Cortez Masto introduces Clark County lands bill to expand Las Vegas footprint, designate public land for conservation

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Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto introduced long-awaited legislation Wednesday that would change the way public land is managed in Clark County, creating a path to grow the Las Vegas metro area toward California while setting aside land for conservation and recreation.

The introduction of the legislation comes almost three years after the Clark County Commission, then-chaired by Gov. Steve Sisolak, asked the state’s delegation to introduce a public lands bill. 

For years, elected officials, county staff and real estate developers have predicted a demand for more developable acreage with the Las Vegas area, encircled by federal public land, forecast to grow. In an interview, Cortez Masto said the bill looks to balance new growth with conservation.

Cortez Masto said she worked to answer the question: “‘How do we find a balanced approach?”

She said the goal, drafting the bill, was “that we actually look to diversify our economies through this bill, that we build more affordable housing but that we also then continue to preserve the outdoor spaces that we have across Southern Nevada for outdoor recreation and conservation.”

“That’s why it took us some time to really talk with folks, engage the cities, engage the county and make sure that everybody had an opportunity to weigh in,” she added.

The bill, as introduced, would open up a large stretch of federal public land, running south along the I-15 corridor toward Jean and the California border, for potential commercial and residential development. It also opens up public land near Indian Springs, Laughlin and the Moapa Valley.

At the same time, the legislation proposes conserving about 2 million acres of public land. The bill would establish 337,406 million acres of wilderness in the county and protect about 1.3 million acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. The refuge is the largest in the contiguous United States and has faced recent threats with the Air Force looking to expand a training range. The bill would also set aside about 350,000 acres of land for wildlife habitat.

In Nevada, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees about 67 percent of the land. As a result, the federal government — and Nevada’s congressional delegation — play a role in how land is managed. Accordingly, the bill proposes changes to land management across the county.

It would convey 41,255 acres to the Moapa Band of Paiutes, whose lands originally consisted of more than two million acres in 1874 and were substantially reduced by Congress one year later. The bill would also convey public land currently leased for municipal use (parks, schools, etc.). 

How the legislation came to be is the result of a long, arduous and often controversial process. The county’s original proposal took heat from environmental groups. It protected a fraction of the acreage that Cortez Masto’s bill does and was viewed by several groups as subverting the spirit of the Endangered Species Act. In October 2019, 14 groups sent a letter of concern to the delegation.

Then there was a wait. A discussion draft came out in January 2020, and Cortez Masto signaled that the bill would be introduced in December. In that time, Cortez Masto’s office reached out to dozens of groups to make changes to the county’s original proposal. When the legislation was introduced on Wednesday, my inbox is proof that many groups, though not all, were in support.

The county put out a supportive press release. The homebuilders. The commercial real estate developers. The Nevada Conservation League. Friends of Nevada Wilderness. Save Red Rock. 

Shaaron Netherton, executive director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said that the bill “would be the single largest designation of wilderness acres in the state’s history, ensuring continued public access to these lands and critical wildlife habitat and cultural resource protection.” 

But some environmental groups remain skeptical of the tradeoffs in the bill: future sprawl for conservation. Patrick Donnelly, state director for the Center of Biological Diversity, said the bill was an improvement over what the county had originally proposed. But he said he rejected the premise that conserving more land would offset the environmental impacts of increased sprawl.

Donnelly said in an email that the growth pattern contemplated in the bill “perpetuates a pattern of development that has brought our society to the brink of ecological and climate collapse.”

Dexter Lim, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement Las Vegas, echoed these concerns.

“Our current reality of environmental crises have intrinsic roots in the irrevocable effects of urban sprawl,” Lim wrote in a statement. “Continuing this practice over more sustainable and land-efficient strategies such as infill development is ignorant of the intersectional climate, housing, and transportation injustices that already plague residents of Clark County.”

While the earlier iterations of the legislation did not address climate change, Cortez Masto’s bill does include a provision aimed at climate action. The legislation would allow funds generated through the sale of public land to benefit projects to address climate change in Clark County.

What’s next? Cortez Masto said that the entire delegation supports the proposal. The senator said the bill could potentially move as part of other congressional legislation or independently. 

She also said she expects to continue hearing from constituents about the legislation. 

“This draft that we're going to put out now, I'm sure there are some people that have not had a chance to see it,” Cortez Masto said. “We're open to making sure it gets in front of them, and if they have thoughts on something in this draft, we're open to listening to them as well.”

Here’s what else I’m watching this week:


THE LEGISLATURE

Blockchains, Sisolak and a new city: During a roundtable on Friday, my colleague Michelle Rindels asked the governor about environmental concerns, specifically related to water, in his administration’s legislative effort to create Innovation Zones. The proposed legislation would allow a technology company to develop a self-governing community near Reno. Sisolak said the company would be required to find water for the project. The company has, as we reported. The plan is to import water from rural Nevada, raising several environmental and equity concerns.

Where the wild things are: April Corbin Girnus writes in the Nevada Current about legislation, backed by the state’s natural resource agency, that would limit the public release of information on sensitive species: “State officials contend they are trying to protect species. Environmental groups fear the state is aiming to protect proposed industrial developments from public scrutiny.”

Fixing injustices in geographic naming: Lawmakers are considering a bill that would give Indigenous communities more representation in naming geographic places. As my colleague Jazmin Orozco-Rodriguez wrote in our legislative newsletter Monday, “Native voices could be given more prominence in such decisions if the Legislature approves AB72, which would add a Nevada Indian Commission member to the state geographic names board.” On a related note, if you are not already subscribed to our biweekly legislative newsletter, you should sign up here.

Is the mining industry paying its fair share? My colleague Riley Snyder talked with Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray about efforts to change limits on the mining tax. 

Spending big: Nevada Gold Mines, a joint-venture between Barrick and Newmont, donated $500,000 to a PAC affiliated with Sisolak. The PAC gave money to Senate Democrats as the Legislature is looking at increasing mining taxes. My colleague Jacob Solis has a story on it. 

WATER AND LAND

Supreme Court rules on domestic wells: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nevada’s top water regulator in a long-running and closely-watched dispute over domestic wells in Pahrump, Robin Hebrock reports in the Pahrump Valley Times. For background on the issue, I wrote a piece back in 2018 looking at some of the complexities (and misinformation) around the issue.

The Colorado River negotiating table: Colorado River water users are set to begin discussing how to manage the watershed as the climate changes and populations continue to grow. Luke Runyon reports for KUNC on the conversations about what the negotiating table might look like. 

ENERGY AND CLIMATE

A Nevada lithium mine and a new rush: A second lawsuit was filed last week challenging the Trump administration’s decision to permit the Thacker Pass lithium mine north of Winnemucca, Brian Bahouth reports for the Sierra Nevada Ally. Last month, High Country News reporter Maya Kapoor and photographer Russel Albert Daniels wrote about the project in the context of a rush to develop lithium mines in the Western U.S. and Nevada. This story is definitely worth reading. 

  • Reuters reporter Ernest Scheyder explores the tensions around permitting mines and supplying the raw materials needed to transition the economy away from fossil fuels.
  • USDA puts brakes on land transfer for Arizona mine, the AP’s Felicia Fonseca reports.

Could it happen here? Is Nevada's power grid prepared for more extreme heat waves? Is it prepared for climate change? Utility regulators are investigating that question, my colleague Riley Snyder reports following the winter storm in Texas that led to a devastating power crisis.

OUTDOOR RECREATION

Outdoor recreation hit by COVID-19: Despite anecdotal evidence that more and more people are turning to the outdoors during the pandemic, the recreation industry in Nevada ended last year with 3,600 fewer jobs, according to a new report. Mike Shoro reports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “State officials had previously suggested the pandemic had accelerated the growth pattern. The new report suggests that may have been true in some cases, but not all.”

Lake Tahoe ski resort sued over 2020 avalanche: “The widow and a friend of a man killed in an avalanche at a Lake Tahoe ski resort last year have filed separate lawsuits accusing the resort of negligently rushing to open the slopes in unsafe conditions for a holiday weekend that’s typically one of the busiest of the season,” Scott Sonner writes for the Associated Press.

Mining gave half a million dollars to Sisolak-affiliated PAC shortly before session that could raise tax on industry

Sign in front of the Nevada State Capitol building

A political action committee affiliated with Gov. Steve Sisolak raised more than $830,000 in the last three months of 2020, including $500,000 from Nevada Gold Mines — a joint venture between mining giants Barrick and Newmont — and another $260,000 from the pharmaceutical lobbying group PhRMA, according to campaign finance documents filed Wednesday.

Those major contributions came just months after the Legislature had raised the prospect during a special session of expanding mining taxes to cover massive revenue losses amid shutdowns related to the pandemic — and the issue is expected to be revived during the ongoing 2021 session.

The PAC also received funding last quarter from the pro-gun regulation group Everytown for Gun Safety ($25,000), UFC parent company Zuffa ($20,000), a subsidiary of Caesar’s Entertainment ($10,000), an LLC linked to the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas ($10,000) and Nevada REALTORS ($5,000). 

Though the Home Means Nevada PAC was initially founded to fund Sisolak’s transition to governor following his win in 2018, the group has since shifted its focus, doling out funds largely to the state Democratic party apparatus. 

A spokesperson for the governor’s office declined to comment, and a representative for Home Means Nevada PAC told The Nevada Independent that the governor was “not involved” with the PAC and that the group was issues-focused. 

Still, Wednesday’s filing showed the PAC contributed $390,000 in the fourth quarter, of which more than half — $250,000 — went to the state Democratic Party. An additional $100,000 was given directly to the Senate Democrats’ fundraising arm, while $10,000 contributions were made to Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft (D-Las Vegas). 

The PAC also gave $10,000 — the statutory maximum in Nevada — to campaigns for Wendy Jauregui-Jackins and Kristee Watson, two Democrats who lost their bids for competitive legislative seats last year.

This is a developing story.

Update, 3/3/21 at 5:03 p.m. - This story was updated to reflect that a spokesperson for the governor's office declined to comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevada Independent intern Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

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

Even amid Trump’s Nevada loss, PAC led by former Lt. Gov. Hutchison touts success for down-ballot Republicans

Though President Donald Trump fell short of victory in Nevada’s 2020 election, state Republicans still saw quite the silver lining in election results — the first major gains in legislative races since the 2014 midterm elections.

Once the election dust had settled, Republicans had gained three Assembly seats and a state Senate seat previously held by Democrats, dragging the party out of a super-minority in the state Assembly and blocking a two-thirds majority in the state Senate.

Though election results are being contested (including a request for a special election in one close state Senate race), a substantial amount of credit for Republican success in down-ballot races is being attributed to a well funded political action committee called “Stronger Nevada PAC.”

The group, headed by former Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison, raised and spent nearly $2 million through the course of the campaign season, focusing on television, digital and mail advertising spending in a state Supreme Court race and a handful of key swing Assembly and state Senate races.

Though the group was not successful in all of its targeted races, Hutchison said in an interview that he was pleased with the down-ballot results of the election, saying it has justified his belief that Nevada was still very much a swing state despite recent strings of victories by Democrats.

“Nevada is much more of a purple state (and) still is, I think now as a result of this election,” he said. “A lot of people were talking about it becoming a blue state, and really having sort of left the ‘purple stage.’ I really feel like this election is putting the data back into what we’ve known for years, a purple state. Nevadans care about candidates and they care about policies, and they're going to vote for those kinds of policies, not necessarily straight party line.”

The PAC made some limited television ad buys, but largely focused on digital and mail advertising in down ballot races, including Doug Herdon’s state Supreme Court race against attorney Ozzie Fumo, three state Senate races (Districts 5, 6 and 15) and four Assembly races (Districts 4, 29, 31 and 37). It reported spending more than $130,000 on Facebook ads, according to the social media company’s repository of advertisements on its platform — more than either Steve Sisolak or Adam Laxalt spent on the platform during their respective runs for governor in 2018. 

Creation and use of a political action committee to help boost legislative Republicans isn’t a new trend; former Gov. Brian Sandoval did it in 2014 and 2016 through the “Nevada Jobs Coalition,” a similar independent expenditure-focused committee that ran advertisements boosting Republican candidates.

But the 2020 effort was notable both in the size and source of the contributions (more than half of the PACs contributions came from 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit groups, which aren’t required to disclose donors) but also in leadership structure; Hutchison left office in 2018, but worked with several currently-elected Republicans including state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer and Assembly members Jill Tolles and Tom Roberts.

In an interview, Kieckhefer called the PAC and leadership arrangement a “good partnership,” and said it had proved an effective counter to Democratic advertising against Republican candidates. He said the PAC’s success bodes well for the upcoming 2022 midterms, and that some of the financial relief it offered was a product of businesses pushing back against the prospect of Democratic supermajority control of the two legislative chambers.

“This was an instance where businesses that were feeling under attack by their state government decided to step up and take a stand,” he said. “And part of that was investing in the effort to gain legislative seats for Republicans. And we did that. So, this was a statement, and hopefully people are paying attention.”

As for Hutchison, his continued political involvement while out of office continues to fuel speculation about a potential future candidacy — Gov. Steve Sisolak and U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto are both up for re-election in 2022. Hutchison said he plans to “think about my political future later,” but hinted that Republicans need to expand beyond the normal base to see success in the upcoming midterms.

“Republican candidates, particularly for statewide office, need to have as big a tent as possible,” he said. “We need to be a party that is inviting and a party that is attractive to as many voters as possible. We need to be attractive to our base, we need to be attractive to moderate voters, we need to be attractive to crossover voters. Just given the registration advantage in favor of Democrats, there has to be a focus on all three of those areas.”

PAC Funding

According to campaign finance reports, the Stronger Nevada PAC raised more than $1.8 million cumulatively through the first nine months of the calendar year, while spending more than $1 million over that same time period. Actual spending and contribution levels are likely to be higher, given that currently-reported fundraising totals don’t include the final month of campaigning.

Much of the group’s funding is obscured through the use of 501(c)4 nonprofit advocacy and social welfare organizations — which are not required to reveal their donors — for contributions. Hutchison helped fund the PAC’s initial wave of spending in the spring through a nonprofit called “Nevada Foundation for Judicial Engagement,” which contributed about $150,000 to the PAC in April.

That nonprofit was created in February of 2019 and is registered to Hutchison’s private-practice law office. It has reported no other contributions to Nevada-level or federal candidates since it was created.

But the group’s largest contributions have come from a similar 501(c)4 nonprofit organization called American Exceptionalism Institute Inc., which contributed a sizable $985,000 to the PAC in October and September — more than half of its listed contributions. The group has few public footprints; it lists an Alexandria, Virginia P.O. Box as its mailing address, and its listed chairman is an Ohio conservative activist named Chris Macisco.

According to government ethics group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group was founded by an Ohio lawyer named James G. Ryan who is also involved in other “dark money” 501(c)4 nonprofits that engage in heavy political spending.

Outside of a publicized television ad campaign urging Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to support the nomination of CIA Director Gina Haspel in 2018, the nonprofit has not attracted much interest or public attention. More recently, it contributed $150,000 to a Super PAC supporting Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler in July 2020.

Other major donors to the Stronger Nevada PAC include the Republican State Leadership Committee, which contributed $200,000, and $250,000 from Nevada Gold Mines, the joint partnership between mining conglomerates Barrick and Newmont. The state’s mining industry soured on legislative Democrats after the 2020 summer session, where lawmakers pushed through three proposed constitutional amendments that would remove the cap on net proceeds of minerals.

Election Preview: Assembly Republicans fighting to get out of the ‘superminority’ as Democrats seek to protect seats in swingy districts

Democratic lawmakers have, for the last two years, enjoyed a supermajority in the Assembly.

Because they control two-thirds of the seats in the chamber, Democrats have had the ability to pass tax increases and override vetos from the governor — should the need arise — at their discretion. The only limit on Democrats’ legislative power has been in the Senate, where Democrats are one seat shy of a supermajority.

While Senate Democrats have been eyeing state Sen. Heidi Gansert’s Washoe County seat in their quest to secure a supermajority in that chamber, they have largely been playing defense on the Assembly side.

Only five of the 42 seats in the Assembly are truly competitive this year, including four districts where Democrats narrowly won elections in 2018 — Assembly Districts 4, 29, 31 and 37. The fifth, Assembly District 2, is a potentially swingy seat that has been held by a Republican for more than a decade.

Of the remaining 37 seats, 25 are guaranteed or likely to swing Democratic and 12 are guaranteed or likely to swing Republican. Five Democrats and seven Republicans are running unopposed in the general election, with the rest of the seats likely to swing either Democratic or Republican because of the overwhelming voter registration advantages in each district.

Democrats have a 29-13 supermajority in the Assembly — meaning that they can only afford to lose one seat if Assembly District 2 stays in Republican hands.

That’s why Republicans say they have ramped up an independent expenditure operation — that is, an outside campaign not run by the candidate themselves — this cycle focused on boosting their prospects of getting out of what is sometimes referred to as the “superminority.” Assemblyman Tom Roberts, who is helping to spearhead the effort, said that the independent expenditure campaign is the result of Republicans narrowing their focus after the last cycle.

“We knew that we needed to remain focused on the seats that were winnable,” Roberts said. “We were critiqued by some donors to that effect, and so we developed a plan that was fairly narrowly focused based on voter registration.”

Between Roberts’ Nevada Victory PAC and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’ Lead Forward PAC, Republicans have raised $117,000 this year toward those competitive Assembly seats.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm on the Republican side,” Roberts said. “There wasn’t so much on the Democrat side, but I think they’re picking up steam so it’ll be interesting to see who can turn out the most and who can attract independents — and how the presidential race plays into down ticket races will be telling, too.”

But Megan Jones, a Democratic consultant who works on independent expenditures on the other side of the aisle, thinks Democrats’ chances of keeping their supermajority is strong. And, by comparison, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s Leadership in Nevada PAC, which has existed since 2015, has raised $240,000 this year.

“The way they've been running the campaigns has been smart. They've been well resourced,” Jones said. “So I'm hopeful there. I think we have a good shot at retaining a governing majority."

But there’s a possibility that there could be significant drop off down the ballot because of the prevalence of vote by mail this cycle, Jones said, noting that Democrats, particularly those in Nevada, tend to vote less straight ticket than Republicans do.

“If you're a Republican, you're usually a Republican all the way down the ballot,” Jones said.

Though former Vice President Joe Biden is leading in the polls in Nevada, Eric Roberts, executive director of the Assembly Republican Caucus, is hopeful that Republicans could still pick up some seats even if President Donald Trump narrowly loses the state.

“I don’t know how much a candidate can truly outperform the top of the ticket,” Roberts said. “I don’t know how much range there is to separate, but that’s where Republicans have to go to find that because Trump looks like he is performing about on voter registration or a little bit below it.”

Below, The Nevada Independent explores those five Assembly races this year. Click here to read more about the Senate races and check out our election page for more information overall.

Assembly District 2

Of the five competitive Assembly races this cycle, Assembly District 2 is the only Republican-controlled seat. It is currently represented by termed-out Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick, who has represented the Summerlin-area seat since 2008.

Republicans recruited Heidi Kasama — her first name is pronounced “hey-dee,” for the record — managing broker of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices-Nevada Properties, as Hambrick’s successor. She faces Democrat Radhika Kunnel, a graduate of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law and a former professor specializing in cancer biology, in the race. Garrett LeDuff, a nonpartisan, is also running for the seat.

Hambrick won his re-election bid in 2018 by 1,054 votes, or a 3.7 percentage-point margin. Republicans currently have a 969-person voter registration advantage in the district, or 2.2 percentage points. Republicans had an 1,829-person advantage in 2018, or 4.5 percentage points.

Kasama has raised $193,000 this year, including $104,000 over the last three months. However, more than half of that three-month total, $55,450, was self-funded. She also received a $10,000 donation from BORPAC (the Board of REALTORS PAC in Las Vegas) and $5,000 each from Assemblyman Tom Roberts and the Reno-Sparks Association of REALTORS.

Kunnel, by comparison, has raised about $59,000, with about $39,000 over the last three months, including $2,000 from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, $1,000 from SEIU Local 1107 and $1,000 from EMILY’s List.

LeDuff has not raised any money this cycle.

Kasama has about $68,000 in the bank to finish out her campaign, while Kunnel has about $26,000.

Assembly District 4

Republicans are hoping to wrest control of this northwest Las Vegas Assembly seat from Democrats this year after losing it by only 120 votes two years ago. The race is a rematch between first term Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk and Republican Richard McArthur, who previously represented the district between 2008 and 2012 and 2016 to 2018. 

However, there is one significant difference this year: Munk and McArthur are the only two candidates in the race. Two years ago, an Independent American Party candidate also ran for the seat, securing 671 votes that might have otherwise gone to Munk or McArthur — and made the difference in the race. 

The Independent American Party is a far-right political party, though some people mistakenly register with the party thinking they have registered as an independent, when independents are called “nonpartisans” in Nevada. Still, Republicans speculate that McArthur would have won the lion’s share of those 671 votes, enough to have secured him a victory over Munk in 2018.

Voter registration numbers between Republicans and Democrats in the district continue to be extremely close. Democrats have an 11-voter registration advantage — 0.02 percentage points — over Republicans; two years ago, Republicans had a 33-voter advantage, or 0.07 percentage points.

Munk has, however, significantly outraised McArthur in her re-election bid. Her most recent campaign finance report shows that she has raised $137,000 over the course of the year — including $67,000 in the last three months — including several $5,000 donations from local groups including White Rabbit PAC (affiliated with the Laborers Union Local 169 in Reno), the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 525, SEIU Local 1107, the Committee to Elect Daniele Monroe-Moreno and Citizens for Justice Trust (a trial lawyers PAC) and, nationally, from EMILY’s List.

McArthur, who has raised $35,000 over the year, including $34,000 in the last three months, received one $6,000 donation from Assemblyman Al Kramer and three $5,000 donations, from the Barrick Gold Corporation, Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus and Keystone Corporation. He also received one out-of-state donation, $2,500 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

As of Sept. 30, Munk had about $103,000 in the bank to finish out her campaign, compared to the $36,000 McArthur had on hand.

Assembly District 29

Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen is running for re-election in this Henderson Assembly district against Republican Steven DeLisle, a dentist anesthesiologist. Cohen first represented the seat between 2012 and 2014 and again since 2016.

Cohen won her 2018 re-election bid by 1,336 votes, or 5.1 percent, in a district where Democrats had a 1,550-person, or a 3.7 percentage point, voter registration advantage. Democrats now have a slightly narrower 4.9 percentage point, or 2,233 person, voter registration advantage in the district.

Cohen has raised $93,000 this year toward her re-election bid, including $53,000 over the last three months, while DeLisle has raised about $87,000, including $66,000 in the last three months. Some of Cohen’s top donors over the last few months include Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, who contributed $5,000; Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, who also contributed $5,000; and SEIU Local 1107, which contributed $4,000.

DeLisle’s notable contributors include the Keystone Corporation, which donated $5,000; the Vegas Chamber, which donated $2,500; and Las Vegas Sands, which also donated $2,500.

Cohen has about $107,000 in the bank, while DeLisle has about $70,000.

Assembly District 31

Democrat Skip Daly and Republican Jill Dickman are, for the fourth time in a row, going head to head in this Washoe County Assembly district. Daly has represented the district for eight of the last 10 years — from 2010 to 2014 and from 2016 until the present — with Dickman representing the district the other two years.

In 2014, Dickman defeated Daly by 1,890 votes, or 10.6 percentage points, during that year’s red wave. Daly defeated Dickman narrowly in 2016 by 38 votes, or 0.1 percentage point, before securing a wider margin of victory over her in 2018 — 1,105 votes, or 3.8 percentage points.

Daly, the business manager of Laborers Union Local 169, is known for relentlessly door knocking his way through the district, helping him secure recent victories in a district where there have consistently been more Republicans than Democrats. Republicans currently exceed Democrats in voter registration numbers by 1,966, or 4.3 percentage points; in 2018, Republicans had a 2,376 person advantage, or 5.8 percentage points.

Daly has raised a total of $67,000 this year toward his re-election bid, including $13,000 over the last three months. That sum includes a $5,000 donation from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, $2,500 from the Nevada State Association of Electrical Workers and $2,000 from Southwest Gas.

Dickman, by contrast, has raised $59,000 this year, including $53,000 over the last three months. She’s received significant support from fellow Assembly Republicans — including $6,000 from Assemblyman Al Kramer, $5,000 from Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus and $2,500 from Assemblyman Tom Roberts — but her biggest contribution in the last three months was a $10,000 check from Nevada Gold Mines, the joint mining venture between Barrick and Newmont.

Daly has about $53,000 left in the bank to spend toward his re-election campaign. Dickman has $56,000.

Assembly District 37

Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus is fighting to keep control of this Summerlin-area Assembly seat this year. She faces Republican Andy Matthews, who was formerly policy director for Adam Laxalt’s 2018 campaign for governor and president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Backus, a lawyer by trade, defeated Republican Jim Marchant, then the incumbent, in 2018 by 135 votes, or 0.5 percentage points.

Democrats currently have an 845 person, or 1.9 percentage point, voter registration advantage in the district. In 2018, Democrats had a 245 person, or 0.6 percentage point, advantage.

Matthews has far outraised Backus individually, receiving $135,000 in contributions over the last three months compared to the $51,000 Backus received. Matthews has raised $210,000 over the course of the year, while Backus has raised $132,000. But Backus has slightly more money in the bank — $132,000 to Matthews’ $130,000.

Backus has received significant contributions from labor — including $5,000 from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 525, $4,000 from SEIU Local 1107, $2,500 from IBEW Local 357, $2,000 from the Laborers Union Local 169 and $2,000 from the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council — and her fellow Assembly Democrats. She also received $5,000 from EMILY’s List and $1,000 from Republican consultant Pete Ernaut.

A significant share of Matthews’ contributions are from individuals, but his other top donors include Keystone Corporation, Hamilton Company, MM Development Company and Cortez Gold Mine, each of which donated $5,000.

Nevada Gold Mines settles unfair labor practice complaint, recognizes union after federal agency accuses company of ‘unlawful conduct’

Trucks at mine site.

After declining to recognize a union that represented a portion of its employees for more than 50 years, Nevada Gold Mines is reversing course as part of an agreement to settle a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, representatives for the union announced on Monday. 

In June, the federal agency alleged in court documents that Nevada Gold Mines had engaged in “unlawful conduct” by not recognizing the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 3. Lawyers for the board, which asked a federal judge to force Nevada Gold Mines to recognize the union, said that the company's actions “left many employees feeling terrified and betrayed.”

The federal labor agency said Nevada Gold Mines’ “illegal conduct threatens irreparable harm to national labor policy encouraging good-faith collective bargaining, the unit employees’ right to free choice, employee support for the union” and its process for dealing with complaints.

Days before oral arguments were scheduled to start, the board disclosed that settlement talks were underway. 

On Monday, the union said Nevada Gold Mines agreed to a settlement in which the company said it would recognize the union for the portion of employees that had been previously represented. The union said Nevada Gold Mines agreed to “restore working conditions and benefits,” reimburse union employees for lost wages and not interfere with the ability of its workers to join a union.

“This settlement is a major victory for our members and the employees we represent,” Scott Fullerton, the Nevada district representative for Local 3, said in a statement on Monday. “These workers were living in fear of unjustly losing their jobs without the protections of the collective bargaining agreement. They were threatened with retaliation for supporting the union.”

A spokesperson for the National Labor Relations Board confirmed the settlement agreement. 

“The press release is consistent with the settlement terms,” said spokesman Ed Egee.

In a statement, Nevada Gold Mines said "our employees are the company’s most important resource and we are proud of what we have collectively delivered in our first year."

"After much consideration, [Nevada Gold Mines] recently made the decision to enter into an agreement with National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 3 (IUOE3) to end our litigation and settle our disagreements," the company said. "We look forward to working collaboratively with IUOE3, together with the non-union members our workforce, going forward to continue to capture the potential of the combined [Nevada Gold Mines] assets that are so important to our community and to Nevada’s economy.”

As of Monday afternoon, the settlement agreement had not been filed in the court docket.

Local 3 formerly represented employees for Newmont Mining under a collective bargaining agreement that was set to last through March 2022. In a management transition that started in the middle of last year, those employees were consolidated under the auspices of Nevada Gold Mines, a joint venture between Newmont and its international mining competitor Barrick Gold. 

The board alleged that management at Nevada Gold Mines declined to recognize the union for former Newmont employees, despite several representations that the union would remain intact. 

In response, Nevada Gold Mines disputed the agency’s claims, offering the court a different fact-pattern. Lawyers argued that the “board’s legal theories are factually and legally deficient.” The company also argued that the union was no longer valid, arguing in part that the union no longer represented a majority of similarly situated workers in the newly created joint venture.

The board’s complaint also included several allegations that Nevada Gold Mines interfered with union involvement on work premises, asking employees not to display union materials.

In one case, the complaint said Nevada Gold Mines ordered a union worker “with unspecified reprisals in retaliation” to report safety issues to company management rather than federal regulators. The company denied this allegation, along with most of the allegations in the complaint. 

Nevada Gold Mines, in court documents, said it would be “exceedingly difficult and expensive” to return to a status quo in which it recognized Local 3. The company noted that it had paid out time-off wages to the former Newmont employees. Lawyers for the company told the court that returning to the status quo could cost the company and employees as much as $11.8 million. 

The board disputed that analysis, saying the only identifiable cost was about $2.5 million for a pension fix and noting that the companies were saving about $470 million with the joint venture.

“Even if [Nevada Gold Mines’] $2.5 million estimate of the costs of restoring the status quo is accurate, this sum hardly seems like a hardship given the scale of savings,” the board said.

Update: This story was updated at 8:41 p.m. at Aug. 10, 2020 to include a statement from Nevada Gold Mines.

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. 

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.

Panel considers benefits — and challenges — of placing solar projects on mine sites

For similar reasons that Las Vegas homebuilders look to build in the city’s outlying areas, solar developers often seek federal public land when looking for where to place large-scale projects. The land is easy to develop. It is open. It stretches on for miles. But these solar projects routinely run into roadblocks, conflicting with other uses of federal land, which belongs to all Americans. 

Recent solar and wind projects, proposed to operate on the federal land that comprises most of Nevada, have come into conflict with wildlife corridors, public access and conservation areas. That tension has split environmental groups, allies united by tackling climate change but divided over how to deploy massive amounts of clean energy without squeezing natural habitats. And it has led many organizations to ask: What if solar developers are looking in the wrong places? 

Last year, the Nature Conservancy and the Nevada Mining Association proposed and helped pass a regulatory change to make solar arrays an option for cleaning-up and closing old mines, disturbed land unburdened by the conflicts that exist on untouched federal land. The idea is to direct new solar projects to brownfield sites while giving companies another option for reclamation. Mines also have existing roads and transmission, easing some of the barriers for energy development.

“We can scale up redevelopment of mine lands,” Jaina Moan, an external affairs director for The Nature Conservancy focused on climate, said during a panel on Saturday. “Renewable energy deployment can be an alternative to reclamation, and it can also support mining operations.”

The panel, part of the mining association’s annual meeting in Stateline, dug into the proposal, focusing on what it would take to actually locate renewables on operating or closed mines. As with prioritizing infill development in cities, what is often seen as a “win-win” by land use experts faces a challenging uphill battle when it comes to permitting, financing and economics. 

A panel on renewable energy at the Nevada Mining Association’s annual convention, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe, Nev. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Although renewables have been placed on brownfields elsewhere in the country — and the world (there is solar on an old coal plant in Canada) — the idea has not fully taken hold in Nevada, though some projects have been proposed. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency looked at the Bullfrog mine near Beatty as a pilot project to test solar arrays on scarred land.  And Moan said the conservancy is exploring other opportunities. 

Although developers can potentially amplify the environmental benefits of solar by building on brownfields, they face several challenges. One is that solar contracts usually require a long-term commitment from an offtaker, often through a contract known as a power purchase agreement, for a term that can last as long as two decades. Permitting solar fields can also be a challenge because mining companies are required to outline a closure strategy before operations begin. Finally, it can be more difficult to entice solar developers to consider brownfields because the sites often require more technical expertise to build on and there are concerns about taking on additional liability. 

Moan said some of these issues can be dealt with early in the process, including in permitting. She emphasized that there were also opportunities to integrate solar into existing mining operations. Those could potentially be expanded — or scaled up — once a mine went out of operation.

“These considerations can also be made from mining companies who are in the exploration phase in thinking about their operating plans — and thinking about their reclamation and closure plans — and including renewable energy on that,” she said during the panel discussion.

John Seeliger, a regional energy manager for Nevada Gold Mines (a newly formed joint-venture between Barrick and Newmont), said renewables are taking a “higher priority” for the company. He suggested on-site renewables could also help with some transmission issues in Northern Nevada.

In part, the interest in renewables is a recognition of the economics. Energy analysts expect the cost of generation for solar to decrease in Nevada and the cost of natural gas to gradually rise through the next two decades. Although those estimates rely on a metric — the Levelized Cost of Electricity — that does not take into consideration external issues, the cost of intermittency (in the case of solar) or the cost of greenhouse gas emissions (in the case of natural gas), they provide a rough estimate for the lowest cost option for constructing new power generation. And in Nevada, that option is solar.

Mines have traditionally sourced their power from an electric utility or power plants that are able to produce electricity regardless of whether the sun is shining. (Nevada Gold Mines owns one of the state’s last two coal plants.) That's because reliability is integral to mining operations, Seeliger noted. 

“A mining process is a 24/7 operation, and we can’t afford to look at lowering [power supplies] at night because obviously our process has to continue to move forward,” he said. 

But he added that the costs and technology for battery storage technology is changing rapidly. Batteries can store excess solar energy produced during the day, which allows power users to access those electrons at night.

Part of the challenge in getting operations to adopt renewables — both for on-site use and at legacy sites — are competing interests within a company, said Ned Harvey, a managing director for industry and heavy transport at the Rocky Mountain Institute, which advocates for clean energy.

“I think the biggest problem is the barrier between corporate interests and operating interests,” he said.

Harvey explained that mining firms have a structural incentive to meet immediate performance metrics. That can make it difficult to convince companies to commit to a project perceived as new, technical or risky.

Photo courtesy of Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy.

But it’s not just about solar. Jim Faulds, who directs the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, argued that there is a potential to include geothermal in mining operations. Because of the Great Basin’s dynamic geology,  there is a significant amount of untapped geothermal, a renewable resource that taps into energy stored in hot underground water. Potential for geothermal energy often overlaps with mineral deposits, Faulds said, making it an option for  heating or renewable energy, if the economics penciled out. 

Las Vegas Rep. Dina Titus, who spoke after the panel, offered an update on federal mining legislation and said she was concerned about how the Trump administration’s trade war with China could affect the industry.

“Regardless of what the administration may think, our economy is globally linked,” she said. "Your industry does not stop at the border."

Follow the Money: Mining companies gave lawmakers nearly $250,000 during 2018 cycle

Since the state’s founding, the mining industry has long been one of the most dominant players in Nevada’s political sphere — a trend that continued in 2018.

A total of 14 companies and individuals involved in Nevada’s mining industry gave 57 legislators about $248,500 through the 2018 election cycle, about 2.3 percent of the $11.7 million raised by lawmakers in 2018. It’s slightly less than the $266,000 the industry gave in 2016; a presidential election year where most industries reported more contributions than they do in midterm elections.

Contributions were dominated by three entities: Newmont Mining ($82,500), Barrick Gold ($80,000) and the Nevada Mining Association ($56,250). Together, the trio accounted for about 88 percent of total industry spending.  

Newmont operates 11 surface mines, eight underground mines and 13 processing facilities in Nevada, while Barrick Gold operates the large Cortez and Goldstrike mines. Barrick has launched a hostile $17.8 billion takeover attempt of rival Newmont, which if successful would result in the world’s largest gold company with an estimated worth of more than $42 billion.

The industry has long been criticized by progressive groups, who argue low, “sweetheart” tax rates belie billions in annual profits.

Like many other industries, the industry trade association — the Nevada Mining Association — operates a political action committee for its members. But in the 2018 cycle, only six companies gave a total of $80,000 to the association’s PAC: Newmont, Barrick, Coeur Rochester, Kinross Gold, Marigold and NV Energy.

The utility company is a member of the mining association. The group came out in opposition to the Energy Choice Initiative ballot question in August 2018; NV Energy spent a record-breaking $63.5 million opposing the ballot question, which failed.

Other large donors include High Desert Gold ($10,000), Kinross Gold ($9,000) and Coeur Mining ($7,000). The remaining eight donors all contributed $1,000 or less.

The top recipient of mining contributions was rural Republican Assemblyman John Ellison, who received $22,500 in total, including $10,000 from High Desert Gold Corp — the only maximum donation from the entire industry. Other big recipients include Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson ($19,000), Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson ($14,500), Republican Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler ($13,500), and Republican Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer ($10,500).

Only two elected Assembly members — Democrats Richard Carrillo and Skip Daly — as well as four appointees — Democratic Assemblywomen Rochelle Nguyen and Bea Duran, Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen and Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris — did not receive any contributions from mining sources.

Democrats, who make up a bulk of the Legislature, also took in the largest chunk of mining industry money — $146,000 to the Republican’s $102,500. On average, however, GOP legislators received slightly more per contribution, $1,601 to $1,505 for Democrats.

Lawmakers in the Assembly also received more in total ($147,550) than their Senate counterparts ($100,950), though senators still brought in more on average ($1,654) than members of the Assembly ($1,475).

As always, we’ve triple checked the math. But if anything seems off, feel free to contact us at jacob@thenvindy.com or rsnyder@thenvindy.com.