context in determining which races that individual parties determine to be the most winnable and whether or not individual candidates have the resources to compete in a down-ballot race. (It’s also worth noting that incumbents are disadvantaged in fundraising because of a legally required “blackout” period before, during and shortly after the 120-day legislative session).

On the flip-side, a close examination of major contributors can pull back the veil on which businesses or industries are trying to curry favor with lawmakers ahead of the 2021 legislative session. 

Here’s a look at the financial status of major legislative races:

Major state Senate races

Although 10 state Senate races will be on the 2020 ballot, only a handful of races are likely to be competitive and shift the current 13-8 seat advantage currently held by Democrats.

A key battleground will be in Senate District 6, which is held by Cannizzaro, who narrowly beat former Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman in the 2016 election. Senate Republicans have endorsed April Becker, a Las Vegas-based attorney. Democrats make up 40 percent of registered voters in the district, and Republicans make up roughly 32.8 percent of registered voters.

Cannizzaro, who also beat back a politically motivated recall attempt in 2017, starts the race with a significant financial advantage after raising more than $326,000 throughout 2019, spending just $22,000 and ending the reporting period with $531,000 in the bank. Her top donors include $30,000 from properties affiliated with the Las Vegas Sands and $10,000 checks each from the Mirage, Switch and the Home Building Industry PAC, as well as nearly $10,000 from Woodhouse’s campaign.

But Becker’s first campaign finance report isn’t shabby; she reported raising nearly $313,000 over the fundraising period (including a “written commitment” from herself for $125,000) and ended the period with $152,000 in her campaign account.

Top donors to Becker included several Republican senators ($10,000 each from James Settelmeyer and the Senate Republican Leadership Conference, $5,000 each from Ben Kieckhefer, Joe Hardy and former state Sen. Michael Roberson and $2,000 from Keith Pickard), as well as $10,000 each from Abbey Dental Center owner Sanjeeta Khurana, the law firm of Gerald Gillock & Associates and Nevsur, Inc. (owned by Bruce and Barry Becker ).

Another highly competitive seat is Senate District 5, where Woodhouse narrowly beat Republican candidate and charter school principal Carrie Buck by less than one percentage point in the 2016 election. Democrats make up 38.4 percent of registered voters in the district compared to 32.6 percent for registered Republicans.

Buck, who is running again and has been endorsed by Senate Republicans, reported raising nearly $63,000 and ended the fundraising period with nearly $58,000 in the bank. Her top donors were fellow Republican senators; $10,000 each from the caucus itself and Settelmeyer, $5,000 each from Kieckhefer, Roberson and Hardy and $2,000 from Pickard.

But Buck’s fundraising total was eclipsed by Democrat Kristee Watson, a literacy nonprofit program facilitator endorsed by Senate Democrats in October.

Watson, who ran unsuccessfully for a Henderson-area Assembly seat in 2018, reported raising nearly $87,000 through the fundraising period, with a significant chunk coming from transfers from other candidates and office-holders. She received $10,000 contributions each from a PAC affiliated with Cannizzaro and the campaigns of Sens. Woodhouse, Chris Brooks, Marilyn Dondero Loop, and $5,000 from the campaigns of Sens. Melanie Scheible, Julia Ratti and Yvanna Cancela.

Other potentially competitive state Senate races feature a lopsided fundraising advantage for the incumbent. Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris in Senate District 11 was appointed to fill the term of now-Attorney General Aaron Ford, and reported raising nearly $46,000 over the fundraising period ($65,000 cash on hand). Her Republican opponents, Edgar Miron Galindo and Joshua Dowden, raised only $7,250 and $ 11,500 respectively over the fundraising period.

Two Republican incumbents up for re-election also posted impressive fundraising numbers that far outstripped potential opponents. Gansert in Senate District 15 raised nearly $246,000 and has nearly $237,000 in cash on hand; potential Democratic opponent Lindsy Judd did not file a 2019 campaign finance report.

In Senate District 18, incumbent Hammond raised nearly $108,000 and has more than $91,000 left in his campaign account; potential Democratic opponent Liz Becker raised $21,700 in comparison and has just $11,200 in cash on hand.

Primary battles

One of the most intriguing legislative races could come in the three-way Democratic primary to replace longtime Sen. David Parks, who is termed out of his Senate District 7 seat. Two Assembly members — Ellen Spiegel and Richard Carrillo — are running for the seat, but state Senate Democrats have thrown their weight behind another candidate, former state party head Roberta Lange.

Lange — who only made her bid for the seat official in mid-December — reported raising more than $64,000 for the seat, essentially during only the last two weeks of December. Her major donors included $10,000 from Cannizzaro’s political action committee, and $5,000 each from six incumbent senators — Ratti, Brooks, Scheible, Woodhouse, Cancela and Dondero Loop. She also received $2,500 from Parks, $1,000 from former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s Searchlight Leadership PAC and $5,000 each from UNLV professor and former gaming executive Tom Gallagher and his wife, Mary Kay Gallagher.

But she faces a potentially tough primary fight from Spiegel, who raised $63,000 throughout 2019 and has nearly $213,000 in available cash on hand. Her top contributor was Cox Communications ($10,000 cumulative) but other top givers included the Nevada REALTORS PAC, pharmaceutical company trade group PhRMA, health insurance giant Centene and AT&T ($3,000 from each). 

Carrillo lagged behind both Lange and Spiegel in initial fundraising reports. He reported raising $29,500 throughout the fundraising period, spending $37,600 and having just $17,000 left in available cash. His biggest contributor was the Laborers Union Local 872, which donated $12,500 through contributions by five affiliated political action committees. Other top contributors include tobacco company Altria and the political arm of the Teamsters Union ($5,000 each), and $3,000 each from Nevada REALTORS PAC and the Nevada Trucking Association.

Another major primary election is brewing between Republican candidates Andy Matthews (a former campaign spokesman for former Attorney General Adam Laxalt) and Michelle Mortensen (former television host and congressional candidate) in a primary for the right to challenge Assemblywoman Shea Backus in Assembly District 37.

Matthews raised a massive $154,000 over the fundraising period, the highest amount of any Republican Assembly candidate and the second most of any Assembly candidate behind only Speaker Jason Frierson.

He reported spending $23,800 and ending the period with more than $130,000 in available cash. His top donors included $10,000 combined from manufacturer EE Technologies and founder Sonny Newman, and $5,000 each from Las Vegas-based businesses Vegas Heavy Haul and InCorp Services, Inc. 

Mortensen also posted a substantial fundraising total; more than $102,000 raised, $9,500 spent and more than $93,000 in cash on hand. Her major donors included primarily family members; her husband Robert Marshall and his company Marshall & Associates ($20,000 total), her father-in-law James Marshall ($10,000) and maximum $10,000 donations from several family members including Betty Mortensen, Tom Mortensen, Ryan Mortensen and Mila Mortensen.

Both Republican candidates outraised incumbent Backus, who raised nearly $25,000 during the reporting period and has nearly $64,000 left in cash on hand. Her top donor was Wynn Resorts, which gave her $5,000. Backus narrowly defeated then-Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant in the 2018 election, the first time a Democrat won the district in four election cycles.

Another competitive primary is happening in Assembly District 36, where appointed Assembly Republican Gregory Hafen II is facing off against Joseph Bradley, who ran for the seat last cycle against former Assemblyman James Oscarson and famed brothel owner Dennis Hof, who won the primary but died before the election.

Hafen reported raising $62,000 over the fundraising period (including a $9,500 loan) and has nearly $47,000 in cash on hand. Bradley reported raising $54,000 and has $38,500 left in his campaign account.

Key Assembly races

Nevada’s Assembly Democrats hit a potential high-water mark in 2018, winning control of 29 seats for the first time since 1992 and gaining enough seats to relegate Assembly Republicans to a super-minority (fewer than two-thirds of members).

But in a handful of competitive Assembly seats currently held by Democrats, Republican candidates posted substantial fundraising totals that not only eclipsed but often lapped the amount raised by incumbent Democrats, giving Republicans a financial leg up in some of the state’s most competitive legislative districts.

In Assembly District 4, first-term lawmaker Connie Munk reported raising $18,600 throughout 2019 and ended the period with just over $30,000 in cash on hand. Her biggest donors were PhRMA and trial attorneys-affiliated Citizens for Justice, Trust.

But her fundraising total was overwhelmed by Republican candidate Donnie Gibson, who reported raising $115,000 and has $87,000 left in his campaign account. Gibson, who runs a grading and paving company called Civil Werx, received maximum contributions from home builders and developers: $10,000 each from Associated Builders & Contractors, Associated General Contractors, the Nevada Contractors Association and the Home Industry Building PAC.

A similar disparity in fundraising totals was also present in Assembly District 29, where incumbent Democrat Lesley Cohen reported raising $16,000 over the fundraising period and has just under $50,000 in available cash.

Steven Delisle, a dentist and former state Senate candidate who announced his intention to run for the Assembly seat on Thursday, reported raising more than $134,000 for the race against Cohen, including a $125,000 loan to his campaign account.

But Democrats may have caught a break in Assembly District 31, where incumbent Skip Daly has won multiple races despite representing a district that went for President Donald Trump in 2016. Daly raised $46,425 through 2019 and has $75,800 left in his campaign account.

Assembly Republicans initially rallied behind Jake Wiskerchen, a marriage and family therapist who reported raising $27,700 for the race and had $19,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2019. But Wiskerchen opted to publicly drop out of the race in early January, leaving Republicans without an endorsed candidate for the time being. Daly’s 2018, 2016 and 2014 opponent, Jill Dickman, reported raising $8,800 in 2019 and has nearly $104,000 in leftover campaign cash.

Legislative leaders

Democratic Assembly Speaker Frierson reported raising more than $233,000 through the fundraising period, spending $174,000 and ended the period with just under $475,000 in cash on hand. His top contributors included a wide swath of Nevada businesses, including $10,000 each from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, the campaign account of former Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, Home Building Industry PAC, MGM Resorts and UFC parent company Zuffa, LLC. He also received $5,000 from the Vegas Golden Knights.

Republican Assembly Leader Robin Titus, who took over the caucus leadership position after the 2019 legislature, raised just over $38,000 during the fundraising period, spending more than $16,000 and ending the period with $72,000 in cash on hand. Top contributors to Titus included PhRMA and the Nevada REALTOR PAC ($5,000 each).

Her Republican counterpart in the state Senate, Settelmeyer, reported raising nearly $95,000 over the reporting period, with top contributors including UFC parent company Zuffa ($7,500), TitleMax, Nevada Credit Union League PAC, Grand Sierra Resort and Storey County businessman Lance Gilman ($5,000 from each). Settelmeyer ended the reporting period with $137,000 in cash on hand.

Sisolak

Although he isn’t up for re-election until 2022, Gov. Steve Sisolak broke fundraising records for Nevada governors in their first year in office after raising more than $1.6 million for his campaign and another $1.7 million for two closely affiliated political action committees. 

Sisolak reported having more than $2.3 million in available cash on hand at the end of 2019, and only reported spending $164,000 throughout the year. The governor also raised $1.7 million between the Sisolak Inaugural Committee and the Home Means Nevada PAC, which were initially set up to manage Sisolak’s inaugural events but have since been used for pro-Sisolak advertising. Political action committees in Nevada are allowed to accept unlimited donations.

Updated at 12:55 p.m. on Saturday, January 18th to include fundraising totals from Senate Republican candidate Joshua Dowden.

From the Bellagio to Lotus of Siam, here’s how Democratic presidential hopefuls are spending campaign cash in Nevada

Presidential campaign expenditure reports aren’t known for being glitzy. There are trips to Office Depot and Costco for supplies, furniture from IKEA, quick lunches at Panera Bread, rental cars, flights, staff salaries and office rent. 

But when your campaign comes to Las Vegas, those reports suddenly get a lot more interesting.

Democratic presidential hopefuls have spent more than $2.1 million in the Silver State since the beginning of the year, according to a review of campaign finance reports covering the first nine months of the year filed with the Federal Election Commission. Among that spending? Tens of thousands of dollars in hotel nights on the Las Vegas Strip and event catering by some of the city’s most loved restaurants.

The candidates have also shelled out thousands of dollars on event rental spaces, permits and security to local government entities, including the cities of Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas and the Clark and Washoe school districts. (Those sums are, however, unlikely to solve any funding woes.)

Another major beneficiary of campaign spending in the Silver State is the Nevada State Democratic Party, which has taken in nearly $500,000 from Democratic presidential hopefuls in voter file access and event tickets or sponsorships. Those funds will go toward helping the party run Nevada’s Feb. 22 first-in-the-West caucus.

Read below for some of the highlights of where candidates are choosing to spend their hard-earned campaign cash in Nevada.

Hotel and travel

Democratic presidential hopefuls have, collectively, spent the most on lodging at the Vdara, owned by MGM Resorts and tucked behind the Bellagio and across the street from the Aria. Former Vice President Joe Biden has spent the most there by far, about $14,400, though California Sen. Kamala Harris, billionaire Tom Steyer and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also each dropped significant cash on lodging and travel there.

Another top grossing property was the SLS, which was recently renamed the Sahara. That was mostly thanks to Harris, who spent $17,200 there, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders each spent a couple hundred dollars there.

Spending patterns also hint at how the campaigns’ financial constraints of lack thereof may play into decisions about where to stay in Las Vegas. 

Steyer, who has pumped at least $47 million of his own money into his campaign, spent $3,000 at the Aria, one of the newer hotels on the Strip with its glossy curved towers and modern interior decor and another MGM property, in the month of September while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who has struggled to raise money, spent $2,400 between January and September at the Flamingo, which opened in 1946.

But not all campaigns are spending their entire hotel budgets on the Strip. Sanders spent $7,100 at the Skyline Hotel and Casino on Boulder Highway in Henderson in March. Other campaigns spent smaller amounts of cash at Downtown Las Vegas hotels, including the Downtown Grand, Golden Nugget and the Plaza.

In the north, the Grand Sierra Resort was the most popular hotel for campaigns. Steyer by far outspent his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls, dropping $10,100 on stays there at the end of September.

Totals spent on lodging can include stays by candidates or their staff. Most of the following amounts were described specifically as “lodging,” though some were described generically as “travel,” which could include non-lodging related expenses.

On the Strip:

  • Vdara: $21,900 // Biden spent $14,400 in early May. Harris spent $3,700 in mid-August. Buttigieg spent $1,600 in early May. Steyer spent $2,200 in July, August and September.
  • SLS/Sahara: $18,600 // Sanders spent $600 in May and June. Harris spent $17,200 between March and August. Warren spent $800 between March and August.
  • Park MGM: $5,600 // Sanders spent $500 in May. Biden spent $5,100 in May.
  • MGM Resorts: $4,600 // Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar spent $4,600 on travel in May and August, though her campaign finance report does not specify which MGM Resorts property she stayed at.
  • Mandalay Bay: $3,300 // Buttigieg spent $2,500 in May. Warren spent $900 in June and August.
  • Aria: $3,000 // Steyer spent $3,000 in September.
  • Flamingo Hotel and Casino: $2,400 // Castro spent $2,400 in January, March, May, June and September.
  • Bellagio: $1,500 // Gabbard spent $300 in mid-May. Warren spent $1,200 on travel in April, July and August.
  • Stratosphere: $700 // Biden spent $300 in August and September. Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang spent $300 in September
  • The Linq: $500 // Warren spent $500 in February and March.
  • Caesars Palace: $300 // Harris spent $300 in July.
  • MGM Grand: $200 // Self-help author Marianne Williamson spent $50 on campaign travel on July 8. Warren spent $150 in August.
  • Wynn Las Vegas: $100 // Harris spent a little less than $100 in July and August.

Off the Strip and Downtown Las Vegas:

  • Westin Las Vegas: $7,300 // Williamson spent $6,200 in April, June, July and August. Buttigieg spent $1,100 in April.
  • Skyline Hotel and Casino: $7,100 // Sanders spent $7,100 in March.
  • Hard Rock Hotel and Casino: $1,600 // Sanders spent $1,600 between July and September.
  • Downtown Grand Hotel: $1,400 // Castro spent $600 in September. Harris spent $800 in July.
  • Palms Place: $1,400 // Williamson spent $900 on in mid-May. Warren spent $500 on travel in May, June and July. (Warren apologized in August for her staffers staying at the Palms and crossing the Culinary Union’s picket line to do so; Williamson cited “travel and scheduling restrictions” for saying at the hotel, according to CBS News.)
  • Silver Sevens Hotel: $700 // Buttigieg spent $700 in late July and early August.
  • The Carriage House: $400 // Klobuchar spent $400 in early April.
  • Golden Nugget: $300 // Gabbard spent $300 in early April.
  • Plaza Hotel and Casino: $200 // New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker spent $200 in early April.

In the north:

  • Grand Sierra Resort: $15,800 // Steyer spent $10,100 at the end of September. Harris spent $2,800 in May. Warren spent $1,600 on travel in April, May, July and August. Booker spent $400 in May and September. Sanders spent $300 in June. Biden spent $300 in August. Williamson spent $300 in April. 
  • Peppermill: $600 // Williamson spent $600 in April, May and July.
  • Circus Circus: $400 // Booker spent $400 in March.

Food and catering

Fundraisers, debate watch parties and other campaign events are all fine and well on their own. But there’s one surefire way to get people to show up to your events — and that’s food.

To that end, campaigns have learned on some of the most popular restaurants in Las Vegas to cater or host events around town.

The biggest spend by an individual candidate at an individual location on catering, food and beverage was Biden, who spent $38,600 on catering, food and beverage at NoMad between May and September. Two-thirds of that was dropped on a major fundraiser that Biden held at NoMad in early May.

Other campaign spending on food and beverage was less flashy but no less classically Las Vegas. Both Booker and Williamson leaned on the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, a training school for hospitality workers, for food, beverage and catering for their campaigns.

Several candidates also held community events specifically focused on reaching out to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community at or catered by Chinese, Filipino and Indian restaurants around town, including Harbor Palace Seafood Restaurant, Hong Kong Garden Seafood, Bropards, Chang’s, and Pure Indian Cuisine.

Here’s a sampling of some of the more interesting food and catering purchases made by campaigns.

  • MGM Resorts: Biden spent $25,400 on catering, food and beverage on May 7, the day he held a fundraiser at NoMad. He spent another $13,200 at NoMad on in July, August and September.
  • Harbor Palace Seafood Restaurant: Biden spent $2,250 on catering, food and beverage at this seafood and dim sum restaurant in Chinatown on Aug. 7, four days after he attended an AAPI community event there.
  • Culinary Academy of Las Vegas/Westside Bistro: Booker spent $1,200 on Feb. 25 and Williamson spent $900 in June and July on food, beverage and catering. The Culinary Academy provides training to hospitality industry workers, and the Westside Bistro is a restaurant on its campus where students can practice.
  • Bropards: Williamson spent $500 on June 19 and Buttigieg spent $1,500 in mid-May on food, beverage and catering at this Filipino restaurant, lounge and event space in Chinatown. (Buttigieg attended an Asian American Pacific Islander Democratic Caucus community dinner there on May 11.)
  • Chang’s: Yang spent $1,800 on catering and event space at this Chinese restaurant in Spring Valley on April 24.
  • Pure Indian Cuisine: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard spent $1,800 on catering and facility fees on March 22 at this Indian cafe near McCarran International Airport. (She hosted an event with Las Vegas’s Indian community a few days prior.)
  • PublicUs: Booker spent $1,700 on catering at this popular Downtown Las Vegas cafe in July and August.
  • Hong Kong Garden Seafood: Booker spent $1,400 on May 8, a couple of weeks after Met with members of the AAPI community at a "Community Dinner with Cory” at this Chinatown restaurant.
  • Cafe de Manila: Warren spent $1,400 on meals on Sept. 14 at this Filipino restaurant in Spring Valley.
  • Doña Maria Tamales: Yang spent $300 on catering and event space on April 23 and Harris spent $1,000 on catering, facilities and meals in June and September at this popular Downtown Las Vegas tamale shop. (Harris’s campaign hosted a debate watch party at the restaurant in late June.)
  • TC’s Rib Crib: Yang spent $600 in April, and Williamson spent $300 in June on catering, food and beverage at this barbecue joint. (The restaurant has since closed after the sudden death of its owner.)
  • Ferraro’s Restaurant: Sanders spent $700 on catering from this upscale Italian restaurant in July.
  • DW Bistro: Harris spent $700 on meals on April 4 at this Southwest Las Vegas restaurant that serves a mix of New Mexican and Jamaican cuisines.
  • Shiraz: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock spent $600 on meals on Aug. 5 at this popular restaurant serving Indian and Mediterranean food.
  • 911 Taco Bar and Catering: Harris spent $600 on catering on July 26 from this mobile taco cart company.
  • Lotus of Siam: Klobuchar spent $500 on catering on May 22 at this favorite local Thai restaurant.
  • Triple George Grill: Sanders spent $500 on catering in July and September from this Downtown Las Vegas restaurant.
  • Tacos and Beer: Buttigieg spent $300 on catering on Aug. 3 and Warren spent $200 on meals on Aug. 27 at this speciality taco and craft beer shop near UNLV.

Event spaces, permits and security

As they travel through town, candidates often host events at local schools, community centers and parks. But doing so doesn’t come free — or cheap. Sanders, for instance, paid the Clark County Parks and Recreation Department nearly $10,000 on event, sound and staging costs in September, when he hosted a rally at the Cambridge Recreation Center. 

Three candidates — Sanders, Harris and Warren — have also paid the Clark County School District thousands of dollars to hold town halls and rallies at elementary, middle and high schools across Southern Nevada. Two candidates, Warren and Buttigieg, paid the Washoe County School District to host events at high schools up north as well.

Other times, candidates have paid to host events at private facilities, such as at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada or First Friday in Las Vegas’s Arts District.

Here’s a look at where some of those events have been and how much it cost the candidates.

Government entities

  • Clark County Parks and Recreation: $9,500 // Sanders spent $9,500 on event, sound and staging in September. He hosted a climate change and “college for all” rally in Sept. 14 at the Cambridge Recreation Center.
  • Clark County School District: $8,700 // Sanders spent $1,000 on event, sound and staging in May and September. Harris spent $3,700 on catering, event and facilities in March and August. Warren spent $4,000 on facilities and rentals on in April through September. Sanders hosted a town hall at Roy W. Martin Middle School on May 30; Harris hosted town halls at Canyon Springs High School on March 1 and Nate Mack Elementary School on Aug. 3; and Warren hosted rallies at Bonanza High School on April 27 and Green Valley High School on Aug. 2.
  • City of Las Vegas: $7,700 // Warren spent $2,700 on facilities and rentals on June 27. Harris spent $4,700 on event facilities and security in June and September. Booker spent $300 on venue rental on April 29. Warren hosted a community conversation at the East Las Vegas Community Center on July 2, Harris hosted a rally at Doolittle Community Center on June 15 and at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Oct. 2; and Booker hosted an event at Mirabelli Community Center on April 20.
  • UNR: $7,200 // Sanders spent $2,400 on event, sound and staging in mid-September, while Harris spent $4,800 on event facilities and parking in late September. Sanders and Harris hosted events on the campus on Sept. 13 and Oct. 3, respectively.
  • City of Henderson: $4,300 // Sanders spent $4,300 on event permits, sound and staging in March. The Vermont senator’s first rally in Nevada of his 2020 campaign was in Henderson’s Morrell Park.
  • Reno Police Department: Sanders spent $2,400 on event security in early June, after hosting a rally in Reno City Plaza on May 29.
  • Washoe County School District: Buttigieg spent $500 on a site rental in September, and Warren spent $800 on facilities and rental expenses in early April. Buttigieg hosted a rally at Sparks High School on Sept. 28, while Warren hosted a rally at Wooster High School on April 6.
  • Carson City Parks and Recreation: $1,000 // Sanders spent $1,000 for event planning fees on Sept. 13, the day he hosted a town hall at the Carson City Community Center Gymnasium.
  • North Las Vegas: Sanders spent $400 on event security in July.

Other rental spaces

  • Springs Preserve: Yang spent $5,800 on event space in April, and Warren spent $6,100 in February and March. Yang held a rally there in April, while Warren held one in February.
  • Victory Missionary Baptist Church: Sanders spent $7,000 on event, sound and staging for a town hall he held there on July 6.
  • The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada: Sanders spent $2,000 on event, sound and staging in August; Biden spent $2,000 on site rentals in June, July and August; and Williamson spent $300 on rental fees in April. Williamson and Sanders hosted events at the Center in April and August, respectively.
  • First Friday Foundation Las Vegas: Buttigieg spent $3,500 on event registration on Aug. 1. He spoke at First Friday in the Arts District the following day.
  • Blind Center of Nevada: Klobuchar spent $3,000 to rent space in April. She hosted a meet-and-greet with local voters there on April 7.
  • Desert Willow Golf Course: Biden spent $2,800 for a rally he held at Sun City MacDonald Ranch on Aug. 3.
  • Saint Simeon Orthodox Church: Sanders spent $2,000 on event, sound and staging in September. The Vermont senator was slated to hold a rally there with Assemblyman Alexander Assefa on Oct. 2 but was hospitalized following a heart attack the prior evening.

Other spending

Another significant expense for campaigns over the last nine months has been access to the Nevada State Democratic Party’s voter file. Four campaigns have paid the party $100,000 for access to the file, according to FEC reports, while others have made smaller payments toward the full cost of the voter file.

Other expenses include contributions to local organizations, such as Hispanics in Politics and Battle Born Progress, to attend or sponsor events and sign language interpretation services.

Here’s a look at some of those miscellaneous expenses.

Parties

  • Nevada State Democratic Party: Sanders, Biden, Harris and Buttigieg have all paid the party $100,000 each for access to its voter file. Yang has also spent $5,000 and Steyer has spent $75,000 for voter file access, something that the campaigns are allowed to pay in installments. The party has also raised money through event tickets and registration fees: Bullock paid the party a little less than $400 for event meals on Aug. 2; Booker spent $1,500 on event tickets on Sept. 25; Harris spent $3,100 on event tickets on Sept. 23; Buttigieg spent $2,500 on a registration fee on Sept. 25 and $1,500 on a site rental on Sept. 23; and Steyer spent $1,500 on an event sponsorship on Sept. 19.
  • Red Rock Democratic Club: Several campaigns paid the club for event tickets: Sanders spent $450, Biden spent $35 and Booker spent $550. 
  • Women’s Democratic Club of Clark County: Warren spent $2,500 on a contribution on Aug. 12.

Community group spending

  • Battle Born Progress: Sanders spent $1,500 on an event registration fee on Sept. 17, while Buttigieg spent $1,500 as an event sponsor on Sept. 23.
  • Hispanics in Politics: Booker spent about $900 on event tickets on Aug. 28, while Yang spent $500 on event space on April 30.
  • Armed Forces and Military Appreciation Inc.: Several candidates made contributions or purchased event tickets from this group, including $250 each from Biden, Booker and Harris. The group puts on an annual Armed Forces, Military Veterans and First Responders Appreciation Day at Craig Ranch Regional Park.

Other

  • American Sign Language Communication: Sanders spent $3,800 on interpretation services from March through September. Warren spent $500 in July and August.

IndyTalks: Washoe school district leaders on district challenges, Traci Davis firing

Interview with Kristen McNeil and Kathy Simon Holland

Despite rising graduation rates and other positive indicators, Washoe County School District leaders say the district has to “do better” on issues ranging from low ACT test scores to rebuilding trust after an acrimonious, public firing of the district’s former superintendent earlier this year.

At an IndyTalks forum hosted at the Grand Sierra Resort on Wednesday, Nevada Independent editor Jon Ralston questioned Washoe County School District Board of Trustees President Katy Simon Holland and interim Superintendent Kristen McNeil on issues facing the school district, from the termination of former superintendent Traci Davis last summer to plans to reduce class sizes and its relationship with local charter schools. McNeill also disclosed during the event that she plans to “throw her name in the ring” and seek the permanent superintendent position (the board plans to conduct a national search for superintendent candidates.)

Kathy Simon Holland answers question
Washoe County School District Board of Trustees president Kathy Simon Holland answers a question during an IndyTalks forum at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno on Oct. 30, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Simon Holland, elected to the school board in 2016 and made president in 2018, cited numerous examples of the district’s successes — an 84 percent high school graduation rate, high Advanced Placement test passage rates and favorable marks from outside educational ranking entities — but nonetheless acknowledged several areas of possible improvement, pointing to recently released data showing the district and state below the national averages on ACT scores.

McNeill, a former teacher, principal and deputy superintendent who took the interim role over summer, said the low college-readiness scores and other disappointing metrics — plus low teacher morale, an issue raised by teachers who attended the event — meant the district was starting to look beyond its goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020 (a campaign dubbed “90 by 20”).

“We are not pleased with where that is,” she said. “We have to do better. We have to do better as a district. We have to do better as a state, we absolutely do. Our focus has been for quite a while, around a decade or so, on graduation. But there are other points that we need to put our emphasis and our resources in.”

Kristen McNeil
Washoe County School District interim Superintendent Kristen McNeil answers a question during an IndyTalks forum at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno on Oct. 30, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Here’s what else McNeill and Simon Holland had to say during the IndyTalks event. A video of the event is posted below this story.

Traci Davis

After leading the district for five years, Davis took an “indefinite” leave of absence in mid-June, kicking off a public feud between the then-superintendent and school board members including Simon Holland. District officials alleged that Davis showed “recklessly negligent supervision” and “gross misconduct” in leaking confidential information, while Davis said that “racial issues” played a role in the ouster.

Ultimately, the school board voted 6-1 to terminate Davis at a special board meeting in July. In turn, she filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the district in late August, challenging the district’s reasons for firing her and saying no investigation occurred to prove that she leaked confidential information. 

Simon Holland said she had “no doubts” about her and the board’s decisions that led to the firing of Davis, saying that her only regret was in the balancing of the public’s right to know what was going on with personnel matters that, under law, had to be kept confidential. She brushed away questions of whether the board reached a preordained conclusion prior to its July meeting to fire Davis, saying that there were “no decisions made behind closed doors.”

“I certainly wish it could have been done differently—and I don't see a lot of ways it could have been done differently,” Simon Holland said.

For her part, McNeil said that she was focused on building a sense of trust, acknowledging that “it's not going to turn the corner in one year” but that a sustained effort of listening to teachers and district employees would over time help improve morale.

“I have, unfortunately, the reputation to be answering emails at midnight and a little bit later in the evening, but it's getting back to people,” she said. “It's making that courtesy that I may not be able to solve your issue, but at least I'm listening to your issue. And so establishing that trust was extremely important to me as an individual, and it was important to me as a superintendent.” 

Jon Ralston, Interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill and Board President Katy Simon Holland
Jon Ralston, Interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill and Board President Katy Simon Holland during IndyTalks Reno: The Future of the Washoe County School District on Oct. 30, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Education funding

Although Washoe County voted in 2016 to raise the county’s sales tax to provide an estimated $781 million in bonding capacity for new school construction, both Simon Holland and McNeil said that the answer to many of the district’s woes, from high student-to-teacher ratios to difficulties with English Language Learner populations, would come in the form of new funding.

Without discussing a specific tax proposal or plan, McNeil said that it was clear from her position that the state needs to get serious about education funding.

“We need to raise more dollars in the state of Nevada for education,” she said. “We're talking about our future. We're talking about the future of our state and by gosh, if we want to be the state that's going to take education head-on, then let's get the money in the room. Let's start doing it. Let's start having those talks. Let's start putting it out there on the table. We need to start making this a statewide issue.”

McNeil said she was looking forward to seeing the work of the technical committee guiding implementation of the state’s new funding formula, the latest attempt to overhaul the confusing and oft-criticized 52-year-old education funding formula. Under a bill approved in the waning moments of the 2019 Legislature, the committee is charged with implementing the new formula — which places all revenue in a single pot and moves toward a “weighted” system, where student groups with more needs receive extra money — in tandem with the existing formula, with instructions to have recommendations on implementing the new formula in place by 2020.

McNeil offered cautious praise for the funding formula committee, saying that its members were an “amazing team” but that the “proof is going to be in the pudding” in terms of its recommendations. Asked on what she was hoping for out of the committee, McNeil said she hoped the results would be “equitable” and take student diversity into the equation, but reiterated that real change would require additional funding.

“At the end of the day, we need more resources,” she said.

Gov. Steve Sisolak asks a question
Gov. Steve Sisolak asks a question during an IndyTalks event at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno on Oct. 30, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Charter Schools and unions

A burgeoning school choice movement and the rise of charter and other alternatives to public schools (seven public charter schools in Washoe County) doesn’t necessarily worry McNeil or Simon Holland, each of whom said they view charters as complementary to the district’s goals.

“We absolutely value choice and we also know that education is really hard work. It's really hard work for a charter school, it's really hard work for a private school and it's really hard work for a public school,” Simon Holland said. “Many of our charters lost ground this year in the state and actually were downgraded in their star rating and that's a huge blow for them. It's a huge blow for us when any of our schools are downgraded.”

Simon Holland also avoided any criticism of public school unions, saying that she and McNeil both had excellent relationships with union leaders and that they were not an “impediment” to their goals for the district.

“I think in our, in our situation, they are good for employees and they're good for the district,” she said.

NV Energy withdraws, plans to re-file program offering special lower rates for large customers

NV Energy has withdrawn and plans to rework its application to create a new, renewably powered special rate designed to keep large power customers in the company’s fold.

In a filing last week, NV Energy attorneys withdrew the utility’s pending application for its Optional Pricing Program Rate (OPPR), stopping regulatory approval on an alternative pricing mechanism proposed by the utility last year as a way to keep multiple large businesses from filing or continuing with applications to leave the utility.

In a statement, NV Energy spokeswoman Andrea Smith said the company was still working on the pricing program and planned to eventually refile a similar application with the Public Utilities Commission.

“We understand we still have some work to do with various stakeholders to reach a balanced outcome on this program and have withdrawn our original filing in order to take the time to work toward that balanced outcome,” she said in an email. “We fully intend to resubmit the program in the very near future so we can offer this important product to our customers.”

Although the company had already opened up an application window for the program (fulfilled in 20 seconds of opening in Southern Nevada), the program was never approved by the Public Utilities Commission, and commission staff and the Bureau of Consumer Protection had raised concerns that the program would end up costing normal residential ratepayers and benefited an arbitrarily-picked group of customers.

NV Energy filed a motion to delay processing of the OPPR application in late May, before withdrawing the application entirely on June 14.

As proposed, the OPPR rate would have been available only to utility customers eligible to leave its service through the 704B process, used by a handful of major casinos and other large-scale energy users to depart the utility and buy power from other third party providers in return for a usually substantial “exit fee” to ensure new costs aren’t fostered onto other utility customers.

The rate would have been composed of certain non-bypassable charges (such as gas transmission) but would have replaced the standard electric rate with a flat charge based on the utility’s six new major solar power plants adding 1,001 megawatts of solar electricity to the company’s fuel mix.

Although the projected price savings from the program were largely kept private, the Nevada System of Higher Education (which is eligible for the program) estimated that it could save roughly $381,000 a year from enrolling in the program statewide.

But the pricing program has been criticized by commission staff and the Bureau of Consumer Protection, which called it “inconsistent with the very premise of planning and operating the utility as a system for all ratepayers.” The agency estimated that the initial version of the program would have seen roughly 48 percent of the benefits from the new renewable energy contracts — or roughly $65 million — go to OPPR customers, who only represent roughly 5 percent of total electric sales from the utility.

Since initially proposing the OPPR program last year, NV Energy has announced arrangements with some of its largest customers who had flirted with leaving utility service but ultimately decided to stay, including Station Casinos, the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas Sands, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Grand Sierra Resort, the Atlantis, Golden Gaming and South Point.

NV Energy also supported a bill in the 2019 Legislature that added multiple barriers and new requirements for businesses seeking to leave NV Energy, but allowed the roughly dozen or so businesses that have pending applications before the commission to continue under the old system. That measure was approved nearly unanimously and signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

South Point agrees to stick with NV Energy, withdraw exit application

South Point Hotel Casino and Spa announced today that it will withdraw its application to leave NV Energy and instead will continue receiving electric service from the utility.

The two companies have agreed to a fully bundled energy service, leading South Point to withdraw its application with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada that would have allowed the casino company to buy electric power from another provider.

“I’ve been in Las Vegas a long time and it is important to me that we continue to work with companies who are similarly invested in our community,” South Point Owner Michael Gaughan said in a statement.

This announcement comes a week after the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced that it would stay with NV Energy under a five year deal. Other companies that have reached similar deals with the utility in recent weeks include the Venetian, Atlantis Casino Resort, Grand Sierra Resort and Golden Entertainment.

“All of us at NV Energy take these 704B applications personally. Simply put, we do not want to lose any of our customers and we remain committed to finding solutions that satisfy our largest customers’ evolving business needs,” said Doug Cannon, NV Energy’s president and chief executive officer. “NV Energy is delighted to have reached an agreement with South Point and looks forward to continuing our partnership for many years to come.”

This deal is one of many in the wake of multiple companies threatening to or have already moved away from the energy giant, including Boyd Gaming, the Raiders Stadium, Station Casinos and the SLS.

LVCVA to stick with NV Energy, drop exit application

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is withdrawing its application to depart NV Energy and instead announced it will stay with the incumbent utility under a five-year energy services agreement.

The two entities made the announcement in a joint press release sent Wednesday, ending the LVCVA’s flirtation with leaving the utility to purchase power from another electric provider and keeping another large customer within the utility’s folds.

The LVCVA — the government agency that operates Cashman Field and the Las Vegas Convention Center — filed an initial application to depart the utility in February. Agency CEO Steve Hill previously told The Nevada Independent that the LVCVA spends around $6 million a year on electricity, and was looking for the best-value contract for the agency including the utility’s proposed Optional Pricing Program Rate.

“The LVCVA and NV Energy identified a sustainable solution that benefits our community, allowing us to allocate more funds towards our mission of promoting tourism,” Hill said in a statement. “NV Energy is a commendable community partner and our collaboration resulted in this excellent opportunity for the LVCVA to both reduce energy costs and increase the use of renewable energy.”

The LVCVA’s decision to stay with the utility is the latest company to announce a long-term partnership with NV Energy amid a number of businesses filing applications to leave the utility. Businesses that have announced similar arrangements with the utility or have dropped their applications to leave the utility in the last two months include the Las Vegas Sands, Golden Entertainment, the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa and the Grand Sierra Resort.

“We truly believe we are the best energy partner for all of our customers and are pleased that we were able to reach an agreement with the LVCVA that epitomizes that value,” NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon said in a statement.

Last-minute bill would severely curtail ability of businesses to leave NV Energy

The ability for large businesses to leave NV Energy would be made much more difficult under a proposal introduced with only weeks to go before the end of the legislative session.

Introduced by Democratic Sen. Chris Brooks on Wednesday, SB547 would substantially alter the state’s so-called 704B law for the first time since it was created in 2001, adding numerous new restrictions and requirements — including a new licensing structure, additional payments and more requirements for a departure — for businesses that already have or are in the process of departing NV Energy’s electric service.

Notably, the bill would now require any business applying to leave the utility prove that such an exit would be “in the public interest” — raising the current bar of only having to prove an exit isn’t “contrary” to the public interest.

Current 704B structure allows for large electric customers of the utility to file an application with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to obtain power from another source, as long as the commission determines the exit isn’t contrary to the public benefit and the departing business agrees to pay a typically sizable “impact” fee to offset any financial burden that other customers would have to pay.

The law was put in place in 2001 amid questions related to the ability of NV Energy to meet energy supply needs in the aftermath of the Western U.S. energy crisis of 2000 and 2001, and it was used by mining giants Barrick and Newmont to leave the utility and construct their own power plants. After a dormant period, the process was dusted off in 2014 and 2015 and used by large companies including Switch, MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands to apply to leave the utility, but to do so by purchasing power from a third-party wholesaler as opposed to constructing their own power plants.

The number of exit applications swelled during the last two years — 13 companies filed to leave in 2018 and 2019, including the Grand Sierra Resort, SLS Las Vegas, Boyd Gaming, MSG Las Vegas, a building supplies company north of Las Vegas, the under-construction Raiders stadium, Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels and Station Casinos.

But under SB547, exits would be much more limited and require several more steps before they take place.

The bill first requires that NV Energy include in its Integrated Resource Plan — filed every three years and detailing the utility's expected electric supply and demand — details on the total amount of energy that departed customers can purchase from outside providers.

It requires the utility to use a “sensitivity analysis” in developing its plan, one that addresses load growth, import capacity, potential strain on existing infrastructure and the projected effect of customers purchasing less electricity than the maximum outlined in the plan. It also requires the plan to calculate impact fees applicable to electricity costs paid for by end-use customers of the utility.

Under the bill, the PUC would need to determine several factors — including renewable energy development and furthering “safe, economic, efficient and reliable electric service” — when considering the utility’s plan for how much electricity should be made available for outside providers to sell to departed customers.

The bill would also restrict the submittal of new exit applications to a 30-day period between Jan. 2 and Feb. 1 of every year, setting a 280-day period in which the commission would either approve the exit application. If no approval is granted, the business would receive an automatic denial; current law sets a 180-day review period and requires the application be granted if the commission takes no action.

It’s in this section that the bill makes some of the most dramatic changes to the 704B process. The bill reverses current law — requiring the commission to grant an application if it is found “contrary” to the public interest — to requiring the commission to determine whether the application is in the public interest; a minor tweak in wording that raises and asks companies to prove that their exits benefit the public, as opposed to not actively harming the existing system.

The bill also requires the commission to consider the following issues before approving any exit application:

  • That the amount of energy and capacity required doesn’t exceed the limits set by the utility set in its Integrated Resource Plan
  • Whether NV Energy will experience (rather than “be burdened by”) increased costs as a result of the transaction
  • Whether any customer of the utility will pay increased costs for electric service or — in a new requirement — forgo benefits of a reduction of costs for electric service as a result of the exit application

It also removes the requirement for the commission to determine whether a company’s exit application adds energy or capacity to the state’s overall electric supply.

Such language, coupled with NV Energy warnings that approval of all pending exit applications would cripple expected electric demand for decades and cost the utility millions of dollars, essentially means departing the utility will either become much more expensive or procedurally much more difficult.

In addition, the bill expands the categories that must be considered when determining the impact fee charged by a departing company — including “identifiable but unquantifiable risk” to the departing customer, and ensuring that departing customers pay for any deviance caused by their exit from what the utility would otherwise pay under least-cost resource planning.

The bill also sets a deadline of July 1, 2019 for current pending applications to be approved by the commission, or else they will be automatically denied.

And in a change that will affect future and already departed customers, the bill requires any provider of new electric resources — the third-party provider that contracts with departed businesses — to receive a license from the PUC prior to purchasing electricity for any departed customer.

The bill also creates a licensing structure for the third-party providers, including requirements that they show the PUC evidence of their financial stability and technical and managerial competence in energy markets, while also requiring the commission hold a hearing prior to granting a license at which they can request information like past legal actions or consumer complaints against the provider. The commission is also granted the ability to adopt regulations requiring that new electric providers show that they have the ability to provide safe and reliable service, and to meet whatever electric demand is required by the departed customer.

The requirements for licensing will apply retroactively, so all companies that currently provide power for large Nevada businesses will have 30 days to register and receive a license from the PUC if the bill is passed. Such licensed companies would also be required to meet the same standards required of NV Energy to file an annual vulnerability assessment and emergency response plan with the commission.

The measure also includes provisions allowing the commission to adopt a process for a company that departed the utility to return to utility service, as well as giving the PUC power to limit the number of times a company can switch between NV Energy and an alternative electric provider.

Additionally, the bill requires any provider of a new electric resource to pay any mill taxes or assessments to the Public Utilities Commission that existing utilities are required to pay, and more significantly requires them to pay any costs or fees — determined by the commission — associated with programs for energy efficiency, renewable energy or other speciality programs paid for through a surcharge on rates. That change is important because the absence of those fees typically helps third-party providers lower electric prices beyond what is offered by NV Energy.

The measure also clears up several ambiguities in the current law, including expressly allowing new electric providers to sell electricity made through market purchases (something done in current practice but not clear in law) and allowing new businesses with more than 1 megawatt of generating capacity to apply to preemptively purchase power from a non-NV Energy provider. The commission has granted orders allowing some new companies to preemptively depart the utility, but has taken care to say the decisions were not binding in future cases.

The bill also contains provisions that essentially clarifies data centers cannot be regulated like a public utility — a clear link to the recent investigation (and subsequent lawsuit) by the PUC into whether Switch should be regulated like a utility.

Sands, NV Energy bury hatchet, announce 'long-term energy supply agreement'

Five years after it became one of the first companies to apply to leave NV Energy and after spending millions on a ballot question targeting the utility, the Las Vegas Sands has announced it will enter a long-term partnership with the incumbent utility.

In a joint press release sent late Monday, the two companies announced they had reached a “long-term energy supply agreement” and have “recommitted” to a partnership — signaling an end to the constant sniping and internecine warfare between the two corporate giants that had in many ways defined the state’s energy landscape for the last five years.

“The team at NV Energy took a significant amount of time to listen to our concerns, understand our future business needs and sustainability goals and ultimately, we determined that they are the best energy partner for us going forward,” Venetian Resort president and COO George Markantonis said in a statement. “The Venetian looks forward to a long partnership with NV Energy as we work together to continue our leadership in renewable energy and environmental sustainability for the benefit of the millions of visitors who experience our properties each year and our community as a whole.”

NV Energy CEO Doug Cannon said the company was “committed to meeting The Venetian’s energy needs and supporting their commitment to renewable energy.”

“At NV Energy, we recognize that we must spend more time listening to what our customers tell us they need versus assuming we know what is best,” he said in a statement. “I’m thrilled that we were able to reach an agreement and at the same time, move our business relationship forward with such a valued customer.”

The announcement likely marks an end to a contentious relationship between the two companies stemming from the Sands’ 2015 application to leave NV Energy under a little-used state law allowing large power users to depart the utility if they pay an impact fee to hold other customers harmless. Although other large companies, including MGM Resorts, Switch and Caesars Entertainment all successfully filed to leave the utility, the Sands decided against moving forward after it was assessed a $24 million fee to leave — something it called unjustified and meant to “perpetuate NV Energy’s monopoly.”

The Sands later became the primary funder of the Energy Choice Initiative, contributing $23.7 million to the ballot question that would have constitutionally ended NV Energy’s monopoly control of the state’s electric market. The ballot question was defeated with roughly two-thirds of voters against it, aided by NV Energy’s decision to spend an unprecedented $64 million fighting the ballot question.

Although the Sands did not have a pending application to leave the utility, two other companies — the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa and Grand Sierra Resort — withdrew their exit applications last month.

Grand Sierra Resort, SLS Las Vegas file to leave NV Energy

Two additional major Nevada casinos have filed applications with state regulators to leave NV Energy as electric customers, joining the double-digit parade of companies filing to leave the utility and further clouding the state’s energy future.

Reno-based Grand Sierra Resort and SLS Las Vegas filed separate applications on Dec. 20 with the state’s Public Utilities Commission that if approved would allow each casino company to purchase electricity from a provider outside of NV Energy. The casinos share an owner; Grand Sierra Resort owner Alex Meruelo and the Meruelo Group agreed to purchase the SLS Las Vegas in 2017.

The two proposed exits bring the number of businesses that applied to leave the utility in 2018 up to 10. Applications last year came from a mix of casino companies and other large properties, including Boyd Gaming, MSG Las Vegas, a building supplies company north of Las Vegas, the under-construction Raiders stadium, Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels and Station Casinos.

The exit applications fall under a provision of Nevada law that allows large power users to depart NV Energy as a customer, as long as energy regulators find the exit to be in the public interest and if the departing company pays a substantial “exit fee” to offset unexpected costs that would otherwise be paid by other utility customers.

The two recently filed applications include few details as to why the casinos wish to leave the utility as a customer, but both say they will purchase power from private electricity provider Tenaska under a likely three-year contract, and want to start their service in October 2019. Most businesses that have filed to leave the utility say they did so to either secure lower electric rates or to obtain an alternative fuel mix to what NV Energy provides.

In a joint statement, a Meruelo Group spokesman said the applications were being filed so that the companies could “capitalize on our state’s abundant natural resources.”

“Our guests recognize the importance of making environmentally responsible energy decisions and, in order to meet those expectations, we have begun the process of working with Nevada’s energy regulators to meet our guests’ demands,” the company said in a statement.

A company’s exit date from NV Energy also locks in the percentage of renewable energy generation required under the state’s current Renewable Portfolio Standard and avoids having to meet a higher standard if lawmakers increase the mandate in 2019.

Some critics, including a nonprofit backed by Switch, have suggested that regulators take a more proactive role in assessing how the growing number of large customers departing the utility’s service will affect future demand.