Incumbent congressional Democrats enter 2020 with wide head-start on fundraising race, filings show

Voter registration forms

As 2019 wound to a close, the season of giving proved to be a boon for incumbent Democrats Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, who combined to rake in more than $1 million ahead of the December 31 deadline, according to filings made last week with the Federal Election Commission.

Nine Republican candidates across both Lee and Horsford’s districts combined to raise roughly $1 million themselves, but more than half of that sum —  about $536,000 — came in the form of candidate loans. 

Lee and Horsford will likely be the only of Nevada’s four House members to see competitive elections in 2020. Lee in particular has already become a frequent target for national Republicans, who have sought to tie the moderate Democrat to the party’s progressive left wing in the wake of December’s vote to impeach President Donald Trump. 

In the less competitive District 1 and District 2, represented by Reps. Dina Titus and Mark Amodei, respectively, there was far less fundraising activity. The two incumbents raised less than $300,000 combined, and no challenger in either district has yet to bring in more than five-figures. 

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

District 3

Much like the third quarter, incumbent Democrat Susie Lee led all of the state’s congressional candidates with more than $600,000 in fourth-quarter fundraising, bringing her total on the year past $2 million and leaving her campaign with more than $1.5 million cash on hand — by far the most of any congressional candidate in the state up for election in 2020.

It was also among the best fundraising hauls among all House members. For the first time, Lee cracked the top-50 House fundraisers, sandwiched at number 46 between fellow Democrats Reps. Sheri Bustos of Illinois and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia. 

A little more than half of Lee’s fourth-quarter total, about $353,000, came from individual donors, while another $145,000 came from political action committees (PACs). The remaining $100,000 for the quarter came through a transfer from another of Lee’s campaign committees.  

Individual donations are capped by federal law at $2,800 per candidate, per election, meaning no donor can give more than $5,600 directly ($2,800 for the primary, and another $2,800 for the general election). 

Among those individual donors who maxed out their contribution to Lee are a number of Las Vegas business heavyweights, including Cashman Equipment CEO Mary Kaye Cashman, MGM Resorts International President William Hornbuckle and businessman and frequent Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck. 

Among the $147,000 Lee spent last quarter, much of it ($69,000) was split between salaries ($30,000) and consultants, including $26,000 to Colorado-based digital consultant 4Degrees Inc., $9,000 to Virginia-based fundraising consultant Fiorello Consulting and $3,750 to the Maryland-based Maccabee Group for research consulting. 

Another Democrat, Richard Hart, filed for the 2020 race in late 2018, but has yet to file any other documents with the FEC in the time since. 

Though Lee has so far outpaced any possible Republican rivals, two candidates have so-far dominated the fundraising race for the GOP: former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz and ex-pro wrestler Dan Rodimer. 

Schwartz held a narrow edge over Rodimer in fourth quarter fundraising ($302,000), fundraising on the year ($565,000) and cash on hand ($447,000) — though he has also poured an extensive amount of his own money into the race in the form of personal loans. Schwartz gave his campaign $250,000 in the fourth quarter alone, boosting his loans for the year up to nearly $430,000, or roughly three-quarters of his total campaign war chest. 

Of the almost $53,000 Schwartz spent last quarter, most went to political consultants. That includes $21,000 to local firm McShane LLC and $10,000 to North Carolina-based Saligram and Associates for fundraising consulting. 

Close behind Schwartz is Rodimer, who raised $250,000 through the fourth quarter and $502,000 over the year, leaving his campaign with $294,000 cash on hand. Like Schwartz, Rodimer has placed a substantial amount in candidate loans into his 2020 bid — $100,000 in the fourth quarter and $165,000 through the entire election cycle so far. 

Rodimer also proved to be the biggest spender in District 3 in the fourth quarter, doling out more than $168,000 and even outspending Lee by a margin of about $20,000. Much like the other candidates, a majority of that money was spent on various kinds of political consulting, with $95,000 spread across eight different consulting firms. 

Unlike his opponents, however, Rodimer has already begun to spend thousands on advertising, including more than $20,000 in media placement fees to South Carolina firm Point1 (of which ex-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is a partner) and another $9,000 in fees to Silver State Radio, which operates two music stations in Las Vegas. 

Another Republican candidate, Corwin “Cory” Newberry, has yet to file campaign finance documents with the FEC. Two other Republicans, Tiger Helgelien and Zach WalkerLieb, as well as an independent candidate, Alex Pereszlenyi, have dropped out of the race. 

District 4

Democratic incumbent Steven Horsford raised more than $455,000 for his reelection bid in the fourth quarter, putting his yearly total at more than $1.5 million and leaving just over $1 million cash on hand. His war chest is larger than all but Lee’s, and it leaves him far ahead of his Republican rivals in the fundraising race, who together combine for just $674,000 cash on hand. 

Of Horsford’s fourth-quarter fundraising, a little more than half ($217,000) came from PACs, while $210,000 came from individuals and another $27,500 came from Democratically-aligned committee transfers. Among Horsford’s notable donors are Cosmopolitan CEO William McBeath ($5,600), Jonathan Gray, president of the real estate group Blackstone ($2,800), and MGM Resorts President William Hornbuckle ($2,800).

The nature of the dozens of PACs that gave to Horsford ranged widely, from corporate PACs linked to WalMart ($3,000) or NV Energy ($2,500) to political or policy-based PACs like the House LGBTQ caucus-linked Equality PAC ($7,500) and Planned Parenthood Action Fund ($1,000). 

Of Horsford’s near-$180,000 in money spent, a little less than half of it, $71,000, went to consultants and pollsters, including $29,000 for an internal poll in October. Nearly all of the remainder went to operating expenses, from Lyfts and Ubers to email hosting to event catering. 

Among the seven Republicans still looking for the chance to take on Horsford in November, former Assemblyman Jim Marchant ended the quarter on top, raising $156,000 for the quarter and $333,000 on the year, leaving his campaign with just over $209,000 cash on hand. 

After losing his seat in the Assembly in 2018, Marchant has sought to cast himself as fully in-line with the Republican party’s right wing, even gaining the endorsement last week of Freedom Caucus regular Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. 

But only about $56,000 of Marchant’s fundraising came through individual donors, including a maximum contribution from New York investor Edward Bramson. Filling out the rest of the quarterly total was a last-minute $100,000 candidate loan, tripling his total and bringing his total loans on the year to $110,000. 

Of the $39,000 Marchant spent, the largest single chunk went to consulting firm McShane LLC ($15,000), with much of the rest going to operating expenses. 

Marchant was followed by veteran and insurance salesman Sam Peters, who raised more than $145,000 for the quarter, marking his 2019 total at more than $283,000 and leaving nearly $206,000 cash on hand. But like Marchant, Peters buoyed his receipts with a last-minute $79,550 loan on Dec. 31, the last day before the fundraising period ended. That loan also raises his total loans on the year to more than $157,000. 

Peters’ biggest donors were largely retirees, including at least one retired Navy captain and six others who gave the $2,800 maximum. In terms of spending, roughly two-thirds of Peters’ budget ($21,000 of $32,000 spent overall) went to advertising, including signs, radio and Facebook ads.    

Though third among Republicans in raw fundraising totals, former Miss Nevada and local business owner Lisa Song Sutton led Republicans in individual contributions for the second quarter in a row, raising more than $130,000 in the fourth quarter and $258,000 through the year. 

With $187,000 left in the war chest, the Song Sutton campaign has touted itself as the only Republican campaign with five-figures of cash on hand and no outstanding debt, with Song Sutton herself having so far given no loans to her campaign. A lack of loans hasn’t meant a lack of contributions, however, as Song Sutton did contribute $15,000 to her campaign in the fourth quarter and $35,000 through 2019. 

Though federal law limits individual contributions to $2,800, any money spent by a candidate on their own campaign is considered “personal funds,” and those funds are not subject to limits so long as they are reported. 

Song Sutton received 20 maximum contributions, including donations from Texas-based attorney Sonny Patel ($5,600) and UFC fighter Cory Hendricks ($2,800). And of $42,000 in spending, the largest chunk once again went to consulting and advertising (nearly $26.000), including $19,000 for Texas-based firm Amplify Relations. 

Among the remaining Republicans, none broke the $100,000 mark for the quarter. Business owner Randi Reed came closest with $57,940 for the fourth quarter, $105,000 for the year and $33,000 cash on hand, while veteran Charles Navarro, who raised $107,000 through 2019 — largely on the back of a $75,000 loan from the third quarter — brought in just $9,500 in the fourth quarter, all while spending more than $53,000. 

Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo raised the least of any candidate, just $1,500 for the quarter, $46,000 for the year and leaving $5,000 cash on hand. It was a quarterly haul even below that of nurse Catherine Prato, who dropped out of the race this month after raising just over $4,200. 

Another late entry to the Republican race, Leo Dunson, has yet to file any financial documentation with the FEC. 

District 2

Incumbent Republican Mark Amodei brought in a modest $144,000 in the fourth quarter, bumping his total for the year to near-$456,000 and leaving his reelection effort with just over $333,500 in the bank. 

Amodei’s fundraising was largely split evenly three ways between individual donors ($52,000), PACs ($43,000) and committee transfers ($49,000). Among individuals and PACs, notable donors include Monarch Casino and Resorts President Bahram Farahi ($1,000), Retail Association of Nevada Executive Director Mary Lau ($800) and several PACs linked to Boeing ($3,500) and military contractors Northrop Grumman ($2,500) and Lockheed Martin ($2,000).

Amodei’s increased fourth-quarter fundraising was not enough, however, to push his campaign into the black for 2019. Though spending just $57,000 in the last three months of the year, Amodei spent just over $470,000 over the course of the year, dipping into his cash reserves by a margin of roughly $15,000. 

Of that $57,000, much of it went to consulting and accounting fees ($26,000), with the rest falling to a mix of operational expenses such as gas mileage or catering. 

Other candidates in District 2 include two Democrats, Clint Koble and Patricia Ackerman, though neither managed to raise more than $100,000 on the year. Koble came closest, raising $28,000 for the quarter and nearly $75,000 for the year, but consistent spending has left Koble with only $4,500 cash on hand. 

Ackerman, who only entered the race in November, reported raising more than $15,000, including a $5,000 candidate loan. Much of that money went back into operating expenditures, however, and Ackerman enters 2020 with just over $4,000 cash on hand. 

Two other candidates, Democrat Edward Cohen and Republican Jesse Douglas Hurley, did not report raising any funds in 2019. 

District 1

Arguably the safest member of Nevada’s House delegation — more than 48 percent of voters in District 1 are registered Democrats, compared to just 21 percent registered Republican — incumbent Democrat Dina Titus reported raising more than $125,000 for the quarter, lifting her yearly total to nearly $443,000 and leaving $341,000 cash on hand. 

Titus’ fundraising was roughly split evenly between individual contributions ($63,000) and PACs ($62,500), with notable donors including lobbyist Jay Brown ($2,800), filmmaker Robin Greenspun ($2,800) and PACs linked to Newmont Mining ($2,500), AT&T ($2,000) and Amazon ($1,500). Titus also received a handful of $5,000 from several unions, including Laborers International and the Transport Workers Union. 

Of the $58,000 Titus spent, more than half went to transfers to other Democratic campaign committees, including $30,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and another $2,500 to the state Democratic Party. Of the remainder, $6,700 went to Wisconsin-based consultant Run The World Digital, with the rest going to operating expenditures such as food, payroll and travel. 

Titus’ only challenger, Republican Citlaly Larios-Elias, reported raising $305 for the quarter, including a $100 donation from the candidate. Larios-Elias reported spending just 50 cents, though no more detailed information was available through the campaign’s FEC filing. 

Follow the Money: Fiore-led PAC paid daughter’s event planning company six figures over last two years

Four Vegas council members

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore’s political action committee paid a catering and event planning company run by her daughter nearly $109,000 over the last 18 months, records show.

The Fiore-led PAC, called “Future for Nevadans,” has reported making regular payments since June of 2018 to Hamlet Events, with the listed reason for the campaign payments falling into “advertising” and “special events” categories. According to filings with the secretary of state’s office, Fiore’s daughter, Sheena Siegel, is the registered owner of Hamlet Events.

The reported six figures in expenditures paid to Hamlet Events represents nearly a quarter of the funds spent by Fiore’s PAC and nearly 20 percent of the half-million dollars raised by the committee since 2017. Political action committees in Nevada have no limit on the amount of money they can accept from donors.

There is no Nevada law prohibiting candidates from making campaign payments to family members, but Secretary of State elections chief Wayne Thorley said in an email that such payments could run afoul of the state’s prohibition on using campaign dollars for “personal use” if the family member wasn’t actually providing any goods or services, or if the family member overcharged for a service in a way that financially benefited the candidate. 

Campaign payments made by Fiore’s PAC to a business owned by her daughter highlight Nevada’s loose laws and oversight on political spending, especially with no clear definition of “personal use” or guidance on how to avoid ethical conflicts when paying family members out of campaign funds.

In an email, Fiore said that she follows “the law to the letter on all my reporting,” and that she opted to list expenses through an events planning company as opposed to individual vendors to avoid having them “called and harassed repeatedly.”

“I love my community and provide many big and intimate events or gatherings with my constituency,” she wrote in an email. “My reporting is accurate and legal by our Nevada State law. I have a choice; I could list an event company that handles all the events, or I could list Visa and pay for everything with a credit card.”

Fiore did not directly respond to questions as to what advertising or special events were managed by her daughter’s event planning company, nor if she had sought out any other firms or tried to determine whether the rate paid to Hamlet Events was at fair market value. Calls to the phone number listed on the Hamlet Events website were not returned.

Bradley Schrager, an elections attorney with Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin who often represents state Democrats in election-related cases, said Fiore’s reported spending through the PAC flirted with violating state and federal laws on use of campaign funds.

“Michele Fiore takes her contributors, the Nevada Secretary of State, and US Attorney’s office for marks,” he said in an email. “She’s betting either that no one cares or no one can stop her.”

Hamlet Events

Reported payments from Fiore’s PAC to Hamlet Events cover the period between June 2018 and the end of 2019, with all expenses filed under the categories of “advertising” and “special events.” The PAC reported making several payments (total of $15,100) to the business before it was registered with the state in October 2018.

The website for Hamlet Events includes details on possible events including baby showers, birthdays, weddings, parties, outdoor events and campaigns. Services listed in the ‘campaigns’ section include creating and sending out political mailers and mass campaign emails.

No other political campaigns have reported making any expenditures to Hamlet Events or to Siegel, according to a search of Federal Election Commission and Nevada Secretary of State records. Siegel, who was Fiore’s executive assistant in an unpaid internship role with the City of Las Vegas between August 2017 and October 2019, was paid $2,700 out of Fiore’s primary campaign account over eight payments in late 2017, with the listed expense category as “office expenses” and “special events.”

Hamlet Events is the largest vendor that received payments from the PAC, followed by payments to campaign consultants; $21,400 to SoCo Strategies, led by Zachary Moyle, and $89,000 to Alchemy Associates, an offshoot of political consulting firm Organized Karma run by consultant Ronni Council.

Fiore’s reported campaign spending has previously come under scrutiny; a 2019 Las Vegas Review-Journal story found that Fiore’s PAC and campaign had spent nearly $200,000 on “gasoline, Uber rides, travel, restaurant and grocery store tabs, furniture and her own businesses.” Fiore told the newspaper at the time that the spending was primarily for “constituent service.”

“Ward 6 has more constituent outreach and constituent events than any other ward,” Fiore wrote in a statement to the newspaper.

At least two candidates in the 2016 election cycle relied on family members for campaign work; Assemblyman William McCurdy reported spending more than $23,000 on advertising and special event-related expenses to a political consulting firm run by his parents, and former Democratic state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson paid his former husband more than $33,000 from his campaign and PAC accounts over an eight-year period. Atkinson resigned from Legislature in 2019 amid federal charges of misuse of campaign funds and was given a two-year prison sentence last year.

PAC Activities

According to the Future for Nevadans’ PAC registration form, its stated purpose is “Raising Funds to Educate Nevadans.” 

Although its raised a hefty $545,900 over the last two years, the PAC has reported making relatively little spending toward other political action committees or campaigns; $14,900 to three other political action committees, and $5,000 each to the campaigns of fellow Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman and the Nevada Republican Party.

Other expenses reported by the PAC include $20,000 to Fiore’s consulting firm, Politically Off The Wall, $10,000 to a fireworks display company and $16,500 at a political printing shop. The PAC also reported spending on food and gasoline primarily in 2018, including $8,700 at an Italian restaurant, $2,700 at Costco and more than $1,000 at Terrible Herbst.

Many of the contributors to the PAC are well-known in the Las Vegas business community, and include entities including the campaign of Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo ($5,000), personal injury firm Eglet Prince ($20,000) and several major real estate developers.

It received a combined $58,500 from prominent local government lobbyist Jay Brown and two affiliated business entities, Restaurant Consultants LLC and Washington D.C. Investments LLC.

Another major source of contributions came from cannabis industry executive Elizabeth Stavola and affiliated dispensary Greenmart Nevada (owned by MPX Pharmaceuticals, of which Stavola is an executive). Combined, Stavola and Greenmart contributed $37,500 to the PAC throughout 2018; MPX Pharmaceuticals announced in December 2018 that it had received a coveted retail marijuana license from the City of Las Vegas and three other municipalities.

Not all the donors are well-known. A top contributor to the PAC itself is real estate/rental homes businessman Gary Wu, who through a company called TD Associates NV LLC contributed $29,500 to the PAC. Wu is the owner of Total Max Homes, a Las Vegas-based rental and real estate company that as recently as last year was subject to complaints about violating short-term rental laws.

The Future for Nevadans PAC also reported making a $10,000 campaign payment to Wu in March 2019 for “advertising” and “travel.” Fiore’s 2020 financial disclosure form also shows that she took a trip to China in 2019 on behalf of TD Associates, with the stated purpose of “meetings.” The estimated value of the trip was $5,000.

Other major donors include a California-based real estate business called The Wellington Group, which contributed $25,000 to the PAC in April 2018. 

Fiore previously served two terms in the Assembly before mounting an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2016. She won a seat on the Las Vegas City Council in 2017 and was named mayor pro tempore in 2019.

Sisolak campaign raises $1.6 million in 2019, has $2.3 million in cash more than three years before next election

Gov. Steve Sisolak raised more than $1.6 million and substantially padded his campaign war chest during the first year of his term, giving the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years a significant financial advantage ahead of an expected re-election campaign in 2022.

Sisolak’s Contributions and Expenses report was released on Wednesday and shows the governor’s campaign spent $164,000 throughout the year while pushing his cash on hand total to more than $2.3 million. The report covers all contributions and expenses in 2019.

Almost all of the funds raised came after the close of the 120-day legislative session, owing to a state law that prohibits the governor, lieutenant governor and members of the Legislature from accepting campaign contributions during and immediately before and after the body is in session.

“That level of support shows a wide cross-section of Nevadans appreciate that the Governor fought for better schools, great jobs and affordable, accessible healthcare,” Sisolak finance director Eva Black said in a statement. “People are responding in unprecedented fashion to the governor’s agenda of enhanced opportunity for all Nevadans.”

In addition to his campaign account, two political action committees affiliated with Sisolak reported raising another $1.7 million throughout 2019. The Sisolak Inaugural Committee, which funded inauguration events for the new governor, raised more than $1.5 million throughout the year, and the Homes Means Nevada PAC (which has run ads supporting the governor on TV and online) raised another $947,000 (which includes a $686,000 transfer from the inaugural PAC).

Sisolak’s total contributions tops the figures reported by Nevada’s past governors over the first year of their term; former Gov. Jim Gibbons reported raising $110,200 after his first year in office, and former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s campaign raised nearly $673,000 during his first year.

It also highlights the wide variety of business and other interests that have sought to influence or win favor with the state’s new governor, including casino companies, mining corporations, developers, Las Vegas-based businesses and labor unions. Most of the donations came from big-money donors; only $1,458 was raised by individuals giving $100 or less, while the campaign received 81 contributions of $10,000, the largest allowable amount.

The largest individual source of contributions came from Las Vegas contractor and developer Steve Menzies, who directly and through nine affiliated business entities contributed $100,000 to Sisolak’s campaign. He also received maximum contributions from a pair of donors mostly linked to Republican political efforts; South Point casino owner Michael Gaughan and Treasure Island Casino owner Phil Ruffin, a business partner with President Donald Trump.

Notable individuals who gave maximum contributions to Sisolak’s campaign include former Diamond Resorts CEO and Democratic Party megadonor Stephen Cloobeck, former Congressman and lobbyist Jon Porter, longtime Sisolak confidant and lobbyist Jay Brown, prominent criminal defense attorney David Chesnoff and wife Diane, and lobbyist Alisa Nave-Worth. 

Many well-known businesses also made maximum contributions to the campaign, including $10,000 each from mining giants Barrick Gold and Newmont, $30,000 from entities associated with M Resort President Anthony Marnell, and a maximum contribution from pharmaceutical industry lobbying group PhRMA.

Sisolak raised more than $11.1 million for his gubernatorial bid through 2017 and 2018, a larger total than the amount raised by his general election opponent, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt. 

Political contributions to state candidates are capped at $10,000 per election cycle ($5,000 each for primary and general elections), but donors can easily circumnavigate those limits through making contributions through multiple business entities or through political action committees.

Top contributors to Sisolak's campaign account include the following:

  • $100,000 total from entities related to Las Vegas contractor and developer Steve Menzies; Focus Concrete, Focus Electric, Focus Fire Protection, Focus Framing, Focus Plumbing LLC, GTI General Account, HB Commercial Holdings LLC Steve Menzies, PostRoad LLC and Seashore Holdings LLC ($10,000 from each entity)
  • $30,000 from entities associated with Anthony Marnell; Benny’s Holdco LLC, Anthony Marnell and Marnell Gaming
  • $20,000 total from Treasure Island Hotel and Casino owner Phil Ruffin and his wife, Oleksandra
  • $20,000 from long-time Sisolak confidante and lobbyist Jay Brown
  • $20,00 from Diana and David Chesnoff, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas
  • $12,500 from political action committees funded by the Laborers Local 872 union; $2,500 each from 872 PAC, DNC PAC, G.O.P PAC, Laborers’ for Solid State Leadership and Nevada Progressives United PAC
  • $10,000 from The Cosmopolitan
  • $10,000 from Steelman Partners, an international architectural design firm based in Southern Nevada
  • $11,000 from Wildcat Properties and Power House Plastering, Inc.
  • $10,000 from former Diamond Resorts CEO Stephen Cloobeck
  • $20,000 from South Point Las Vegas owner Michael Gauchan and the casino itself ($10,000 from each)
  • $10,000 from F&M Advertising
  • $10,000 from Centennial Hills Animal Hospital
  • $10,000 from Jayana Dils, a retired nurse from Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Home Building Industry PAC
  • $10,000 from James Nave, a prominent southern Nevada veterinarian and owner of Centennial Hills Animal Hospital
  • $10,000 from lobbyist Alisa Nave-Worth
  • $10,000 from South Valley Animal Hospital
  • $10,000 from attorney James Awad
  • $10,000 from the trust of Fennemore Craig attorney Samuel Lionel
  • $10,000 from Nevada Heart & Vascular LLP
  • $10,000 from The D operator and owner Derek Stevens
  • $10,000 from Konami Gaming
  • $10,000 from Lee’s Discount Liquor
  • $10,000 from former casino operator Jack Binion
  • $10,000 from David Ducommun, an executive with Cannae Holdings, Inc
  • $10,000 from the campaign account of former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid
  • $10,000 from Richard Massey, a former bank executive who lives in Little Rock, Ark. 
  • $10,000 from Resorts World, Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Terrance Kwiatkowski, a doctor in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Lawrence Canarelli, a developer in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Coyote Springs Investment LLC
  • $10,000 from casino developer Gary Primm
  • $10,000 from Red Hawk Land Company
  • $10,000 from Village Pub Management LLC
  • $10,000 from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12
  • $10,000 from Union City Partners, LLC
  • $10,000 from Peter Palivos, an attorney and businessman in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Caesar’s Enterprise Services
  • $10,000 from health insurance giant Centene Management Company
  • $10,000 from personal injury law firm Eglet Prince
  • $10,000 from Marshall Retail Group, a specialty retailer focusing on airports and casinos
  • $10,000 from the Peppermill Casino
  • $10,000 from Warren Volker, founder and CEO of WellHealth Quality Care
  • $10,000 from Ernest Lee, a land developer in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Ainsworth Game Technology
  • $10,000 from Barrick Gold
  • $10,000 from the law firm of Bradley, Drendel & Jeanney
  • $10,000 from Cortez Gold Mine
  • $10,000 from Republic Services
  • $10,000 from Eric Kurtzman, an attorney in Las Vegas
  • $10,000 from Rudolph Family Trust
  • $10,000 from Judith Siegel, an executive with Las Vegas-based real estate firm The Siegel Group
  • $10,000 from Switch
  • $10,000 from BPS Management Services
  • $10,000 from Linda Schimberg
  • $10,000 from Todd Marshall, the former CEO and a board member at Marshall Retail Group
  • $10,000 from Mohave Dermatology
  • $10,000 from Reshma Shah
  • $10,000 from PhRMA
  • $10,000 from Sunrise Health Care System
  • $10,000 from Southern Highlands Investment Partners
  • $10,000 from Las Vegas Paving Corporation
  • $10,000 from Newmont Ventures Limited
  • $10,000 from former Nevada Rep. John Porter
  • $10,000 from Southwest Gas Company
  • $10,000 from Thomas Dolan, founder of Dolan Auto Group in Reno
  • $10,000 from Westar Development Corp.

Updated at 3:56 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2020 to include more details on Sisolak's fundraising with affiliated PACs.

A speaker, a couple of governors and some senators walk into a room....

So what were Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Gov. Jerry Brown and three members of the Nevada congressional delegation doing at Bellagio’s tony Picasso restaurant Friday afternoon?

Not to mention about 100 or so other high-powered money folks, union leaders and political operatives?

What could bring such a collection of power and money together?

The answer is not what but who: Harry Reid.

He may be ailing. He may not be as powerful as he once was. And he not be Prince Harry anymore — perhaps only Regent Harry these days.

But judging by the guest list I heard about and the intel I got about the event, Reid can still draw a crowd and the encomia. And I don’t just mean the presidential hopefuls who have come knocking at his Sun City Anthem door.

The invite-only event was the brainchild of national Carpenters Union boss Doug McCarron, who put together the event as a thank-you tribute to Reid, who despite suffering from pancreatic cancer has been doing media interviews for weeks.

Among those in attendance: Gov. Steve Sisolak; Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto; Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford (Pelosi is doing a fundraiser for them, too, during her Vegas sojourn); California Gov. Jerry Brown; and two California mega-donors, George Marcus and Steve Bing.

Also there were perhaps the two most important women in his political life — Susan McCue, his ex-chief-of-staff, and Rebecca Lambe, his right hand in the state for a decade and a half. His close friend, Jay Brown, the ultra-successful lobbyist, also was there, as was Culinary union parent UNITE HERE leader D. Taylor. Stephen Cloobeck, the biggest Nevada donor to the Democratic Party, also attended.

Several of them spoke, including Rosen and Cortez Masto about how Reid had anointed them for the Senate. Pelosi talked about how she and Reid helped preserve Social Security. And Brown talked about how he and Reid partnered on the idea of high-speed rail between Vegas and Southern California.

Reid came to the event on the Strip after testifying downtown in his lawsuit over how he lost his eye, the injury that led to his retirement after five terms.

 

Lowie lobbyist lends name to a fundraiser featuring... Seroka

Las Vegas City Hall

Almost any other time, a fundraiser for a Las Vegas city councilman wouldn’t make a blip on anyone’s political radar. During the campaign season, the gathering of contributions is an endless polka of glad-handing and check-passing.

But these are unusual times at City Hall, days riddled with intrigue and suspicion bordering on paranoia.

When high-flying local litigator Robert Eglet and wife Tracy offered their home as the site of a Thursday fundraiser in support of the Veterans for Responsible Government PAC with “special guest” Steve Seroka, it was nothing out of the ordinary for the politically active power couple. And the embattled Seroka, the prime subject of a bruising recall effort and withering litigations by developer Yohan Lowie over the fate of the Badlands golf course at Queensridge, can certainly use all the friends he can get.

As it turns out, one of those friends is the heavyweight champion of Las Vegas juice attorneys, Jay Brown, who is listed as a co-host of the fundraiser along with the Eglet Prince law firm and Frank and Julietta Schreck.

Again, under normal campaign conditions, Brown’s name on a fundraising invitation would send a message that the intended beneficiary enjoyed an insider’s seal of approval. Except that, Brown also represents Yohan Lowie and his EHB Companies in matters before the City Council. And attorney Frank Schreck has been battling on behalf of the Queensridge side.

This qualifies as an awkward moment even amid the current climate at City Hall. With the possible exception of a member of Metro’s Bomb Squad, it’s hard to imagine anyone with a foot in both the Lowie and Seroka camps. But that’s just another day in Brown’s life.

Those who have followed his career have long considered Brown Wallenda-like when it comes to walking the ethical high wire. At times, skeptics have a hard time seeing the wire at all. The ubiquitous Brown spreads it around — and he doesn’t back many losers. He fundraises on behalf of politicians whose votes he then seeks on behalf of clients in a loop that appears to work very well for the players involved.

But the bruising, at times vicious, fight over Badlands has sent even experienced political observers to the fallout shelters. Seroka has been slapped with a recall effort ramrodded by Tommy White and the gang at Laborers Local 872. Seroka has been accused of everything from corruption to being in the pocket of the Queensridge crowd and costing the city a small fortune in legal fees over the Badlands case. Seroka’s choice for the city planning commission, Christina Roush, faces an ethics complaint. And GOP veteran Victoria Seaman is already campaigning against him although the recall effort has yet to be approved.

In a rare quiet moment, Lowie’s advocates will remind you that the developer has contributed billions in construction and growth for the Las Vegas economy and has been jacked around by city bureaucrats and the council over the Badlands deal. He’s mad as hell, and he’s not going away.

Which makes Brown’s association with both Lowie and Seroka all the more interesting. Contacted Tuesday, Brown acknowledged the awkward appearance. But as you might have guessed, he had a simple answer for the apparent conflict and controversy.

“It’s not a question of my agreeing with Seroka on those (Badlands) matters,” Brown said. “I agree with Yohan. But I don’t believe elected officials should be recalled for the way they vote. I do believe that what Yohan was asking for was right.”

If the ticking Badlands bomb ever ends up in arbitration, I have a pretty good idea who might be called in to defuse it — the unflappable fellow who appears comfortable in both camps.

“All you can do is the best you can,” Brown said. “I believe Seroka doesn’t warrant getting recalled, and yet he’s against my client.”

As for the potential consequences?

“If someone’s offended by it, so be it,” he said. “People may not like it, and they may not like me for it, but that’s how it goes. You’ve got to vote your conscience. Sometimes people don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.”

Correction, 4:30 PM, 2/21/19: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that Yohan Lowie accused Councilman Steve Seroka of anti-Semitism. The councilman Lowie accused of making an anti-Semitic statement is Bob Coffin.

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 Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Sisolak's 2018 calendar gives detailed view into campaign, county operations

A mix of lobbyist meetings, fundraisers, campaign events and county business dominated Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak’s calendar throughout the first 11 months of 2018, according to a copy obtained by The Nevada Independent.

Sisolak, who defeated Republican Adam Laxalt in the November election and will be sworn in next month as the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years, kept a packed schedule through most of the year, ranging from meetings with gaming executives, business leaders, top lobbyists and other candidates for office, along with debate prep, campaign events and nearly three dozen fundraisers in addition to his normal county business.

The information was obtained via a records request submitted by The Nevada Independent on Dec. 7 for a copy of the Clark County Commission chair’s calendar from Jan. 1 to the first week in December. Some caveats: just because a meeting was scheduled in the calendar doesn’t necessarily mean it happened, and the calendar isn’t a definitive record of Sisolak’s meetings and activity on the campaign trail.

With hundreds of entries, the calendar provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the relationships and schedule of the man soon to be Nevada’s 30th governor.

Jay Brown

Twenty-seven scheduled meetings, including 17 one-on-one meetings, underline the close relationship between Sisolak and powerhouse local government lobbyist Jay Brown, whose long list of clients includes Resorts World, Republic Services, Treasure Island and a host of marijuana dispensaries.

Two of the meetings were held with longtime Walters Group president Mike Luce in January and August. Another two meetings with Brown were held with developer Don Webb, the Raiders stadium chief operating officer. Brown represented the team in its business before the county commission last year.

Other participants in meetings with Brown and Sisolak included prominent Las Vegas developer Brett Torino on Oct. 10, developer-turned-cannabis company owner Mitch Wilson on Nov. 29 and prominent criminal defense attorney David Chesnoff on Jan. 9.

Brown, a top attorney and former law partner of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, has close relations with many Southern Nevada power players, including former Sen. Harry Reid and incarcerated gambler Billy Walters. Walters’ wife, Susan, contributed $100,000 to Sisolak’s gubernatorial campaign in the weeks ahead of the 2018 election.

Brown contributed $10,000 to Sisolak’s campaign through his law firm on Oct. 5, and another $10,000 personally on Sept. 1, 2017.

Eglet

In December 2017, Clark County became the first jurisdiction in Nevada to contract with the private law firm of Eglet Prince to pursue litigation against 17 pharmaceutical-grade opioid companies.

Over the next several months, close to a dozen other jurisdictions in the state would also enter into similar contracts with Eglet Prince. During that period, Robert Eglet, the firm’s namesake and senior partner, continued to meet with Sisolak and help his campaign.

Sisolak’s calendar shows meetings with Eglet on Jan. 23, a dinner with him and lawyer/businessman Peter Palivos on Feb. 2, another meeting on May 31 and an Eglet-hosted fundraiser on July 26, the same day Sisolak’s campaign reported receiving more than $107,000 in contributions, including $5,000 from Eglet Prince.

Post election meetings

So far, Sisolak has announced that a handful of Sandoval administration appointees will remain at the helm of executive branch agencies in his administration, and his scheduled meetings since the election suggest he’s considering keeping more in place.

His calendar shows meetings with current Department of Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon on Dec. 4, and a meeting with Paul Anderson, head of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, on Dec. 5. Both meetings were scheduled at Sisolak’s “Transition HQ.”

The incoming governor also met with SEIU leaders Brian Shepherd and Grace Vergara at the transition HQ on Dec. 5. The Clark County Commission approved a 1 percent salary increase for all county employees and a 2 percent Cost of Living Adjustment pay bump for union members at their Dec. 18 meeting.

Peter Palivos

Sisolak’s calendar also shows eight meetings with Las Vegas lawyer and businessman Palivos, a personal friend, between January and June of 2018. Palivos was the seller in a $7 million land deal in 2012 with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and since then has been a philanthropist and Democratic political donor.

He donated $15,000 to Sisolak’s gubernatorial bid between September 2017 and October 2018, about a quarter of the $57,000 total he has donated to Democratic candidates and causes since 2012.

Before moving to Nevada, Palivos was involved in a dubious real estate deal in Illinois which eventually saw him convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice in 2003 — though Palivos had claimed outside of court that he was framed by prosecutors for refusing to provide evidence against former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

Other meetings

Sisolak’s calendar is peppered with other meetings with top lobbyists and political insiders.

It shows three scheduled meetings with powerful lobbyist and R&R Partners CEO Billy Vassiliadis in March, April, and a few days after the general election in November, as well as a scheduled meeting at the firm’s office on Nov. 13. The advertising firm represents some of the most powerful entities in the state, including the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Blockchains LLC and the Nevada Resort Association.

Sisolak also met with lobbyist Gary Milliken at least four times, including joint meetings with taxi executive Jonathan Schwartz and Nevada Contractors Association vice president Sean Stewart.

The calendar also shows a scheduled meeting with Station Casino owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta on Oct. 3. Both Feritta brothers and their wives individually contributed $10,000 to Sisolak’s campaign about a week earlier, according to campaign finance records.

He also reported meeting with former Diamond Resorts CEO Stephen Cloobeck on Oct. 21. Cloobeck, who in 2017 weighed a run for governor, contributed $5,000 to Sisolak in August and constantly slammed his Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt, on Twitter prior to the election.

He also met with Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox on Aug. 28, Monarch Casino Resorts CEO John Farahi on Sept. 12 and Switch CEO Rob Roy, also on Sept. 12.

Education support

Meetings recorded on the calendar also underline Sisolak’s close alliance with the Clark County Education Association and its leader, John Vellardita.

In addition to a CCEA podcast recording in late May, Sisolak’s calendar shows a meeting with Velardita on June 27, the same month the union officially split from its parent organization, the Nevada State Education Association. Velardita held a fundraiser for Sisolak on Oct. 24, a day which his campaign reported raising more than $58,000.

CCEA was an early backer of Sisolak in both the primary and general elections, including spending more than $1.3 million on his behalf through 2017 and 2018 through the “Nevada Leads” political action committee, which ran ads attacking primary opponent Chris Giunchigliani and Laxalt.

Although the NSEA spent heavily to back Giunchigliani, Sisolak’s calendar shows meetings with the group on July 19 and a roundtable with the organization on Oct. 12, about a week before the union announced it was endorsing him for governor. He also met with Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara on the same day as the NSEA meeting, July 19.

Political meetings & fundraisers

He also had scheduled meeting with current and former Democratic elected officials over the span of several months, including Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Richard Bryan, Senate Majority Leader and attorney general candidate Aaron Ford, Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and state party chair and Assemblyman Will McCurdy.

In the heat of campaign season, Sisolak also met with a number of Democratic politicians, candidates and former politicians. That includes several primary fundraisers with state and local politicians, including Rep. Dina Titus on March 27, then-state Senate Assistant Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson on March 27, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela on March 14, and County Commission candidate Tick Segerblom on October 25.

Sisolak’s calendar also shows a scheduled meeting with Segerblom’s primary opponent, labor organizer Marco Hernandez, on March 28 — the same day Sisolak’s “Sandstone PAC” contributed $500 to Hernandez’s campaign.

He also reported meeting with National Popular Vote, a group pushing for states to adopt an agreement to cast electoral votes toward the winner of the popular vote, on July 10. A bill adding Nevada to the compact failed to make it out of committee in 2017.

Whether fundraisers were for Sisolak, another candidate or joint was usually not made explicit in the calendar, though by the general election he had held at least 32 fundraisers exclusively for his own campaign, including at least two after the election in November. Those fundraisers include:

  • 7/18 - Ali Rizvi, CEO of Litigation Services, LLC.
  • 7/19 - Doctors fundraiser with three local doctors, including a “Dr. Prabhu,”(Rachakonda Prabhu, longtime politically connected physician) Dr. William Resh, and Dr. Nick Spirtos
  • 7/26 - Robert Eglet, partner at Eglet Prince
  • 8/15 - Phil Peckman, CEO of The Peckman Capital Corporation
  • 8/20 - Chad Christensen, former state assemblyman
  • 8/29 - Scott Canepa, attorney at Canepa Abele Riedy, and Scott Sibley, publisher and former assemblyman
  • 9/5 - Small business fundraiser
  • 9/6 - Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
  • 9/6 - Christopher Kaempfer and Anthony Celeste, attorneys at Kaempfer Crowell
  • 9/10 - Barbara Molasky, account executive at The Rogich Communications Group and President of the Neon Museum, and Jan Jones, former Las Vegas mayor
  • 9/11 - Laura Fitzsimmons, Sisolak’s longtime personal lawyer, and Mary Kaye Cashman, CEO of the Cashman Equipment Company
  • 9/13 - Rob Walsh, attorney at Walsh & Freedman, and Khusrow Roohani, owner of Seven Valleys Realty
  • 9/15 - Fundraiser, Bonefish Grill
  • 9/20 - Ozzie Fumo, state assemblyman
  • 9/24 - Mike Dreitzer, CEO of Gaming Arts LLC (the calendar entry for this fundraiser misspells the name as “Mike Drezier”)
  • 9/25 - Robert Goldstein, President and COO of Las Vegas Sands
  • 10/3 - George Harris, CEO of Alien Tequila, Don Ahern, CEO of Ahern Rentals
  • 10/4 - Robert Goldstein, president and COO of the Las Vegas Sands. Goldstein contributed $5,000 to Sisolak’s campaign on Aug. 21.
  • 10/5 - Dr. Tousif Pasha
  • 10/10 - Ash Mirchandani, former deputy director at the state Department of Business and Industry and lobbyist
  • 10/11 - Ross Miller, former Nevada secretary of state, Bob Miller, former Nevada governor, “Dr. Khan” (longtime politically connected physician Ike Khan)
  • 10/12 - Marybel Batjer, secretary of California’s Government Operations Agency, former VP of public policy and corporate social responsibility for Caesars Entertainment and former chief of staff for Gov. Kenny Guinn.
  • 10/17 - Mark James, former state senator and county commissioner, Neil Tomlinson, managing partner at Hyperion Advisors
  • 10/21 - Mark Miyaoka, Robert Song and Helen Hsueh, owner and publisher of the Las Vegas Chinese Daily News
  • 10/22 - Rita Vaswani, professional banking relationship manager at Nevada State Bank and Dr. Benito Calderon
  • 10/24 - John Vellardita, head of the Clark County Education Association
  • 10/25 - Sharon and Tick Segerblom, the former state senator and incoming Clark County commissioner
  • 10/26 - Dr. Nick Spirtos, CEO of the Apothecary marijuana dispensary, and NFL player Jerry Rice (Spirtos is Rice’s family doctor). The fundraiser was scheduled but did not take place.
  • 10/27 - William Hill CEO Joe Asher and company attorney Reed Horsley
  • 12/4 - Judy Perez, an executive with real estate development company Siegel Group
  • 12/5 - Tyre Gray, an attorney and lobbyist with the law firm of Fennemore Craig

Sisolak calendar by Riley Snyder on Scribd