In high-stakes election, Biden, Trump court Nevada’s growing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities

The familiar rhythm of the festivals has been absent this year.

The Japanese spring festival in April. The Indian food festival in May. Filipino kamayan feasts in the fall.

Like so many other events this year, festivals across Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have been scuttled because of the coronavirus pandemic. So, too, has the typical voter outreach that happens around those events.

In what has been a strange year of campaigning across the board, those who work on Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, voter engagement have had to get creative with their efforts. They've traded in-person events for virtual ones, like the virtual kamayan held by Filipino-Americans for Biden-Harris Nevada, or a virtual candidate meet-and-greet held by the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Pandemic or no pandemic, community leaders have been eager to get AAPI voters out to the polls.

On one hand, it’s political: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up about 9.5 percent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but about 11 percent of the electorate, according to AAPI Data and APIA Vote. Those estimated 209,000 voters are more than enough to tip the balance in close elections — and it's why candidates and political parties are stepping up their outreach efforts with every passing election.

“It’s refreshing to see we’re not an afterthought anymore. AAPI used to be an afterthought,” said Grace Vergara-Mactal, executive director of SEIU Local 1107. “Candidates who do not pay attention to the AAPI community risk losing their election.”

In an already high-stakes election year, the outcome of the election feels even more crucial for many AAPI voters than ever before. For Republicans, it’s about economic security and safety. For Democrats, it’s about health care and voting a president out of office whose characterization of the coronavirus as the “China virus” they say has subjected them to discrimination.

The question this year is which way AAPI voters will swing. In 2016, 69 percent of AAPI voters in Nevada voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while 29 percent chose President Donald Trump, according to an exit poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

There’s a broader goal, though: representation. Advocates want to encourage Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to exercise their rights to vote, regardless of which political party they choose to affiliate with.

“As a whole, the AAPI community, all we want is what the other minorities want as well,” said Sonny Vinuya, president of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, “which is for our voices to be heard.”

"Register to vote" buttons in eight languages are seen during a "Puppies and Boba" event in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

‘We don’t come for cheese and crackers’

Right or left, red or blue, Asian American and Pacific Islander community leaders agree voter outreach has been difficult this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though that’s been true of electoral efforts across the board, it’s had a particular impact on the AAPI community, where voter engagement often revolves around in-person socializing over food and drinks.

“We don’t come for cheese and crackers,” said Swadeep Nigam, founding president of the nonpartisan South Asian Political Network Alliance. “You have to feed the whole community. That’s part of Asian community. There’s a lot of food, liquor, then they’ll show up.”

Organizations involved in civic engagement have tried their best to replicate the experience over Zoom — and some even say they’ve seen better turnout than they might have from traditional in-person events because of the ease of being able to participate from home.

“Now we’re having a lot of video calls and conference calls. It feels more personal. I think people can participate from their own comfort zone,” said Duy Nguyen, executive director of One APIA Nevada, a progressive AAPI political advocacy group. “A lot of times going outside, even in pre-COVID times, sometimes it’s hard. They had to juggle between family and jobs and kids and all of that. I think it gives people a lot of flexibility to be involved.”

The pandemic has, however, ushered in notable changes for other groups. The Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, for instance, decided to focus its attention this year on giving out grants to small businesses that have been struggling financially amid the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic. The group decided to forego endorsing candidates; instead, it offered a virtual candidate meet-and greet.

“As you know, those things really take a lot of time, setting up interviews, interviewing both sides and then deliberating who to support,” Vinuya said. “Now we kind of just give them a platform to learn about the candidates so they can make a better educated guess on who they want to vote for.”

For the South Asian Political Network Alliance, the pandemic has meant no more luncheons and no more meet-the-candidate evenings.

“Zoom events don’t work with our community,” said Nigam, who stepped down from the organization before tossing his hat in the ring for Board of Regents this year. “It’s more a social gathering than a political gathering. They come out, hang out, have lunch together, ask them questions. It’s a social event rather than a political event.”

Organizations have also learned to embrace technology during the pandemic even more than they already were. While WhatsApp and WeChat might have been part of a digital strategy before, now they’re using Zoom and TikTok and Twitch, too.

“Our communities are known for being early adopters of technology so a lot of folks are liking this piece,” Nguyen said, of the prevalence of Zoom events, “and they have a lot of exposure to a lot more surrogates that come.”

About 40 people attend a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1107 rally to mark National Early Vote Day in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

‘Traumatized by the president’s rhetoric’

Democrats, generally, have been energized this year about the prospect of voting President Trump out of office. But for many Democrats within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities the election is personal: More than 2,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans have been reported since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think the community has been traumatized by the president’s rhetoric, and he hasn’t stopped saying it. He still says ‘China flu’ and ‘kung flu’ and the ‘Wuhan virus’ or the ‘China virus,’” Nguyen said. “Not only are Chinese-Americans getting discriminated, but anyone who has an Asian feature is getting blamed not just with his rhetoric but the xenophobia and the discrimination that they face on the local level.”

Sundae Yomes, a volunteer with SEIU Local 1107 and a Native Hawaiian, is hopeful electing Biden will bring about an end to the discrimination Hawaiians face — even in their home state.

“We get treated as second class citizens. We’re told, ‘Don’t use your Hawaiian name, don’t speak Hawaiian,’” Yomes said. “With so many people moving from Hawaii to Vegas and Vegas being the ninth island, you have a lot of people who are just saddened that a lot of us are never going to be able to buy a house and afford to live in Hawaii.”

It’s also personal for Filipino nurses, who nationally comprise about four percent of the nursing workforce but make up nearly a third of COVID-19 deaths among registered nurses. There are about 168,000 Filipinos living in Nevada, which represents about half of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the Silver State.

“As a Filipino, I’m voting because I have relatives who are on the frontlines,” said Vida Benavides, a Democratic consultant who has worked within the AAPI community for decades.

The Biden campaign has seized on those frustrations within the AAPI community in their efforts to get voters out to the polls.

“It's the words that Trump uses,” said Christian Bato, coalitions director for the Biden campaign in Nevada. “That’s been a rallying cry for energizing the AAPI community to turn out to vote."

In line with those efforts, Biden campaign officials report holding at least 20 AAPI-specific phone banks, including Filipino-American phone banks where volunteers focus on calling Filipino Americans and voters who prefer to speak Tagalog. 

They also held an AAPI vice presidential debate watch party, a get-out-the-vote rally with Nevada First Lady Kathy Sisolak, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and virtual events with AAPI surrogates including Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan and Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event inside Harbor Palace Seafood Restaurant in Las Vegas on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

A group of Filipina aunties, known as the “Titas,” have even been going into the Seafood City on Maryland Parkway wearing their Biden shirts in an effort to get shoppers to stop and talk to them about the election, Bato said.

“They've been very creative about it,” Bato said. “That's the immigrant ingenuity, I think.”

The Biden campaign has also placed paid advertisements in AAPI media including the Chinese Daily News, the Las Vegas Korean Times, the Filipino Channel, Asian Journal, and the Philippine Times of Southern Nevada, while the Democratic National Committee recently launched a get-out-the-vote ad campaign this week in the Philippine Times, as well.

The Biden campaign and the Nevada State Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign teams also report having AAPI staffers working across the organizations including Bato, two communications team members and a number of organizers.

While the Biden campaign has resumed in-person campaigning, most Democratic-aligned groups have not. This means they’ve had to get creative about how they’re reaching AAPI voters in their get-out-the vote efforts.

One APIA Nevada, for instance, launched its door-to-door campaign this week and plans to hit 50,000 doors ahead of the election. But, this year, that in-person campaigning means dropping literature at people’s doors and following it up with a phone call instead of having face-to-face conversations with voters at the door. 

Those fliers include a multi-lingual pitch — in Tagalog, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese — to turn out to vote for Joe Biden for president and Susie Lee for Congress.

“It’s safe for our staff to go out there and just put that on those doors and remind people to go and vote and do it ASAP because we want to be able to get that done and be counted,” Nguyen said. “We got a lot of good feedback from our voters that they appreciate us being out there and ensuring that their voices are heard.”

SEIU Local 1107 has also been turning to a number of different methods — phone banking, text, Zoom, PSAs, email, Facebook and newspapers, among them — to encourage AAPI voters to show up to the polls instead of the traditional face-to-face door knocking.

“The 2020 election is a little different,” Vergara-Mactal said. “It used to be you’d canvass, right? But we put the technology to work.”

Democrats are also hoping that some AAPI voters will also be energized by the prospect of electing an Asian American woman as vice president. Kamala Harris is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants.

"Senator Harris, she's a groundbreaker and a trailblazer in a lot of senses. I think the community feels that. I really do,” Bato said. “We're very proud to have that representation on display."

Members of Filipino-Americans for Trump gather at Cafe de Manila in Las Vegas on Sept. 27, 2020. (Jan-Ie Low/Courtesy)

‘I don’t want socialism here’

Across the aisle, Republicans are equally hopeful that their message will speak to AAPI voters. Jan-Ie Low, a small business owner in Las Vegas and longtime Trump supporter, acknowledges that Republicans within the AAPI community have been less vocal than the Democrats. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, she says.

“I would say a lot of the conservatives who are AAPI, we’re more quiet,” said Low, who is also a commissioner on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. “We value privacy so, in the past, four years ago, nobody really came out and gathered.”

But that’s changed this year, Low said, pointing to the Filipino-Americans for Trump groups that have organized both here in Nevada and nationally. She believes the president’s message of a strong economy and law and order speaks to Asian American and Pacific Islander values.

“President Donald J. Trump understands that Asian Americans are very proud, we’re entrepreneurial, we have small businesses, we care about family,” said Low, an immigrant from Malaysia.

Jan-Ie Low, owner of the Satay Thai Bistro & Bar, during a community engagement round table luncheon on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Low is also part of a new organization, the AAPI Nevada Leadership Council, which endorsed candidates for office this year. The council includes members who are Republicans, Democrats and nonpartisans, Low said, but backs candidates who support a strong economy, school choice and law and order.

And as far as Trump's characterization of the coronavirus as the “China virus,” Low just sees it as the president accurately describing the origin of the virus, not as him being racist. She said people try to read into what the president says to “spin it.”

“What President Trump is trying to do is trying to make sure we don’t forget that the virus originated in China, and he’s trying to share it with people because it is what it is and we’ve got to be careful,” Low said. “You’ve got to remember, me being a Chinese born in Malaysia, I understand some of the socialism. I don’t want socialism here.”

The Trump campaign, for its part, has an Asian Pacific Americans for Trump office in Spring Valley, which a spokesman for the campaign said has seen three bus tours stop by and been visited by surrogates including Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan and Hawaii Republican Party Chairwoman Shirlene Ostrov. 

The Asian Pacific Americans for Trump coalition has also made nearly 120,000 voter contacts across the state, according to the campaign.

But some Republicans would still like to see even more outreach from their candidates and party to Asian American and Pacific Islander voters. Nigam, former treasurer of the Clark County Republican Party, said Democrats continue to be better organized when it comes to the AAPI vote and that Republican candidates frequently miss out on opportunities to directly engage with AAPI voters.

“A few years back, I’ll say, when Shelley Berkley was the congresswoman, she reached out to every Asian group, if I invited her, she would come,” Nigam said of the Democratic former congresswoman. “People loved her. Within the Asian community, it’s my experience that once they meet the candidate, it doesn’t matter which party they belong to, they are with that candidate.”

Nigam is, however, unconvinced that AAPI voters are going to support Biden just because Harris, an Indian woman, is on the ticket.

“Just because you are Indian doesn’t mean anything,” Nigam said. “Indians vote based on the candidate, not because you are Indian, not because you’re Democrat or Republican.”

Tom Wongaiyara, a canvasser with the Asian Community Development Council, talks to a family while registering voters at Seafood City on Maryland Parkway on Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

‘More activated and more motivated’

For her part, Vergara-Mactal is hopeful that 2020 will set a new record for AAPI turnout.

“In 2014, half of the AAPI [community] did not vote, and then in 2018, we just soared to 77 percent,” Vergara-Mactal said. “So, to me, that communicated that people are getting more activated and more motivated.”

One concern AAPI organizers had this cycle was the decision not to put an early vote site in Chinatown Plaza on Spring Mountain or at Seafood City on Maryland Parkway, two major community hubs. That’s meant they have had to be intentional this cycle about letting voters know about alternate sites where they can cast their ballots.

“Unfortunately the election office for Clark [County] did not choose Chinatown as a voting center this year,” Nguyen said. “It was a huge miss for us, to not have that base.”

Beyond this cycle, those involved in civic engagement are hopeful that they’ll see more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in office. Assemblywoman Nguyen, for instance, became the first Democratic female Asian American Pacific Islander lawmaker when she was appointed in 2018. 

And she’s not alone this cycle: Radhika Kunnel, a Democrat, is running in a close race to represent Assembly District 2, with a good shot at winning.

But for now, AAPI organizers are just focused on the next nine days.

“That’s the most critical thing that could be done at this point,” Nguyen said, “making sure that the numbers do reflect our population.”

Congressional incumbents dominate in cash on hand as primary challengers outspend them for a chance to advance

A ballot cast in a mailbox

Republicans Dan Rodimer and Dan Schwartz are on strong financial footing heading into the final days of the 3rd Congressional District primary, and, in District 4, Lisa Song Sutton and Jim Marchant have the most in the bank for the home stretch.

Disclosure reports that reflect the last seven weeks of campaigning show that spirited GOP primaries in districts held by Democrats Susie Lee and Steven Horsford have resulted in significant spending while the incumbents enjoy a large cash on hand advantage.

District 3 has seen three competitors spending thousands in the weeks before the June primary, including former state Treasurer Schwartz, who spent upwards of $400,000 in the seven-week pre-primary period alone. In District 4, Song Sutton is leading the eight-way race in expenditures after spending $148,000 during the pre-primary period.

The fundraising pre-primary period covers the time elapsed between the last campaign finance quarterly report and 20 days before the primary election. For Nevada, it covers the period between April 1 and May 20; the deadline for submitting the report was Thursday, ahead of Election Day on June 9.

The only Republican incumbent, Mark Amodei of District 2, has more cash on hand than either of his Democratic competitors but Clint Koble has been the highest spender, burning through more than $47,000 in the pre-primary period.

DISTRICT 1

Encompassing the Las Vegas Strip, downtown Las Vegas and surrounding areas, District 1 is the bluest of Nevada's four congressional districts. Incumbent Dina Titus has held the seat since 2013 after taking 63 percent of the vote in the 2012 election. Before Titus, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley held the seat from 1999 to 2013.

Dina Titus – Democrat (incumbent)

  • Pre-primary receipts: $13,565
  • Pre-primary spending: $29,575
  • Cash on hand: $314,045

Incumbent Dina Titus reported raising $13,565 and spending $29,575 in the pre-primary period. She has $314,045 in available cash for what will likely be a win for Titus in both the primary and the general election.

Her largest donation in the final days before the primary came in the form of $5,600 from George Marcus, a billionaire real estate broker living in California. Titus' highest expenses were for consultant services.

Before representing District 1, Titus served as a state senator for 20 years beginning in 1988 and then went on to represent District 3 from 2009 to 2011 but was ousted by Republican Joe Heck in 2010.

Citlaly Larios-Elias – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $500
  • Pre-primary spending: $1,946
  • Cash on hand: $257

Citlaly Larios-Elias is a veteran who, after she was discharged after injuring her back and legs, acquired a bachelor’s of fine arts fashion design. After she got married in 2016, she turned her attention to raising her family and decided to run for office after she saw the economic effect of COVID-19.

During the pre-primary period, she raised $500 and spent $1,946. Her funds went toward office supplies, consulting costs, a folding table and fees associated with filing for office. At the end of the pre-primary period, she had $257 in cash on hand. 

This is Larios-Elisa’s first run for office. On her website, she lists endorsements from Nevada Veterans PAC and the controversial organization, Veterans in Politics.

Several candidates running for the seat did not file pre-primary reports or have reported less than $500 in contributions during the period:

  • Kamau Bakari, Independent American
  • Joyce Bentley, Republican
  • Josh Elliot, Republican
  • Eddie Hamilton, Republican
  • Anthony Thomas Jr., Democrat
  • Joseph Maridon, Nonpartisan
  • Allen Rheinhart, Democrat
  • Robert Van Strawder, Libertarian

DISTRICT 2

The district covers the northern third of the state and includes Carson City (the state capital), Reno and vast swaths of rural Northern Nevada. It is the only Republican-leaning district in the state. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei has held the seat since 2011 when he won a special election. In 2018, Amodei defeated Democratic challenger Clint Koble with 58.2 percent of the votes in the general election.

Past officeholders include former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and former Gov. Jim Gibbons — both Republicans.

Mark Amodei  – Republican (incumbent)

  • Pre-primary receipts: $15,765
  • Pre-primary spending: $77,736
  • Cash on hand: $231,504

Amodei leads in spending for District 2, raising $15,765 in the pre-primary period and spending $77,735 on expenses such as advertising, consulting and donor relations including meals and entertainment.

Despite spending the largest amount during the pre-primary period, Amodei still had the most cash on hand out of the other candidates in the district with $231,503 in available funds. His top donors include the National Beer Wholesalers Association, which gave the campaign $2,500, Tuesday Group PAC, which donated $2,000, and the National Association of Realtors and PAC Unitatis – each contributed $1,000.

Ed Cohen – Democrat

  • Pre-primary receipts: $17,362
  • Pre-primary spending: $47,299
  • Cash on hand: $2,241

Democratic challenger Ed Cohen raised $17,362 during the pre-primary period and spent $47,299, which left him with $2,241 cash on hand heading into the final days of the primary.

Cohen is a former newspaper reporter who now directs marketing for the National Judicial College in Reno. He has been spending at a steady clip putting money toward consulting, digital advertising and texting services.

Earlier on in the cycle, he gave his campaign a boost with a $31,500 loan to himself.

Clint Koble – Democrat

  • Pre-primary receipts: $36,399 ($140 in loans)
  • Pre-primary spending: $39,263
  • Cash on hand: $1,374

Democratic challenger Clint Koble reported $36,399 in contributions during the pre-primary period and $39,263 in expenditures. Many of the contributions and expenditures are "in-kind" services donated to the campaign, such as people managing social media or coordinating volunteers for the campaign. He has $1,374 cash on hand as the primary approaches.

Koble is a former state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Before that, he was the executive director of the Nevada Rural Development Council. Similar to other candidates, most of his spending centered around consulting services, digital media platforms and mailers.

Patricia Ackerman – Democrat

  • Pre-primary receipts: $13,494
  • Pre-primary spending: $28,640
  • Cash on hand: $8,135

A former independent undercover FBI agent, actress, small business owner and Democratic hopeful, Patricia Ackerman raised $13,494 in contributions and spent $28,640 ahead of Election Day. The candidate had $8,135 in cash on hand at the end of the pre-primary period.

Most of Ackerman’s spending focused on mailers, campaign consulting and digital advertisements. Ackerman previously ran for Assembly District 39 in 2018 but lost the seat to Republican incumbent Jim Wheeler, who won with 65.4 percent. 

Rick Shepherd – Democrat

  • Pre-primary receipts: $1,125
  • Pre-primary spending: $10,755
  • Cash on hand: $2,020

Democratic candidate and owner of Synux Technologies in Northern Nevada Rick Shepherd raised $1,125 during the pre-primary period and spent $10,755. Shepherd has a cash on hand balance of $2,020.

Over $9,000 of the candidate’s spending during the period went towards radio, media, and online advertising while the remaining amount covered mailers. 

Several candidates running for the seat did not file pre-primary reports or have reported less than $500 in contributions during the period. These candidates are:

  • Joel Paul Beck, Republican
  • Janine Hansen, Independent American
  • Reynaldo Hernandez, Democrat
  • Jesse Douglas Hurley, Republican
  • Richard John Dunn III, Nonpartisan
  • Ian Luetkehans, Democrat
  • Steve Schiffman, Democrat

DISTRICT 3

District 3 covers the area south of Las Vegas and most of unincorporated Clark County as well Henderson and Boulder City. Democratic incumbent Susie Lee won the seat in the 2018 general election with 51.9 percent, succeeding Democrat Jacky Rosen, who left after one term to run for the U.S. Senate. 

Susie Lee  – Democrat (incumbent)

  • Pre-primary receipts: $190,144
  • Pre-primary spending: $78,807
  • Cash on hand: $2,005,508

Lee leads the district in fundraising for the pre-primary period with total contributions amounting to $190,144. She spent $78,807 in the pre-primary period and has a cash on hand balance of $2,005,508 heading into the final days of the election.

Lee is an education advocate and philanthropist who previously served as the president of the dropout prevention organization Communities in Schools of Nevada and as the founding director of After-School All Stars. Most of Lee’s expenses went toward salaries, digital services and catering.

Dan Schwartz – Republican 

  • Pre-primary receipts: $52,445 ($2,445 in contributions, $50,000 in loans)
  • Pre-primary spending: $423,108
  • Cash on hand: $53,330

Republican challenger Dan Schwartz falls in the middle of the pack of candidates with $52,445 worth of contributions coming in during the pre-primary. However, the majority of the donations came from $50,000 he loaned to his campaign. 

In terms of spending, Schwartz outspent every other candidate in District 3 using $423,108 to pay for consulting, advertisements, phone calls to voters, digital services and other campaign-related expenses. As the primary comes to a close, Schwartz has $53,329 in cash on hand.

Dan Rodimer – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $93,505
  • Pre-primary spending: $196,263
  • Cash on hand: $219,882

During the pre-primary period, Republican hopeful Dan Rodimer, a one-time pro-wrestler, received $93,505 in contributions. Rodimer’s campaign spent $196,236 on various expenses such as mailings, consulting, marketing and social media costs with a large portion of those earmarked for Facebook media placement fees.

As the primary winds down, Rodimer has $219,882 in cash on hand. Among the donations Rodimer received, $1,000 came from Dana White, the president of Ultimate Fighting Championship, and $2,800 from P. Lee Halavais, the president of the mining company High Desert Gold Corporation.

Mindy Robinson – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $27,421 ($25,921 in contributions, $1,500 in loans)
  • Pre-primary spending: $24,561
  • Cash on hand: $6,259

Republican challenger Mindy Robinson, an actor and activist, joined the Republican primary at the last minute but brought in $27,421 in contributions during the pre-primary period, including a $1,500 loan to herself. In the pre-primary period, she has spent $24,560 and has $6,259 in cash on hand at its end.

Most of Robinson’s spending has focused on advertising through billboards, radio and newspapers, postage for campaign mailings and get out the vote efforts. More than half of the contributors to her campaign are from other states such as Utah, Massachusetts, California and Colorado.

Several candidates running for the seat did not file pre-primary reports or have reported less than $500 in contributions during the period:

  • Steve Brown, Libertarian
  • Gary Crispin, Democrat
  • Ed S. Bridges II, Independent American
  • Brian Nadell, Republican
  • Corwin “Cory” Newberry, Republican
  • Dennis Sullivan, Democrat
  • Tiffany Ann Watson, Democrat
  • Victor R. Willert, Republican

DISTRICT 4

District 4 encompasses the northern portion of Clark County as well as the central region of the state. Represented by Democrat Steven Horsford, the district is host to a crowded Republican primary this year with an eight-way race for a spot in November’s general election ballot.

Incumbent Horsford previously held the seat from 2013 to 2015 before losing to former Republican Cresent Hardy in the 2014 election. He reclaimed his seat from Hardy in a rematch in 2018.

Steven Horsford – Democrat (incumbent)

  • Pre-primary receipts: $173,092
  • Pre-primary spending: $75,111
  • Cash on hand: $1,281,574

With $173,092 raised during the pre-primary period, Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford yielded the highest amount of contributions out of the candidates in District 4. During that same period of time, he spent $75,111 and has a cash on hand balance of $1,281,573. 

Horsford served as a state senator for eight years before running for the 4th Congressional District in 2013. His reelection campaign was marked with his recent acknowledgment of a years-long extramarital affair that began at the pinnacle of his eight-year legislative career. Some of Horsford’s Republican challengers have called for an investigation into whether public dollars were used to support the affair — an allegation Horsford’s office has denied.

Gabrielle D’Ayr – Democrat

  • Pre-primary receipts: $800
  • Pre-primary spending: $455
  • Cash on hand: $345

Gabrielle D’Ayr, a Democratic candidate taking on Horsford in the primary, has raised $800 and spent $455 during the pre-primary period.

D’Ayr is the vice president of the Nevada Federation of Democratic Women and has largely self-funded her campaign. All of her spending during the period leading up to the primary has been on yard signs.

Jim Marchant – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $55,543
  • Pre-primary spending: $99,347
  • Cash on hand: $187,374

Semi-retired businessman, former assemblyman and Republican hopeful Jim Marchant raised $55,543 during the pre-primary period and spent $99,347 on consulting fees, automated phone calls and other campaign-related expenses. Heading into the end of the primaries, Marchant had a healthy cash on hand balance of $187,374.

Much of that balance comes from $110,100 Marchant loaned himself earlier on in the election cycle.

Charles Navarro – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $10,392
  • Pre-primary spending: $16,801
  • Cash on hand: $18,137

Republican challenger Charles Navarro has reported raising $10,392 and spending $16,801 during the pre-primary period. He has a cash on hand balance of $18,137.

Navarro’s campaign has been partially self-funded, with $9,807 contributed under his own name in the pre-primary period alone. The majority of his spending has gone toward consulting and direct mail services.

A member of the U.S. Navy reserves, Navarro was formerly a re-entry manager with Hope for Prisoners and has worked for multiple representatives in Washington D.C.

Leonardo Blundo – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $2,500
  • Pre-primary spending: $6,977
  • Cash on hand: $3,912

Nye County Commissioner Leonardo Blundo, a Republican, reported raising $2,500 during the pre-primary period and spending $6,977. The campaign has a cash on hand balance of $3,912 going into the primary, but Blundo accrued debts amounting to $10,635 for consulting and printing and design services this period.

The candidate is also a small business owner, running Carmelo’s Bistro in Pahrump. 

Sam Peters – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $34,772
  • Pre-primary spending: $83,178
  • Cash on hand: $11,777

Republican challenger Sam Peters reported raising $34,772 and spending $83,178 during the pre-primary period. As the primary comes to a close, Peters has a cash on hand balance of $11,777.

Peters is the owner of the Vegas-based risk management firm Peters Family Insurance. He retired from the U.S. Air Force as a major in 2013 after more than 20 years of service. Previously, Peters was a member of the board for Summerlin Rotary International. Most of his spending in the pre-primary period went toward advertising and consulting.

Randi Reed – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $625
  • Pre-primary spending: $6,968
  • Cash on hand: $20,816

Republican candidate Randi Reed raised $625 in the pre-primary period and spent more than 10 times that amount at $6,968, leaving the campaign with a cash on hand balance of $20,816.31.

Reed, who has nicknamed her campaign “The Fury,” is the owner of a furniture store in Sparks and has said she is running to make up for the lack of Republican women in Congress. She spent most of her campaign budget on consulting and media buys.

Lisa Song Sutton – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $55,914
  • Pre-primary spending: $147,922
  • Cash on hand: $106,139

Small business owner and Republican hopeful Lisa Song Sutton reported raising $55,914 and spending $147,922 during the pre-primary period, making her the biggest spender on the ballot. As the primary approaches, the campaign has a remaining cash on hand balance of $106,139.

Song Sutton received a $5,000 donation during this period from Elevate PAC or E-PAC, a political action committee focused on electing Republican women to office. The committee also named Sutton one of its “Rising Stars.” 

The owner of Sin City Cupcakes in Las Vegas, Song Sutton has worked exclusively in the private sector, and her experience as a businesswoman is something she has touted throughout her campaign, saying often that it’s time for private sector individuals to “come off the sidelines.”

Rebecca Wood – Republican

  • Pre-primary receipts: $3,692
  • Pre-primary spending: $4,548
  • Cash on hand: $3,323

Republican candidate Rebecca Wood reported raising $3,692 and spending $4,548 in the pre-primary period. As the period comes to an end, the candidate has a cash on hand balance of $3,323.

The majority of Wood’s funding during this period came from merchandise purchases, and much of her spending went toward printing and fulfilling those orders, with $374 spent on BMF Apparel and $2,728 on wholesale printing and distribution.

Wood is a businesswoman and a 30-year Las Vegas resident and is calling herself the “real person” in the race rather than a career politician or someone with “big money.”

Several candidates running for the seat did not file pre-primary reports or have reported less than $500 in contributions during the period. These candidates are:

  • Rosalie Bingham, Republican
  • George J. Brucato, Democrat
  • Christopher Kendall Colley, Democrat
  • Jennifer Eason, Democrat
  • Jonathan Royce Esteban, Libertarian
  • Gregory Kempton, Democrat
  • Barry Rubinson, Independent American

Updated at 12:56 p.m. on June 1, 2020 to correct rankings on pre-primary fundraising in District 2 and clarify the nature of Clint Koble contributions.

After close to a year on the ground, Democratic presidential campaigns enter home stretch as Nevada’s caucus nears

Democratic presidential candidates appear on stage with Harry Reid

With less than six weeks until Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucus, campaigns are kicking into high gear on the ground here in the Silver State, the third in the country to host its presidential nominating contest.

By the time Feb. 22 rolls around, several candidates will have been campaigning for a full year and some of their staffers on the ground will have been here nearly as long. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s team landed earliest in Nevada, in January 2019, and she was one of the first candidates to visit the state. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has built up, by far, the largest staff on the ground in the last year, with a team double the size of those assembled by his closest competitors.

At the same time, former Vice President Joe Biden has maintained an edge in the polls here, while former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been looking to introduce himself to voters and make inroads with Nevada’s communities of color as he tries to grow his support here to match what he has seen in Iowa. 

Then there are the rest of the candidates who have invested time and money in Nevada — billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent millions on television ads in the state that may have earned him a recent and sudden surge in the race; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, whose mom lives here and who has been the most frequent visitor to the state; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is ramping up in Nevada as she has been gaining support elsewhere; tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who has a moderately sized staff and has invested some time here; and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who has one staffer stationed here despite his late entry into the race.

Four other candidates have visited the state less frequently or skipped it altogether and have not yet placed staff on the ground here.

Read on for a look at how candidates have been campaigning in the Silver State over the last year and how it could position them for a possible victory here.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event inside Harbor Palace Seafood Restaurant in Las Vegas on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Joe Biden

The former vice president is no stranger to Nevada. Not only was he a familiar presence on the campaign trail in 2008 and 2012 as Barack Obama’s running mate, the 77-year-old Democratic presidential hopeful has been campaigning in the state for decades.

“The first Nevada Democrat I ever campaigned for, I was a 31 or 32 year old kid, and I came out to campaign for a guy named Harry Reid,” Biden told a packed room at the Nevada State Democratic Party’s First In The West event at the Bellagio in November.

That familiarity has buoyed Biden — at least so far — in the Silver State. Recent polls have shown the former vice president with anywhere from a 6- to 10-point lead in the state over his Democratic opponents. He also leads, by far, in prominent endorsements here, with the support of Rep. Dina Titus, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela (now a senior adviser on the campaign), Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, Assemblywoman Susie Martinez, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, former Gov. Bob Miller, former Rep. Jim Bilbray, and former Rep. Shelley Berkley.

While his campaign didn’t officially announce its first hires here until May — he only officially launched his campaign in April — he’s since built up a team of about 50 people here, a similar sized operation to two of the other top-tier campaigns. The campaign has six offices in the Silver State, including one that just opened in Carson City.

Biden’s first visit of the campaign to the state was also in May. The former vice president hosted a rally at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 159 in Henderson. He has since made eight more trips to the state, including, most recently, campaign stops in Sparks and Las Vegas this weekend. He also has toured the Techren Solar Project near Boulder City and spoken at a town hall hosted by the politically powerful Culinary Union. He is also one of two candidates still in the race to have campaigned in Elko.

The former vice president has run two ads in the state, backed by the campaign’s $6 million buy across the four early nominating states. Both have contrasted Biden’s vision for the future of the United States against President Donald Trump’s.

While in Nevada, Biden has weighed in on a number of state-specific issues — but it hasn’t always gone smoothly for him. He received significant pushback from supporters of recreational marijuana when he said at a November town hall that his position against legalizing the drug hadn’t changed and that there “hasn’t been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not (marijuana) is a gateway drug.” Later that month, Biden told The Nevada Independent that he doesn’t believe marijuana is a gateway drug and that there is “no evidence I’ve seen that suggests that.”

Biden has also promised to hold the Department of Energy responsible for its actions on nuclear waste in Nevada, including shipments of high-level radioactive waste the state discovered last year that were supposed to be low-level waste, and repeatedly stressed his opposition to the construction of a long-term, high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

He said he believes that the federal Wire Act should only apply to sports betting, not to all forms of interstate gambling, as the Justice Department indicated in an opinion last year. He also opposes decriminalizing sex work nationally, though he has said he wouldn’t impinge on Nevada’s decision to allow prositution in certain jurisdictions.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a town hall at the Victory Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday, July 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Bernie Sanders

Sanders needs little introduction in Nevada, where he came in only about 5 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton in the state’s Democratic caucus in 2016. Four years ago, his campaign was scrappy, grassroots and insurgent — and it came together last minute. This time, Sanders started early, hiring a team of experienced political operatives who have worked to focus the grassroots enthusiasm for the Vermont senator to try to propel him to victory.

Since announcing his first Nevada hires at the end of March, Sanders has brought on more than 100 staffers in the Silver State, which puts his team at nearly double the size of other top-polling candidates. The campaign also has opened 10 offices, with at least three more slated to open in the near future.

The Vermont senator’s first rally of his 2020 campaign, at Morrell Park in Henderson back in March, drew a crowd of more than a thousand. Since then, he has made 10 trips to the state, during which he has spoken at the LGBTQ Center of Las Vegas, hosted an event at the Washoe Tribe’s Stewart Community Center and attended a town hall with Culinary Union members. He is one of two candidates still in the race to have visited Elko, hosting a town hall at Elko High School in December.

Despite concerns about how a heart attack he suffered in Las Vegas in October would affect his presidential campaign, Sanders has continued to keep an aggressive campaign schedule and has remained near the top in Nevada polls, trailing Biden by anywhere from 6- to 10-points.

Sanders has received a number of grassroots level endorsements, though his biggest high-profile endorsements have come from Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, a longtime Sanders supporter, and Clark County School District Board of Trustees President Lola Brooks. He has not yet run any television ads in the state.

The Vermont senator has also weighed in on a number of issues of particular relevance to Nevada during his campaign. Early on, his campaign released a video highlighting tribal opposition to storing high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a position Sanders also shares, and both he and his campaign have spent significant time and energy talking about Native American issues. He was also the first presidential candidate to come out against oil and gas drilling in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

Sanders has been less willing to take positions on some other niche issues affecting the state, demurring on the issue of sex work and declining to comment on a Justice Department opinion this year on online gambling. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to a crowd at a Las Vegas campaign rally on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. (Jeff Scheid//The Nevada Independent)

Elizabeth Warren

Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, probably wouldn’t even be running for president if it hadn’t been for a call from a Nevadan.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted to know if Warren, at the time a not very well known professor at Harvard Law, would join a new commission approved by Congress overseeing the Wall Street bailout. She said yes, and a month later found herself in Las Vegas chairing the first field hearing of the Congressional Oversight Panel. She went on to help set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, run for U.S. Senate, and now seek the office of president of the United States.

Warren’s first hires landed on the ground in Nevada in the spring, and her campaign now has about 50 staffers in the state and 10 offices. Her first trip to the state was in February to host a campaign rally at Springs Preserve, which was attended by about 500 people.

Since then, the Massachusetts senator has slowly climbed in the polls in Nevada, from 10 percent support in March to a high of 22 points at the end of October. Her average hovers in the high teens, behind Biden and Sanders.

Over the last year, Warren has traveled to the Silver State 10 times, marching in the Las Vegas Pride Parade in October, attending a “Westside Pride” Black Community Summit at Nevada Partners in November and participating in a town hall with Culinary Union members in December.

Warren’s top endorsers in the Silver State include Assemblyman Howard Watts, Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, Controller Catherine Byrne, DNC Committeeman Alex Goff and DNC Committeewoman Allison Stephens. She has not yet run any television ads in the state.

While in Nevada, Warren has promised that she would not fund the construction of a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain if elected president and expressed unease about the expansion of online gaming. She was also the first Democratic presidential hopeful to come out against the military’s proposed expansion into Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge, setting off a wave of similar declarations from other candidates.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaks during a campaign event at Madhouse Coffee in Las Vegas on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Pete Buttigieg

A latecomer to the state, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana has rapidly expanded his campaign operation since his first hire this summer and now has 55 staffers, making his the second largest staff only behind Sanders’. He also has 12 offices across the state, the most of any other presidential campaign here.

Buttigieg’s first trip to the state was on April 8, less than a week before officially launching his presidential campaign. The former South Bend mayor attended a meet and greet at Madhouse Coffee and a roundtable discussion at Veterans Village. From that first visit, Buttigieg has acknowledged that his path is “admittedly not a traditional way to get into presidential politics.” But, as he has gained traction in other early states and nationally, he has won over supporters here as well, polling in the high single digits.

In his nine trips to the state, Buttigieg has joined UAW members in a picket at the GM Reno Parts Distribution Center, toured a grow house and a dispensary, spoke at the Human Rights Campaign’s Las Vegas dinner and attended a roundtable at UMC, one day after the second anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting. He also was only one of two candidates to attend the Nevada State Democratic Party’s Keep Nevada Blue event in Reno, where he became the first candidate to officially file to participate in the caucus.

Buttigieg has been making a particular effort to reach out to communities of color in recent trips to the Silver State. In December, he attended an APIA town hall, a Latino community leaders roundtable, and a “black empowerment” conversation, where he faced tough questions. He also met with members of the powerful Culinary Union on Saturday.

Though the former South Bend mayor has received endorsements from a number of grassroots community leaders, he hasn’t secured much in the way of big-ticket supporters, with Wells Mayor Layla Walz and former state Sen. Patricia Farley two of his prominent endorsers.

In an effort to boost his name identification, Buttigieg went up with his first television ad in Nevada in December, a biographical spot highlighting his military service in Afghanistan and experience as mayor. He released a second TV ad last week focusing on his “Medicare for all who want it” health plan, a more conservative approach to the single-payer health care system some of his opponents favor.

While in Nevada, Buttigieg has made promises to not allocate funding to construct a high-level nuclear waste repository and said he would work to restore trust between Nevada and the Department of Energy. He hasn’t endorsed legalizing sex work nationaly, but said he wouldn’t as president stop Nevada from continuing to allow it.

Tom Steyer, center, founder of NextGen America, speaks during a panel discussion on immigration at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Tom Steyer

Steyer, a billionaire who previously ran the progressive advocacy group NextGen, has taken a simple approach since launching his presidential campaign in July: Blanket the airwaves in the four early voting states with ads. He has spent $10.3 million on television and radio advertisements in Nevada, with an additional $270,000 booked, according to Politico.

Those ads have ranged from purely positive, biographical spots, in which Steyer introduces himself as a candidate, to contrast ads that have sought to position the billionaire as a viable alternative to President Donald Trump. He’s also run ads on a number of specific policy issues including climate change, the economy and term limits.

And those ads might just be working. A Fox News poll released Thursday showed Steyer surging to 12 percent support in Nevada, putting him 6 points ahead of Buttigieg, neck-and-neck with Warren, and only 5- and 11-points behind Sanders and Biden, respectively. That’s a significant leap from where Steyer was in the fall, when he was hovering in the mid to low single digits.

Steyer has visited the state six times since launching his campaign this summer. During those trips, he has joined UAW members in a picket at the GM Reno Parts Distribution Center and met with DREAMer moms. But he’s generally been a frequent visitor to the state as part of his work with NextGen and another group he founded, Need to Impeach. Since 2017, he has visited the state 13 times to host town halls, canvass kickoffs and other election-related events.

Steyer announced his first Nevada hire, state director Jocelyn Sida, at the end of August and his since hired 38 staffers and opened 4 offices, with more slated to open in the future. While he has received some community-level endorsements, Steyer has not yet received the support of any prominent Nevadans.

Steyer has taken a keen interest in Nevada issues, both prior to and during his candidacy. In 2018, he backed a ballot measure to put a requirement that Nevada raise its Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030 into the state’s constitution, which passed with 59 percent support.

He opposes the construction of a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain and has said that he would like to see the pot industry regulated through a combination of state and federal regulations, similar to the liquor industry. He has not weighed in on the issue of online gambling across state lines.

Presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks during a rally at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 525 union hall in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Andrew Yang

Though one of the earliest candidates to announce back in 2017, Yang didn’t begin staffing up in Nevada until mid-August last year. He now has a small team of 16 staffers — and plans to get to 20 by the end of the month — with three field offices, two in Las Vegas and one in Reno.

Yang’s first rally in the state was at Springs Preserve on April 23, part of his nationwide Humanity First tour. He also attended a meet-and-greet with SEIU Local 1107 the following day. Since launching his campaign, he’s been to Nevada four times and held rallies at the Rio, the Clark County Library and Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 525, among other locations. He was one of two candidates to attend the progressive People’s Forum in October.

Yang has not received any top-tier endorsements in the Silver State, nor has he run any television ads.

He has, however, developed some policies out of his visits to Nevada. After he was asked why MMA fighters aren’t allowed to unionize, Yang released a plan specifically to help them. He also released a plan to federally regulate online poker in response to a question about why online poker is state regulated and only legal in some states. (Some of Yang’s top donors from Nevada are professional gamblers.)

At the People’s Forum, Yang received some blowback for saying that he doesn’t have a “terrific answer” on Yucca Mountain. However, he told The Nevada Independent that he believes nuclear waste is a “national problem” and “should not be saddled with the people here in Nevada.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks during a rally in Las Vegas on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Amy Klobuchar

Though she has been campaigning aggressively in Iowa — she just had 99 “day of action” events in each of the Hawkeye State’s 99 counties — Klobuchar has only recently begun to turn her attention to Nevada.

It’s not to say that she hasn’t visited the state. She has, both early and often. During her first visit to the state in early April, she hosted a meet-and-greet with voters, toured a local middle school and spoke at a labor conference. She was also one of the earliest candidates to visit Northern Nevada, attending a veterans roundtable at the Fox Brewpub in early May. This weekend she met with members of the Culinary Union, marking her 10th visit to the state.

But the Minnesota senator just started staffing up in Nevada, announcing her first two hires, a state director and political director, at the end of November. She has also opened a campaign headquarters in Las Vegas.

On the trail here, Klobuchar often talks about her friendships with the two women who represent Nevada in the U.S. Senate, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, and peppers her speeches with other Nevada-specific references, talking often about Reid and electoral and legislative victories in the SIlver State. She has not received any major endorsements or run any television ads in Nevada.

Like many of her fellow Democratic presidential contenders, Klobuchar has stressed her opposition to building a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. She also supports legalizing marijuana.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, left, during the Boulder City parade on Thursday, July 4, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Cory Booker

Booker, the junior U.S. senator from New Jersey, wants to win Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucus. Of course he wants to be president. But he also wants to win the state where his mom, Carolyn, has lived since 2013.

“We are doing what we believe we need to do to win Nevada,” Booker told the Independent in a podcast interview last month. “It is very personal to me, the state where my mom will caucus.”

Booker’s first memory of Las Vegas is from a cross-country road trip with his grandparents, who became one of the first families to buy into one of the Del Webb communities here. His parents moved to Las Vegas seven years ago, shortly before his father passed away.

Since launching his presidential campaign at the beginning of February, Booker has been to Nevada 11 times, more than any other Democratic presidential hopeful still in the race. His first campaign stop, on Feb. 24, was to Nevada Partners where he hosted a “Conversation with Cory” event.

Booker was also in Las Vegas for the 4th of July — cooking pancakes and marching in the 71st Annual Boulder City Damboree Parade — and Rep. Steven Horsford’s Labor Day barbecue at Craig Ranch Regional Park. He’s the only candidate to have toured a correctional center, Florence McClure, in Nevada and one of a handful of candidates to have met with the Douglas County Democrats in person at their office in Minden in April.

Of the smaller campaigns, Booker has one of the bigger staffs, with more than 20 paid, full-time staffers, including some who were hired as early as March. The campaign has two offices in Nevada, in Reno and Las Vegas, and is in the process of opening an additional Las Vegas office and securing other office space by the end of the month.

Booker has a few notable Nevada endorsers, including Assemblywoman Selena Torres, North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown and the Clark County Black Caucus. Torres had chosen former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro as her first pick, but realigned her support to Booker when Castro dropped out of the race.

The New Jersey senator released his first television ad in Nevada, as well as other markets across the nation, on the day of the December Democratic debate. In it, he made a pitch for his campaign, despite the fact that he did not qualify for the debate stage. Booker has been struggling in the polls in early states, including Nevada where he is hovering in the low single digits.

Booker supports decriminalizing marijuana nationwide and has said that he wants to help Nevada and other states that have already legalized marijuana on a state-by-state basis by passing legislation to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banks, allow veterans to access medical marijuana through the VA system and expunge pot convictions.

He supports online gambling and disagrees with the Justice Department opinion prohibiting all gambling across state lines. He favors decriminalizing sex work, though he believes the federal government should play a support role to the states and allow them to develop their own laws and regulations.

Booker has also promised not to fund a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain if elected president, calling it a “very personal” issue to him since his mom lives in the state.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, left, during a presidential campaign stop at Expertise Cosmetology Institute in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Deval Patrick

When Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, launched his late-to-the-game candidacy in mid-November, his first official trip was to the Silver State.

“It’s a little strange to be in a hall where every other candidate but mine has a cheering section already organized,” Patrick said, to the few stragglers who had remained to hear him speak at the Nevada State Democratic Party’s First In The West event at the Bellagio.

During his second trip to the state in December, he toured Expertise Cosmetology Institute and the Vegas Roots Community Garden and grabbed lunch at Gritz Cafe, where he had to be introduced to patrons.

“This is Deval Patrick,” said William McCurdy, a political strategist and father of Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II. “He’s running for president of the United States.”

In December, Patrick brought on Matthew DeFalco as his state director. DeFalo, who worked on Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton’s presidential campaign earlier this year, is the sole member of Patrick’s team in Nevada, and the campaign does not have any offices in the state or prominent endorsements.

He has, however, begun to run television ads in an effort to introduce himself to voters in Nevada and the other three early states.

Other candidates

The four other Democratic presidential hopefuls remaining in the race have spent significantly less time and resources campaigning in the Silver State. None of the four candidates have staffers on the ground in Nevada.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has made four trips to the state, participating in AFSCME’s 2020 Public Service Forum in August, swinging through Northern Nevada in August, speaking at the HLTH Conference in October and attending the state Democratic Party’s First In The West Event event in November.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard visited Nevada early, in March, to host a town hall at the Asian Cultural Center and attend a meet-and-greet luau at United Way of Southern Nevada. In May, she toured Veterans Village, and her last visit to the state was in August for the AFSCME forum.

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney has been to Nevada twice, for the AFSCME forum and the First In The West event.

Former New York City Michael Bloomberg has not visited the state and has said he is not campaigning in Nevada or any of the other three early voting states. He is also the only Democratic presidential hopeful whose name will not appear on Nevada’s presidential preference card.

Follow the Money: Years after leaving office, Reid and other former politicians continue campaign spending with little oversight

Harry Reid in a blue sport coat with red tie

In the three years since leaving office, Harry Reid has kept a low profile.

Rather than become a cable news talking head or lobbyist, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader has given the occasional interview, dealt with health problems and held a few events at UNLV discussing anti-Semitism, leadership and the changing role of “Islam in America.”

Reid is far from out of the game, though. His former staff has fanned out to help run top 2020 presidential campaigns, and candidates still make regular calls or visits to the early caucus state’s “kingmaker.” 

But Nevada’s most powerful senator in modern history is still making his influence count in another way — continual use of his federal campaign accounts.

In the years since Reid left the U.S. Senate, his campaign account and leadership political action committee — Friends For Harry Reid and Searchlight Leadership Fund — have regularly continued to file disclosure reports that show a steady stream of campaign expenses, charitable donations and political contributions.

Add it all up and Reid’s two campaign accounts have spent a sizable $564,000 since 2017, with checks cut not only to charities and various campaign expenses, but also nearly $281,000 in contributions to political parties and a mix of state and federal Democrats running for office.

According to his most recently filed quarterly report, Reid still has more than $290,000 in available cash on hand between the two committees, more than two years after leaving office and nearly a decade since his last election.

Reid is far from the only retired federal office-holder to keep using campaign accounts once out of office. A trend of “zombie campaigns” is one taking place nationally and locally in Nevada, where former office-holders — namely former Reps. Joe Heck and Ruben Kihuen — are holding on to hundreds of thousands of dollars while continuing to use their federal campaign accounts after leaving office.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC), which oversees these federal accounts, prohibits candidates from using campaign funds for personal use, but offers little guidance on what candidates should do with their campaign accounts and the funds left over once their time in office comes to an end. 

The commission wrote in a 2013 advisory opinion that campaigns should aim to wind down expenses within six months of leaving office, but there are no hard and fast rules as to when a campaign has to close down — a loophole exploited by dozens of former federal office-holders who used their campaign accounts to buy iPads, country club memberships and other questionable expenses, according to a 2018 Tampa Bay Times investigation.

But lax federal election oversight (the FEC has been effectively shut down since August after a commissioner resigned and left the body with less than a quorum) means former candidates have a wide breadth of options on how to use the money left in their campaign piggybank once they leave office.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Reid declined to address specific spending questions but said the leftover funds were primarily used for charity and contributions to similarly-minded candidates.

“After winding down his official Senate office, Senator Reid has used leftover campaign funds to support local charities that do important work in Nevada communities and to support candidates who will carry the torch forward for the causes he championed while in office,” a spokesman for Reid said in an email. “These activities are permitted by both federal and Nevada law, and the money is not spent on personal use.”  

Reid’s contributions since leaving office

August 16, 2018, was akin to a political Christmas for Nevada Democrats.

On that day, just a few months before the midterm election, Reid’s former Senate account and leadership PAC combined to give $84,500 to Democratic candidates for federal, statewide and legislative races, from a combined $20,000 to gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak to $5,000 each for Democratic state Senate candidates running in key swing districts— Julie Pazina, Melanie Schieble and Marilyn Dondero Loop,

Those contributions fit a pattern of strategic political contributions made by Reid’s political arms — targeting not only top-of-the-ticket races, but also important, less public races down the ballot including city councils and county commissions.

The list of office-holders who have received campaign contributions from Reid is wide and deep: 13 U.S. Senators or Senate candidates, seven House hopefuls, five legislative candidates, six municipal candidates and five of the six statewide “constitutional” officers (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer).

Here’s the full list of candidates and organizations who received a contribution from Reid’s federal campaign account and his leadership PAC since the start of 2017:

  • $101,000 to the Nevada State Democratic Party in September 2018 (a $1,000 donation was made in November 2017)
  • $20,000 to Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s campaign in August 2018
  • $19,000 total to groups affiliated with Nevada Democratic U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen’s campaign; $14,000 directly to her campaign in June 2017 and $5,000 to Rosen Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee affiliated with Rosen in August 2018
  • $15,000 to Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s campaign in August 2018
  • $10,000 to Our Votes, Our Voices, a state-based political action committee formed to fight efforts to recall Democratic state senators in 2017
  • $10,000 to Durbin Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee benefiting the campaign of Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, in June 2019
  • $8,000 to Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford’s campaign; $3,000 in April 2018 and $5,000 in August 2018
  • $5,000 to American Possibilities PAC, which is affiliated with former Vice President Joe Biden, in October 2018
  • $5,000 to Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s campaign in August 2017
  • $5,000 to former Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s campaign in September 2017
  • $5,000 to Democratic Iowa U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield’s campaign in June 2019
  • $5,000 to Democratic Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall’s campaign in March 2018
  • $5,250 to state Treasurer Zach Conine’s campaign; $250 in March 2018 and $5,000 in August 2018
  • $5,000 to former Democratic state Senate candidate Julie Pazina’s campaign in August 2018
  • $5,000 to Democratic State Sen. Melanie Scheible’s campaign in August 2018
  • $5,000 to former Democratic Secretary of State candidate Nelson Araujo’s campaign in August 2018
  • $5,000 to Clark County Commission candidate Justin Jones’s campaign in August 2018
  • $5,000 to Democratic state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop’s campaign in August 2018
  • $2,500 to Washington Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s campaign in November 2017
  • $2,500 to Democratic Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign in April 2018
  • $2,000 to New Jersey Democratic U.S. Sen Bob Menendez’s campaign in June 2017
  • $2,500 to Michigan Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s campaign in January 2017
  • $5,000 to Nevada Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford’s campaign in August 2018
  • $12,000 to Nevada Democratic Rep. Susie Lee’s campaign; $4,500 in August 2018, $5,000 in September 2017 and $2,500 in November 2017
  • $2,000 to Arizona Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly’s campaign in June 2019
  • $2,000 to California Democratic Rep. Norma Torres’s campaign in May 2019
  • $1,000 to Democratic state Sen. Mo Denis’s campaign in November 2017
  • $1,000 to Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz’s campaign in April 2019 (made after the municipal primary election but before the general election)
  • $1,000 to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign in February 2018
  • $1,000 to former Missouri Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign in February 2018
  • $1,000 to former Las Vegas City Councilman Steven Seroka’s campaign in March 2017
  • $1,000 to Henderson Mayor Debra March’s campaign in February 2017
  • $750 to Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams’s campaign in September 2018
  • $500 to New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland’s campaign in May 2018
  • $500 to former judicial candidate James Dean Leavitt’s campaign in October 2018
  • $500 to New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross’s campaign in July 2018
  • $500 to Henderson city councilwoman Michelle Romero’s campaign in March 2019
  • $500 to former Indiana Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s campaign in December 2017
  • $500 to Rhode Island Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s campaign in October 2017
  • $500 to former Democratic California congressional candidate Kia Hamadanchy’s campaign in April 2017

But political contributions were just a portion of Reid’s spending since leaving office.

The two committees also reported spending more than $254,000 since 2017 on campaign expenses and wind-down related costs, including moving costs, credit card payments, bank fees, taxes, airline travel, meals and consulting services.

The vast majority of those expenses — $194,000 — came in 2017, the first year after Reid had left office.

But some of the reported spending has a less clear purpose. His campaign reported spending nearly $800 on “officially connected” gifts at a CVS and $20 on a SiriusXM radio subscription, both made in January 2017. He also reported spending nearly $1,200 at the now-closed Driftwood Kitchen in Washington, D.C. in November 2017.

And between February and May of 2017, Reid’s leadership PAC — Searchlight Leadership Fund — spent more than $4,200 on “gifts for donors,” including $1,100 of expenses incurred at Nordstrom, $1,059 at a CVS and $778 at Hermes, a luxury clothing store. 

The leadership PAC also reported paying for more than $12,000 in meals, primarily during the first six months of 2017 when Reid had just left office (the FEC doesn’t allow candidates to use campaign funds for “food purchased for daily consumption” but allows it for campaign meetings or fundraising activities). Outside of 2017, the leadership PAC reported a $450 expense at a Green Valley steakhouse in Henderson in March of 2019.

Reid’s Senate campaign account also reported making several payments for “wind down consulting” and “strategic consulting services” to a firm called Sala Consulting, Ltd. The firm was founded in January 2017 and is run by Chris Anderson, who lists himself as its president on his LinkedIn page and who spent nearly four years as the executive director of Reid’s official Senate campaign account and his affiliated “Leadership PAC,” Searchlight Leadership Fund. 

According to FEC records, $14,500 of the nearly $60,000 paid to Sala Consulting over the last three years has come from Reid’s campaign account or his leadership PAC, including $5,000 in 2017, $2,000 in 2018 and $5,000 in 2019. Outside of small disbursements from Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, all other Sala Consulting income reported through federal campaigns came from Rosen’s campaign, whom Reid “hand-picked” to challenge incumbent Sen. Dean Heller in 2018.

Reid has also made more than $31,000 in charitable contributions from his campaign accounts since leaving office, including a $10,000 check to the UNLV Foundation in November 2017, $1,250 donated to UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law in October 2017 and a combined $3,000 to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, as well as various other charities, including The Shade Tree, the Committee to Aid Abused Women, Children of Mine Youth Center and Dream Big Nevada.

The former Senate majority leader also has not shied away from contributing to media organizations, including:

  • $2,200 to Nevada Public Radio (between three donations)
  • $1,500 to The Nevada Independent
  • $1,250 to Vegas PBS
  • $1,000 to Daily Kos, a left-leaning Internet news website

Money raised

Reid’s campaign hasn’t just made contributions over the last two election cycles; it has also reported raising more than $111,500 since the start of 2017. Some of the funds have come from bank interest, but the vast majority came from one source — a boutique digital firm called Well & Lighthouse, which paid the campaign a total of $108,000 in 2017 for what was described in FEC records as “list sale income.”

Email lists are one of the most valuable commodities in the world of campaigns, especially as candidates have begun to eschew high-dollar fundraisers and rely more on a broader pool of small donors. A primary way to do that is through the sharing, rental or sale of email lists, which is how individuals who sign up or donate to one candidate can soon find themselves bombarded with donation requests from many other, seemingly unrelated candidates.

Since at least the 2012 election cycle, Well & Lighthouse has been a major vendor for Democratic congressional and Senate campaigns — bringing in more than $33.3 million since the 2012 election cycle, or an average of $8.3 million per election cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. The firm also received $1.4 million from the campaign of Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto — Reid’s handpicked successor and former attorney general — in the 2016 election cycle, the second-highest of any candidate that cycle.

Well & Lighthouse was co-founded and is led by Jon-David Schlough, who worked on Reid’s 2010 re-election campaign overseeing digital strategy. His firm did not return a request for comment.

Zombie campaigns

Reid isn’t the only former politician to keep his federal campaign account past retirement; a 2018 Tampa Bay Times investigation into so-called “zombie” accounts found a myriad of questionable spending to likely abuses. These included a former South Carolina congressman-turned-lobbyist who kept his account open for more than two decades, disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley using campaign funds to buy dinner more than a decade after leaving office and a consultant being paid more than $100,000 over 17 months from the campaign account of Hawaii Rep. Mark Takai — despite Takai being dead the entire time.

In total, the investigation found nearly 100 “zombie” campaigns that had continued spending leftover donations on everything from “airline tickets, club memberships, a limo trip, cell phones, parking and new computers.”

The investigation eventually prompted the FEC, which did not have clear-cut rules on the use of campaign funds once out of office, to send letters earlier this year to nearly 27 campaigns asking why their campaigns were still open and posing specific questions on reported spending (Reid’s campaign did not receive a letter).

But enforcement action is unlikely after FEC Commissioner Matthew Petersen resigned in August, dropping the number of active commissioners to three — below the legal requirement to hold a meeting or make any high-level decisions.

The Center for Public Integrity reported that the commission — composed of up to six members, with no more than three of the same political party — has been effectively hobbled since the resignation, with no power to hold meetings, levy fines, issue advisory opinions or work on the backlog of nearly 300 cases on its enforcement docket, many of which may surpass the statute of limitations early next year.

Although there’s little clear guidance under federal campaign law, the Legislature in 2015 passed a law requiring former candidates or public officials to dispose of unspent campaign contributions within four years (the law only applies to candidates for state legislative or local office, not federal races).

Zombies in Nevada

Other former Nevada politicians with leftover cash have elected to either hold on to their campaign contributions, use them in other races or refund checks to contributors. 

One of the more notable examples is former Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who elected not to run for re-election in 2017 in the face of sexual misconduct allegations reported by BuzzFeed News and The Nevada Independent (details of which were later confirmed in a House Ethics Committee investigation).

Rather than return his then-substantial campaign war chest of more than $318,000 to donors, Kihuen transferred more than $160,000 to his 2019 campaign for a Las Vegas City Council seat (a move at first questioned by but later deemed acceptable by the Nevada Secretary of State). Kihuen narrowly lost in the primary election.

As of his last quarterly campaign finance report, Kihuen had $151,000 in available cash on hand. Other than nominal fees for storage, web hosting and postage, his other major expenditures include legal consulting ($1,220 to the law firm of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock) and a $500 contribution to Adrian Boafo, the former chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer and City Council candidate in Maryland.

Others have opted to return donations after losing their races. Former Sen. Dean Heller, who lost his re-election bid in 2018, has already made more than $103,000 in refunds to contributors throughout 2019. He also made a $10,000 charitable donation to a search and rescue task force, and has otherwise not made contributions to other candidates.

His campaign, which raised more than $15 million during the last election cycle, has a relatively paltry $99,000 left in cash on hand.

Similarly, Heller’s 2012 opponent — former Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley — filed termination paperwork for her Senate committee less than a year after losing her race (Berkley forgave more than $249,000 in personal loans while terminating her campaign, suggesting that she had little cash left over at the end of her campaign).

Not all former office-holders have taken Heller or Berkley’s path. Former Republican Rep. Joe Heck, who lost a U.S. Senate bid in 2016, still has more than $189,000 left in his Senate campaign account, and FEC records show his campaign has paid out nearly $296,000 over the last two election cycles.

As with Reid, Heck’s contributions have largely focused on wind-down campaign expenses, but have also benefited political parties and candidates, including $75,000 to the Nevada Republican Party in July 2018 and $5,000 to the Washoe County Republican Party in October 2017. Other contributions to political candidates made by Heck include:

  • $11,000 to former Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt’s gubernatorial campaign throughout 2017 and 2018 
  • $9,000 to groups affiliated with former Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller; $5,000 to his Senate campaign in Sept. 2017 and $5,000 to an affiliated joint fundraising committee, Heller Senate Victory Committee, in April 2018 
  • $8,000 to the campaign of Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei in March 2018 
  • $8,000 to former Nevada Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy’s campaign in January 2018
  • $8,000 to former Arizona Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally in March 2018 (McSally lost her election but was later appointed to a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate) 
  • $7,000 to Americans United for Freedom, a joint fundraising PAC formed to support Republican Senate candidates. The contributions were made in March 2018.
  • $5,000 to Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine-Husted’s campaign in January 2018
  • $4,000 to Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in January 2018
  • $4,000 to former Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita in January 2018
  • $4,000 to Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker in May 2018
  • $4,000 to former Nevada Republican congressional candidate Stavros Anthony in September 2017
  • $2,500 to former Maine Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in June 2017
  • $2,000 to Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast in September 2018
  • $1,000 to Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in April 2018
  • $500 to Nevada Supreme Court Justice Lidia Stiglich in May 2018

Heck, who is now a lobbyist for Red Rock Strategies, also gave a $10,000 contribution to Issue One, a “cross-partisan political reform group” that focuses on issues such as campaign finance reform and election security. Heck is listed as one of the group’s “ReFormers” — more than 200 former political figures and congressional representatives. He also gave $1,000 to a group called Nevada State Society, a 501(c)(4) organization composed of Nevadans who live in the Washington, D.C. area (Red Rock Strategies, Heck’s employer, is a “sponsor” of the group, according to its website).

Heck’s campaign also paid $23,400 to WPA Intelligence, a political firm best known for its role in Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, for a “Survey Study (Services)” in July of 2018.

A different path was taken by former Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy, a Republican who served one term in Congress between 2014 and 2016, lost his 2016 re-election bid and lost another bid for the seat in 2018. His campaign account with the FEC was transformed this year into an organization called Nevada Values PAC, which has retained more than $197,000 in cash on hand from Hardy’s 2018 election cycle. In paperwork submitted to the FEC in February, Hardy’s new PAC will operate as a Carey Committee (or hybrid PAC) that is allowed to maintain two bank accounts — one of which can make direct contributions to candidates and is subject to FEC rules and regulations, and the other which can accept unlimited donations and operate like a Super PAC, meaning it cannot coordinate with other campaigns or candidates.

Biden brings in biggest total from itemized donors in Nevada, Sanders pockets most individual donations

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking during a campaign event

Democratic presidential hopefuls pocketed more than half a million dollars in itemized contributions from Nevadans in the third quarter of the year as they prepare for a final push ahead of the early nominating contests in February.

Former Vice President Joe Biden raised the largest total sum, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders received the most individual itemized donations, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last week. Other candidates who raised significant sums from Nevadans include Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Federal campaign finance reports only list itemized contributions — those that are more than $200 or, when combined with other contributions over the election cycle, exceed $200 — meaning that the analysis does not take into consideration smaller sums that the candidates may have raised from Nevadans. For instance, Sanders’ campaign said that they received more than 30,000 individual donations, both itemized and not, from nearly 10,000 Nevadans, but other campaigns were not able to readily share similar data with The Nevada Independent.

The campaign finance reports hint at the kind of support the campaigns have here on the ground in Nevada, with Biden raising significant sums from well-known casino executives and former elected officials while Sanders and Warren tended to bring in generally smaller amounts from everyday donors. They also reveal how candidates may or may not be gaining traction here: Self-help author Marianne Williamson has been to Nevada eight times since launching her campaign and raised about $15,000 here this quarter, while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who has been here 10 times, only raised $2,800.

Some in Nevada also aren’t willing to choose a side yet. The reports show that Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck donated the maximum $2,800 primary contribution to four candidates — Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — and $1,000 to Buttigieg, while former Regent Jill Derby has spread $4,660 among seven Democratic hopefuls.

At the same time, the sums they are raising individually are dwarfed by what President Donald Trump raised in the state in the third quarter — about $320,000 across roughly 5,000 individual donations.

Below, The Nevada Independent takes a look at which corners of the state the candidates are raising the most from and breaks down each individual candidate’s Nevada donations.

Joe Biden

The former vice president brought in the biggest haul of any Democratic presidential hopeful — about $206,000 once refunds were taken into account — from itemized donors in Nevada in the third quarter. He was the fifth top fundraiser overall among the Democratic field this quarter, bringing in $15.7 million in donations.

His list of Nevada donors this quarter includes many of the who’s who in Las Vegas, from gaming executives to members of prominent families, and is largely made up of big money donors, with $191,902 of his total coming from contributions of $1,000 or more.

Two of his biggest contributions came from Bob Boughner, who sits on the board of directors for Boyd Gaming and donated $5,600 to Biden’s campaign, and UNLV President Marta Meana, who contributed $5,000. 

He received the maximum $2,800 contribution to a primary campaign from several notable Nevadans, including MGM Resorts Chief Hospitality Officer Ari Kastrati; Diana Bennet, co-founder of Paragon Gaming, Dr. Larry Lehrner, a nephrologist and husband of former Rep. Shelley Berkley; Marilynn Mack, daughter of the late real estate investor Jerry Mack; Amy Greenspun Arenson, daughter of Las Vegas Sun publisher Brian Greenspun; and Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners.

Other notable contributions: Biden received a $500 sum from Tina Quigley, the head of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, and several installments totaling $500 from former Rep. James Bilbray and his wife, Michaelene Bilbray.

Both Bilbray and Berkley have endorsed Biden in his presidential bid.

In total, Biden received about 570 individual itemized contributions in Nevada.

Bernie Sanders

The Vermont senator raised the second most among the Democratic field in Nevada, about $104,000 after refunds, but had the most individual itemized donations. Still, the 2,900 individual itemized donations Sanders received is eclipsed by the 30,000 total individual donations — including unitemized donations — his campaign says he received in the Silver State.

Sanders was technically the second highest fundraiser this quarter nationally, at $28 million, but only behind billionaire Tom Steyer who spent $47.6 million of his own money on his campaign this quarter for a total of $49.6 million raised. 

There are a lot fewer familiar names on Sanders’ list of Nevada donors, which includes a maintenance worker at Walmart, a bartender at Caesars Palace and a busser at the Cosmopolitan. (It also includes lawyers, nurses, dentists, and teachers, among others.)

His top donations this quarter came from Levi Blaney, an engineer at the tech company Flux7 ($2,000) and investment banker Pranav Merchant ($1,694). He also received nine $1,000 donations from some doctors, a medical social worker and an accountant. One notable donor — health care advocate and former congressional candidate Amy Vilela, who has endorsed Sanders, contributed $1,449.38

Elizabeth Warren

The Massachusetts senator raised far less in itemized contributions from Nevadans than either Biden or Sanders, bringing in a total of about $48,000 in the third quarter over nearly 650 individual donations. She was the third top Democratic fundraiser overall this quarter, raising $24.7 million.

Like Sanders, Warren has sworn off high-dollar fundraisers in exchange for spending more time on the selfie line after her rallies. As such, her list is also filled with many unfamiliar names and small dollar donations.

Her top contributions include $2,500 from Dr. Osama Haikal, a gastroenterologist, $1,500 from a retiree named Carson Miller, and $1,300 from Reno-based MS advocate Vivian Leal. Her top donors also include several UNLV professors, lawyers and consultants. Only five of her donations were sums of $1,000 or more.

Two interesting donors — Assemblywoman Connie Munk, who has not yet endorsed in the race but donated $525 to Warren’s campaign this quarter in small installments, and Clark County Democratic Party Chair Donna West donated $85.03. (Munk also donated $160 to Booker’s campaign.)

Pete Buttigieg

The South Bend Mayor brought in the fourth biggest haul in itemized donations from Nevadans this quarter at about $35,000 after refunds through a little more than 500 individual donations. He received nine $1,000 contributions, including from Cloobeck, a physician assistant, a lawyer and a broadband planner. He also received $500 from Patrick Duffy, president and CEO of Nevada School of the Arts.

He was the fourth top Democratic fundraiser overall, raising $19.2 million over the quarter.

Andrew Yang

This tech entrepreneur who has slowly inched up in the polls over the last few months raised the fifth most in itemized donations from Nevadans, totaling about $27,000 after refunds. Yang’s top contributors include several professional gamblers and poker players, consultants and a cocktail server at the Bellagio.

He raised $9.9 million overall this quarter.

Kamala Harris

The California senator came in just shy of Yang’s total itemized donations in Nevada by $13.70 after accounting for refunds, placing her at the sixth highest for itemized contributions in the state. Like Yang, she also raised just about $27,000, but came out ahead of the tech entrepreneur in total fundraising nationally this quarter at $11.8 million.

Her top donor was Cloobeck, but she received several $1,000 sums including from a nurse, a lawyer and an environmental biologist.

Marianne Williamson

The self-help author, who didn’t qualify for the October debate stage, actually managed to raise the seventh most in itemized donations from Nevadans in the third quarter at about $14,000 after refunds. Her top donor in Nevada was Aileen Getty, a philanthropist and the granddaughter of J. Paul Getty, who donated $2,500 tied to an address at a Reno office park associated with her foundation. Other contributors include two atmospheric scientists, an ecclesiastical assistant and a yoga instructor.

Others who made the debate stage

Several other Democratic hopefuls who raised enough money and scored high enough in the polls to qualify for the October debate stage raised far smaller sums. Klobuchar and Booker each brought in a little north of $10,000, while former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised just a little less than that sum.

Two notable Klobuchar donors — Las Vegas Sun publisher Brian Greenspun and his wife, Myra Greenspun, who collectively donated $3,800. His sister-in-law, Robin Greenspun, donated $500 to Booker.

Dan Lee, CEO of Full House Resorts and husband of Rep. Susie Lee, donated $275 to O’Rourke.

Steyer raised a little less than $6,000 in the state, while Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard raised about $4,500 and Castro raised just a little less than $2,800 after refunds.

Bottom of the pack

Two candidates who didn’t qualify for the debate stage outraised Castro, who did. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet raised about $4,800 from just seven donors in the state, while Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan raised about $4,300 — with almost all of that coming from three employees affiliated with singer and songwriter Jewel and her company, Jewel Inc.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock raised about $2,700, while former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak raised about $1,500 and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney raised $290. 

Indy 2020: Nevada Democrats chafe over DNC’s tele-caucus rejection; candidates attend (another) labor forum

People react after the House is called in favor of Democrats during the Nevada Democratic Party election night event at Caesar Palace

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

Good morning, and welcome to this installment of Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. Apologies for the one day delay, but hope you all enjoyed the Labor Day weekend, purged all of the white from your wardrobe and are now ready for the presidential campaigns to officially kick off. 

Oh, wait, you mean to tell me it’s not just kicking off…? Oh.

As always, a reminder to tell your friends about this newsletter. Tell your fellow Trekkies. Tell your fellow… Star Wars fans? (There really should be a better name for this.) Subscribe here. It’ll be peachy.

Once again, labor was the focus of yet another round of candidate visits to Nevada, and not just because of Labor Day. (In fact, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was the only candidate here over the weekend.) I will note that every edition of this newsletter has started off talking about a recent labor forum in Las Vegas where presidential candidates appeared: AFSCME, Painters and now the Nevada AFL-CIO, which had five candidates speak at its convention last week. Yes, as I noted in the last newsletter, #LaborMatters.

Please reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions, or your favorite Star Trek episode at megan@thenvindy.com. (You will be judged based on which series you choose.)

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

WHAT THE INDY IS WATCHING

A swift end to tele-caucusing: The biggest news last week was the Democratic National Committee’s recommendation to reject the Nevada State Democratic Party’s proposal to allow tele-caucusing over security concerns. This came following a Bloomberg report that security officials had hacked into a conference call between the DNC and state parties in Nevada and Iowa. They didn’t — the security experts actually found a vulnerability on the website of a prospective vendor, as CBS News reported — but the DNC still determined that there is no tele-caucus system that is “sufficiently secure and reliable” to carry out the caucuses in Nevada and Iowa.

Party officials here chafed at the DNC’s decision to reject the plan now, six months after Nevada Democrats first made public the details of their delegate selection plan. In a statement released after the announcement, the party emphasized that its decision to even propose a virtual caucus in the first place was directly in response to a DNC rule requiring absentee voting. 

In general, Nevada Democrats have tried to be ahead of the curve on ensuring an inclusive caucus. They’re allowing early caucusing this go around, printing presidential preference cards in Tagalog and continuing to offer voting at at-large precincts on the Strip to make participation easier for casino workers.

Nevada’s overall delegate selection plan is still expected to be approved with its early caucusing proposal satisfying the absentee requirement, and Iowa will likely be granted a waiver, a Democratic official told The Nevada Independent. You can read more about what happened here.

Staffing on up: I spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of weeks trying to track down just how big presidential campaign staffs here have gotten, including talking to nearly two dozen Democratic strategists, progressive organizers and labor leaders. The conclusion? Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s team is the biggest, though Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ is also large; California Sen. Kamala Harris made some of the smartest hires; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro have staffs that are punching above their weight, despite their smaller sizes; and former Vice President Joe Biden’s team has seemed more of a scarce presence.

All of that and more — including Team Biden’s rebuttal — here.

Castro calls Trump a ‘spoiled child president’ who ‘acts like a dictator’: I sat down with the former Housing and Urban Development secretary last week while he was in town. In addition to criticizing the president over reports he offered pardons to build his long promised border wall, Castro expressed surprise over Las Vegas’s continued participation in the 287(g) program, committed to no funding for Yucca Mountain and more.

Another appeal to labor: As I mentioned up top, five candidates were in town for the Nevada AFL-CIO Convention last week: Harris, Booker, Castro, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The candidates’ addresses were closed press, but I obtained audio and transcripts and pieced together this story with some help from my colleague Jacob Solis. In one of the more memorable highlights, several of the candidates committed to appointing a labor leader as their labor secretary. (Harris, who received that question at the AFSCME forum last month and said then only that she would consult labor leaders in making her decision, committed to “absolutely” appoint a labor leader as labor secretary.)

Booker back in town: The New Jersey senator was the only Democratic presidential hopeful to spend part of his Labor Day weekend in Las Vegas, and it was his second trip to the state in the span of a week. (I will note that his mom lives in Las Vegas and he has a habit of spending his holidays here, including Easter weekend and the Fourth of July.) My colleague Jacob Solis followed him around as he went around with union workers to talk to McDonald’s employees about unionizing — and even got kicked out of the first restaurant they went to — and later attended a Labor Day barbecue hosted by Rep. Steven Horsford, who has not yet endorsed in the presidential race. More on Booker’s Labor Day swing here.

Warren and Harris state PACs: My eagle-eyed colleague Riley Snyder caught that Warren’s and Harris’s campaigns have registered state-level PACs with the secretary of state’s office here. Both campaigns tell me that doing so is a state compliance issue.

Station Casinos kerfuffle: After I noted in the last newsletter the overtures presidential contenders have been making to the Culinary Union in their long standing fight with Station Casinos, CBS News’ Alexander Tin reported that two of Warren’s advance staff members crossed the picket line and stayed at the Palms, a Station Casinos property, in May and June and that one of Station Casinos’ board members, Dr. James Nave, donated $5,600 to Biden’s campaign.

For her part, Warren has described the move as a “mistake” and said it “won’t happen again.” A Biden spokesman told CBS that the campaign is “proud of all the contributions” it has received in the state, despite a call from the union that Democrats return donations from Station Casinos executives.

CAMPAIGN NUGGETS

Staffing changes

  • Billionaire Tom Steyer announced that he is bringing on Jocelyn Sida as his state director. Sida previously worked with MoveOn.org, was deputy campaign manager for Amy Vilela’s congressional campaign and was state director for Mi Familia Vota.
  • Warren’s team has brought on Veronica Yoo as press secretary. She comes to the campaign from New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall’s office. 

Early endorsements

  • State Sen. Melanie Scheible has endorsed Harris for president, bringing the total of current elected officials who have endorsed Harris’s campaign in Nevada to six. Her campaign touts the total as “the most out of any Democratic presidential candidates,” which is true — Biden technically only has five — but doesn’t take into account the former vice president’s endorsements from two former members of Congress, Shelley Berkley and Jim Bilbray. (Harris also has four state lawmakers while Biden has five.)
  • Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has again endorsed Sanders for president after being one of Sanders’ earliest supporters in 2016. The former state senator told me in an interview in late July “my heart is with Bernie” and that “to abandon him at this point would be really difficult for me,” but noted that he has hosted other candidates at his house, including Warren. Sanders also was endorsed by 13 “activists and community leaders,” which isn’t noteworthy in of itself but interestingly includes several members of the local tribal community, as well as the home care worker I profiled over the summer, George Allen.

Upcoming visits

  • Self-help author Marianne Williamson is back in Nevada this week. She spoke to the North Las Vegas Democrats on Tuesday night and has plans to recruit Democrat voters at UNLV and speak at the Las Vegas Enlightenment Center on Wednesday.
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will participate in a virtual meet and greet with the Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus on Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. (Several other presidential hopefuls have participated in similar events.)
  • Biden is still slated to return to Nevada on Sept. 27.
  • More than a dozen candidates are slated to speak at the Giffords and March for Our Lives gun safety forum on Oct. 2, one day after the two-year anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas.
  • Castro is the first confirmed attendee of the People’s Forum on Oct. 26 at the East Las Vegas Community Center. The forum — which will be hosted by a number of progressive organizations including the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), Battle Born Progress and the Culinary Union, among others — will hone in on a number of issues including tribal sovereignty, mining, mass incarceration, immigration and more. PLAN Executive Director Laura Martin told me that four candidates who have demonstrated their commitment to Nevada through staffing, offices, and engagement with local progressive groups have been invited. (“We don’t have the energy of our friends at AFSCME,” she told me, referring to the labor forum last month in Las Vegas attended by 19 candidates.)
  • As always, be sure to keep your eye on our 2020 Candidate Tracker.

DOWN BALLOT NEWS

Only in Nevada: Local business owner and former professional wrestler Dan Rodimer is running in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, joining a handful of Republicans looking to unseat freshman Democrat Susie Lee. Rodimer ran for state Senate last cycle, narrowly losing the Republican primary in District 8 by 1 percentage point to former Assemblywoman Valerie Weber. My colleague Jacob Solis has more.

State party chair seeks commission seat: Assemblyman Will McCurdy, who chairs the Nevada State Democratic Party, has announced that he’s running for Clark County Commission. He’s looking to replace Lawrence Weekly, who will be termed out of his seat in District D in 2020. Michelle Rindels has the story.

OTHER REQUIRED READING

A new LGBTQ group is playing in Nevada this cycle (The Nevada Independent)

Nevada education advocates ‘underwhelmed’ by 2020 hopefuls’ plans (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis stumps for Biden (Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Kimberly Guilfoyle hosts a 'bachelorette party' for Trump (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Business, education meetings dominated Sisolak's calendar amid legislative session

Governor-elect Steve Sisolak and his wife, Kathy, tour the Governor's Mansion in Carson City

In retrospect, May 21 was one of the most important days of the 2019 Legislature.

A bill getting rid of a scheduled reduction in the state’s payroll tax was introduced for the first time; lawmakers voted out bills adding Nevada to the National Popular Vote Compact (later vetoed) and decriminalizing abortion; and long-awaited hearings were finally held on bills creating a cannabis regulatory agency and substantially overhauling the state’s K-12 education formula.

Gov. Steve Sisolak was similarly busy on May 21, but for different reasons. Amid a packed schedule that saw him attend a wildfire status briefing and the cannabis bill hearing, the governor was also busy on the second-to-last Tuesday before the end of the Legislature calling several high-profile business and gaming executives — Eldorado Resorts’ Gary Carano, Peppermill Resorts President Billy Paganetti and Ultimate Fighting Championship COO Ike Lawrence Epstein.

Described by his office as general check-ins, the scheduled calls were part of a slew of calls made by Sisolak as the legislative session drew to a close, indicating that the governor kept open lines of communication with top business leaders even as lawmakers approved bills raising the minimum wage and requiring large private employers to offer paid sick leave — panned as anti-business by Republicans. 

Those meetings and others held between Sisolak with high-powered lobbyists, legislators with major pending bills, federal government officials and a slew of well-known business leaders were revealed in a public records request submitted by The Nevada Independent for the governor’s calendar through the legislative session.

Meetings scheduled in Sisolak’s calendar don’t necessarily confirm that they actually happened, and often provide few details as to the point or reason for them. But information on the scheduled meetings of the state’s first Democratic governor in two decades provides insight into the power structure and important relationships that define and influence what laws and policies are (or aren’t) adopted.

“The calendar provided to The Nevada Independent is the Governor's working calendar, maintained by staff,” Sisolak spokesman Ryan McInerney said in an email. “Some of the calendared appointments occurred as scheduled, others did not occur at all, or were managed entirely by staff. Moreover, travel schedules for the Governor, First Lady Kathy Sisolak, and the Governor's family were redacted to ensure the safety of the Governor and his family.”

Although he positioned himself as a natural successor to popular and moderate Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval on the campaign trail, meetings scheduled by Sisolak throughout the legislative session included comparatively more meetings with labor leaders and other constituencies of the Democratic Party. They also reveal details about which individual interests were able to secure time with the governor ahead of major decisions on bills affecting energy, collective bargaining for state workers and health care issues.

But like Sandoval, many of Sisolak’s scheduled meetings show the names of the same Carson City power brokers, lobbyists and business leaders who continue to wield the same influence and effect on the legislative process, regardless of the party in power.

Not all details of Sisolak’s calendar were made public — at least 67 events on the calendar provided to The Nevada Independent were redacted. Sisolak’s office said that in addition to travel, the office also redacted telephone numbers and personnel information such as start and end dates.

Here’s a look at the people, groups and constituencies Sisolak met with during the 2019 legislative session.

Legislative interactions

Sisolak made an effort to meet with all 63 members of the Legislature during the first few weeks of the legislative session — a hectic schedule reflected in the early February weeks of his calendar.

But meetings held with lawmakers outside of those initial meet and greets shine a light on Sisolak’s involvement in the legislative process beyond just signing bills.

The lawmaker who scheduled the most meetings with Sisolak was Democratic Sen. Chris Brooks, who previously served one term in the Assembly and is married to Sisolak’s chief of staff, Michelle White.

Brooks and Sisolak met three times — once on March 13 (the day Sisolak announced the state would sign onto an agreement to follow the Paris Climate Agreement), again with legislative leaders on March 15 and a final meeting on April 2 (the day a hearing was held on SB358, which raises the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030). 

Brooks confirmed in an interview that the meetings were related to several bills related to energy that Sisolak had identified as priorities on both the campaign trail and in his State of the State address. He said early on that he and White had established a “firewall” and worked with other staff in the governor’s office to arrange meeting and discuss strategy.

“We were pretty adamant about making sure she wasn’t involved personally,” he said.

Other meetings held between Sisolak and individual lawmakers include:

  • A March 27 meeting with Republican Assembly Leader Jim Wheeler and Blockchains CEO Jeff Berns, described by the governor’s office as a meet and greet that veered into a discussion of issues with wild horses
  • An April 30 meeting with Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez Thompson, related to her bill AB400, which removed certain types of taxes from possible economic abatements. The bill was signed into law by Sisolak.
  • A May 17 meeting with Assembly Judiciary Chair Steve Yeager on AB553, the bill creating the Cannabis Compliance Board. Yeager presented the bill in committee about a week later; it was later signed into law by Sisolak.
  • A May 22 meeting with Senator Julia Ratti on her dental therapy bill, SB366. The bill was amended twice after the meeting and eventually signed into law by Sisolak.

Lobbyists

Sisolak’s meetings with lawmakers merely tap the surface of his involvement in the legislative process; the Democratic governor met with dozens of lobbyists or representatives for various interests groups throughout the entire 120-day session.

Notably, Sisolak recorded holding a short meeting with National Shooting Sports Foundation executive Larry Keane and the group’s state lobbyist, Patrick McNaught, on April 18. 

The meeting came nearly a week before lawmakers approved major changes to a major gun safety bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, AB291, that initially sought to allow local governments to pass more restrictive gun laws than those put in place by the state (a concept called pre-emption).

But the concerns of the NSSF, which holds the annual SHOT tradeshow in Las Vegas, helped almost sink the bill, and contributed to the removal of that language from the bill. Lawmakers instead added in provisions creating a “red flag” law process, which lets law enforcement and family members petition a court to temporarily seize a person’s firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others.

The NSSF itself issued several warnings about Sisolak in the run-up to the 2018 election, noting that he had promised to institute a long-stalled voter-approved gun background check initiative and to ban assault weapons. NSSF spokesman Mark Olivia said that the meeting was similar to ones the group had across the country and in Washington D.C. with other elected officials, and that the organization was grateful that Sisolak took the time to listen to their concerns.

“This is what any trade association is going to do to make sure their concerns are heard,” he said.

Other major lobbyists that Sisolak met with during the legislative session include:

  • Former Assembly Speaker turned lobbyist Richard Perkins and clients on February 19 in Las Vegas
  • Former state senator, current lobbyist Warren Hardy on February 19
  • A meet and greet with the Jewish Federation and former Rep. Shelley Berkley on March 5. Both supported a bill, AB257, that would have authorized creation of a Holocaust memorial museum in Nevada; the bill failed to pass
  • Former Rep. Dr. Joe Heck on March 8
  • Dwayne McClinton on behalf of Southwest Gas on March 19
  • Golden Entertainment, Dollar Loan Center and Republic Services lobbyist Sean Higgins on March 27
  • Barrick Gold Corporation executives Christina Erling and Rebecca Darling on April 17
  • Kolesar and Leatham lobbyist Joe Brown on May 6
  • Nevada’s Women Lobby lobbyist Marlene Lockard on May 15
  • Griffin Company lobbyist Josh Griffin (and “group”) on May 20 
  • Las Vegas Metro Chamber CEO Mary Beth Sewald on May 23, to discuss “legislation relating to Nevada employers,” a spokesperson for the Chamber said
  • Ferraro Group founder Greg Ferraro and former Fennemore Craig lobbyist Jim Wadhams on May 29, in a meeting regarding pending bills and the close of the legislative session. Wadhams also met with Sisolak on April 1.

Greg Smith

Within hours after Democratic Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle announced he was resigning from the state Legislature over multiple claims of sexual harassment, Gov. Steve Sisolak was already meeting with his eventual successor — though the governor’s office claims it was just a coincidence.

While reporters scurried and stalked the legislative building in attempts to find Sprinkle or get comments from other lawmakers on his resignation, Sisolak had scheduled a meeting with Greg Smith — the husband of former Democratic state Sen. Debbie Smith. The meeting on March 14 came two weeks before his appointment to the Assembly and over a 15-person field of candidates who filed to replace Sprinkle. 

But Sisolak’s office said the meeting was just a coincidence; Smith was brought in to advise the office on several pending bills related to apprenticeship programs (Smith is a retired union apprenticeship program administrator.) Smith did not return several calls seeking comment on the meeting.

Education

On the campaign trail, few organizations were more helpful to Sisolak than the Clark County Education Association, which endorsed the future governor early in the campaign and spent more than a million dollars in third-party campaign ads ahead of the 2018 election.

Once in office, Sisolak’s door was open to the teacher’s union and its polarizing leader, John Vellardita. The governor and Vellardita met or called at least twice (once on March 14 and again on April 8), and held a meet and greet with CCEA educators on April. In contrast, the Nevada State Education Association (which endorsed Sisolak’s primary opponent) held a scheduled meeting with Sisolak just once, on March 19. 

And in a legislative session defined by massive shifts to the state’s antiquated funding formula and calls for more funding, Sisolak also met with various school district and higher education leaders. He met with Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara twice (once on March 4 and again on March 26), Washoe County School District lobbyist Lindsay Anderson on April 4, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly on February 27, and UNLV President Marta Meana on April 24.

Sisolak also met with State Board of Education chair Elaine Wynn on May 21, the same day as the first legislative hearing on the revamped K-12 education formula.

Business interests

Calls to major business and gambling company executives took up a sizable amount of Sisolak’s time, especially as the legislative session drew to a close.

Sisolak’s calendars show meetings with Anthony Marnell (CEO of Marnell Gaming, which operates the Sparks Nugget) on April 10, Golden Gaming CEO Blake Sartini on April 21 and Grand Sierra Resort and SLS Las Vegas owner Alex Muerelo on May 9. One of his last calls made before the legislative session ended on May 27 was to Virginia Valentine, the director of powerful casino trade group the Nevada Resorts Association. Valentine said the call was to relay the gaming industry’s support for AB533, the bill to create the Cannabis Compliance Board.

Other notable meetings or calls arranged between business executives and Sisolak include:

  • Eli Lilly executives on February 12
  • Beau Wrigley, the heir to the Wrigley chewing gum fortune and CEO of Suterra Wellness (a cannabis company that operates in Nevada and other states) on April 1
  • Fidelity National Financial executive Peter Sadowski on April 10. Fidelity is owned by Bill Foley, the owner of the Golden Knights hockey team.
  • Former Nevada Cattlemen's Association president Joe Guild and lobbyist Richard Perkins on April 23. Both lobbied for Union Pacific Railroad
  • Kaempfer Crowell attorney Jennifer Lazovich on April 26

2020 Candidates

At least four of the Democratic presidential candidates met with or calling Sisolak during the legislative session, including billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. Sisolak’s office also said he met with California Sen. Kamala Harris during her trip to Nevada, and that all candidate visits were accommodated based on the governor’s schedule and availability.

He also met with former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg — who considered but ultimately decided against a presidential run — on February 26, after state lawmakers approved a bill implementing a long-stalled gun background check law. Bloomberg helped fund the group that backed the initial ballot question in the 2016 election.

Sisolak said during an AFSCME forum earlier this month that he wasn’t sure whether he would endorse any candidate before the state’s presidential caucus in February.

Federal government

Unlike his predecessor Sandoval, who in the 2017 legislative session scheduled calls or meetings with at least 17 Cabinet secretaries and other high ranking officials in Trump administration, Sisolak made relatively few calls to officials in the Trump administration during his first legislative session.

Sisolak arranged a call with former Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Feb. 5, and another call with former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on March 28, the same day Nevada joined a group of states intervening in a lawsuit defending the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Sisolak also scheduled a call with Delaware Sen. Tom Carper on April 30, the same day he sent a publicized open letter to Carper and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso to reiterate the state’s “strong opposition to the Yucca Mountain project” (Barrasso and Carper serve on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works).

Grants management lawsuit

Sisolak’s office also scheduled a meeting entitled “Streamlink Discussion” on April 15, a day after The Nevada Independent published a story detailing how litigation brought by Streamlink had gummed up a grants management software contract that state officials believed could help tap into millions of dollars worth of federal grants.

Although the state took no immediate action after the story was published, Carson City District Court Judge James Russell ruled against the state and in favor of Streamlink in May, leading the Department of Administration to announce it would drop future appeals and re-open bidding on the grants management software contract. 

The contract was reopened in July, and the office expects to have the system fully functional by 2021.

Celebrities

Sisolak’s calendar also shows meetings with higher-profile individuals than the normal slew of Carson City insiders.

The governor scheduled a meet and greet meeting with actress Patricia Arquette on March 8, the same day the actress attended a press conference with Democratic lawmakers on several equal pay bills. Sisolak’s office said the meeting was indeed scheduled but never actually happened.

On May 15, he scheduled a meeting with former football star Boomer Esiason on the topic of cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that Esiason has highlighted through creation of a foundation after his son was diagnosed with the disease.

Sisolak also met with legendary labor organizer Dolores Huerta on April 3, and presented her with a proclamation. Huerta came to Carson City to testify in favor of a bill that would allow for physician-assisted aid-in-dying. The bill, SB165, failed to advance out of the Legislature.

Snyder Production 6.24.19 by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Much fanfare but few results followed passage of 2017 anti-BDS bill

There was little common ground between Jacky Rosen and Dean Heller during Nevada’s contentious 2018 U.S. Senate race.

But on at least one topic, the former Democratic congresswoman and former Republican senator who locked horns on the campaign trail were in total alignment: In 2017, both Rosen and Heller sent messages on official congressional letterhead urging lawmakers to support a bill that prohibits local governments and the state from contracting with businesses boycotting Israel.

The bill, SB26, had a long line of heavy hitters behind it, including Rosen, Heller, Republican Rep. Mark Amodei and Democratic Rep. Dina Titus. The bill was sponsored by Republican then-Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who presented it alongside former Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley and a pro-Israeli lobbying group with close ties to Republican megadonor and Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Those political heavyweights helped usher the bill through the Legislature with little formal opposition, and it was signed into law by former Gov. Brian Sandoval at a public ceremony attended by Miriam Adelson. His office called the measure that aimed to curb the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement against Israel an “important policy decision to discourage discrimination based on national origin.”

But two years later, not much has happened with the law that thrust Nevada into the middle of a decade-long protest movement begun by Palestinian organizations against Israel.

No company has been denied a contract with the state over boycotting Israel, no funds under the purview of the state treasurer have been divested and the state’s pension fund has found no ties between its investments and companies in support of B.D.S.. 

Nevada’s anti-B.D.S. bill wasn’t an anomaly; it sprang from a well-coordinated effort among pro-Israeli lobbyist groups that helped pass similar (and often identical) pieces of legislation in 27 states in the last four years. 

The effort to pass legislation targeting B.D.S. had been pitched as a way to combat a very real rising tide of anti-Semitism locally and nationally, but opponents have derided the laws as both a waste of government time and resources and a threat to free speech rights, leading groups including the American Civil Liberties Union to file lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the laws in several states.

No lawsuit has been filed in Nevada, but supporters of the bill including Hutchison say that the lack of government action and divestments are proof the measure is working as intended, and that the bill marked an important symbolic step in Nevada’s relationship with Israel.

“I think that those who have engaged in the past and currently in the B.D.S. movement have probably surveyed the states that have passed laws and have likely avoided those states,” Hutchison said in an interview. “So I think that the law has had its intended effect, which is to send a clear message to those companies that engaged in the B.D.S. movement that Nevada simply will not do business with or invest in them.”

B.D.S. Primer

Although there has been recent congressional action — including a nonbinding House resolution last month — individual states have been at the vanguard of efforts to limit the B.D.S. movement, which aims to economically pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the West Bank, granting full “right of return” to Palestinian refugees and granting “full equality” to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Opponents of B.D.S. have said granting those requests would end the Jewish majority in the country.

The B.D.S. movement was established in 2005 by Palestinian groups and modeled after a successful effort to end apartheid in South Africa. It is described by The New York Times as a “loosely connected, nonhierarchical network of activists” roughly organized through an umbrella organization, the Palestinian B.D.S. National Committee.

Although members of the group insist the organization and its aims are not anti-Semitic, many Israelis and American Jews say that the B.D.S. movement acts as cover for anti-Semitic sentiment and that it conflates criticism of Israel with a desire to dismantle the Jewish state. B.D.S. has also been criticized for not expressly condemning violence and allowing groups affiliated with terrorist organizations including Hamas to be members of the larger umbrella B.D.S. organization.

How it has worked in Nevada

Although the movement has been highly publicized in press reports and government action, it has few success stories to show in the United States beyond a handful of university student groups and small-scale changes.

The lack of buy-in from American companies and organizations is readily apparent in reports required by the bill approved by lawmakers in 2017. Those show little if any connection between Nevada government funds and companies engaged in a boycott of Israel.

Steve Edmundson, the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada (PERS) investment officer, said managers of the pension fund used a list published by Florida’s pension fund to cross check its investments and found that it had no ties to companies publicly supporting B.D.S. — in part because outside of Airbnb, (which instituted but later reversed a ban on listing Israeli homes in the West Bank in April) only five companies, all based outside of the U.S., are listed as supporting B.D.S.. PERS also does not typically invest in emerging market portfolios, where he said it would be most likely to see companies with ties to B.D.S..

Edmundson said following the law’s requirements — which includes publishing a public list of any and all investments made by the fund into B.D.S.-backing companies, with annual updates — wouldn’t have much of an effect on PERS’ financial performance or investment decisions.

“We'll just denote our exposure and provide it in a report,” he said. “But it is not a divestment requirement. So from our portfolio standpoint, it would have zero impact on how we invest.”

Similarly, the state purchasing division has yet to reject a single contract with the state on the grounds that the outside contractor is engaged in a boycott of Israel. Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstein said all potential vendors with the state have to check a box “attesting to the fact that the vendor does not boycott Israel,” and that all requests for proposals issued by the state include information on the anti-B.D.S. law.

The state treasurer’s office is also required under the law to prepare a list of “scrutinized companies” and — unlike PERS — is required to “sell, redeem, divest or withdraw all direct holdings” in any company found to be engaged in a boycott of Israel.

But the office has found that the state hasn’t invested in any companies linked to a boycott of Israel, despite cross-checking lists produced by other states including Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida, consulting with asset managers and checking the U.S. Treasury’s list of potentially B.D.S.-linked businesses. Just as with PERS, the office relayed the same message to the governor and Legislature in February; the office couldn’t find any “investments under the purview of the State Treasurer's Office in identified scrutinized companies.

Kim Schafer, the office’s deputy of investments, said it wasn’t surprising to see that none of the handful of companies that have publicly embraced B.D.S. show up on the list of state-backed investments, given their small number and the office’s existing investment policies.

“I wasn't surprised not to find any of these companies on it,” she said. “Between statute and our internal investment policy statements, we have a pretty thorough process of vetting all companies that are on our list.”

Still, the office is moving forward with adopting regulations (likely up at the next interim Legislative Commission meeting) that further define who is categorized as a “scrutinized company.” Those would include requiring notice before a business is put on a list, an appeals process, and a process for a company to be removed from the list. 

It also requires the state treasurer to consider “investment safety, liquidity and securing a just and reasonable investment return while avoiding undue risk” before divesting state funds, which under the law is required to happen within three months after a company is added to the “scrutinized company” list. It also grants additional flexibility by allowing the office to create a gradual divestment plan that “preserves the principal value of the investment” instead of immediately dropping investments within the three months required under the law.

Scrutiny

But the simple creation of a “scrutinized company” list has invited legal challenges from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed lawsuits in multiple states including Texas, Arizona and Kansas to enjoin so-called “anti-B.D.S.” state laws. ACLU of Nevada Policy Director Holly Welborn said her organization considered Nevada’s version of the law to be “facially invalid,” but that no similar suit had emerged out of this state in large part because the civil liberties organization just hasn’t heard of any business or individual directly aggrieved by the new law.

“I think that there certainly could be aggrieved businesses, but we have not heard from anyone at this point,” she said. “We're in contact with some of the coalition partners that had engaged with us during the 2017 legislative session, and it's something that is not off the table for challenging in the future.”

Even pro-Palestinian activists in Nevada say that before and especially after passage of the law, no massive boycott against Israel appeared likely to make headway in the state. Michael Arage, an activist of Palestinian origin and member of the Las Vegas chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, said the organization has focused more on raising awareness of Palestine’s issues than on trying to get Nevada-based companies to join in on the boycott.

“There aren't too many companies here in Nevada ... that would fall under that umbrella that would be affected by this bill,” he said. “So it was kind of like wordplay almost from Israeli groups here to get that bill passed, to just stifle any sort of upward movement of B.D.S. here from the outset.”

Nevada and Israel

Although Nevada has recently sought to strengthen and highlight its economic ties to Israel, including through a memorandum of understanding on “water-use innovation” and a 2013 trade mission to the nation by former Gov. Brian Sandoval, Israel remains low on the list of Nevada’s top import and export partners. According to the U.S Census Bureau, Israel is Nevada’s 15th most prominent importer and accounted for between 0.7 to 3.4 percent of all foreign imports between 2015 and 2018; Israel is not in the top 25 foreign nations receiving Nevada-produced exports.

Although lawmakers now routinely pass resolutions highlighting their friendship with Israel, Nevada and many other states have a long history of elevating anti-Semitic politicians and public figures while engaging in racism against Jewish individuals; from a University of Nevada, Reno dean in the 1930s informing his staff “that they must hire no Jews” to the state Board of Dental Examiners routinely denying applications from aspiring Jewish dentists until the 1970s.

Perhaps most infamously, former Nevada Sen. Pat McCarran opposed bills and won amendments limiting the number of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust that could seek asylum in the U.S., and warned “untold millions are storming our gates for admission and those gates are cracking under the strain.”

Though the B.D.S. movement has sought to highlight its successes, it has had a negligible effect on Israel’s economy outside of a few one-off examples and canceled concerts since it was officially launched in 2005. According to data from the World Bank, Israel’s Gross Domestic Product has doubled since 2005, and the country hit a record high in foreign direct investment in 2017.

A 2018 Brookings Institute study found that because Israel’s economy is structured around high-quality goods that are not easily irreplaceable, any boycott would likely be ineffective and difficult to enforce outside of official government sanctions.

In particular, pro-Palestinian activists say Nevada — the home of many prominent Jewish political figures from the Adelsons to Berkley — has been a difficult place for the B.D.S. movement to gain traction. Seth Morrision, who heads the Las Vegas chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, said in an interview that he had faced difficulties connecting his organization with other progressive groups in the state.

“I moved here about three years ago and I'm involved in this on the national level,” he said. “I'm on the JVP national board as well as a running a local chapter. This is one of the more oppressive communities on this issue that I've worked with.”

Although the B.D.S. movement has not caught fire in Nevada or elsewhere in the country, pro-Israeli groups and Israel itself (which has pledged more than $72 million to combat the boycott effort) have moved to stifle the boycott effort through both direct advocacy and the passage of laws targeting the movement.

Those efforts were detailed in a 2019 Center for Public Integrity report on how pro-Israeli lobby groups and activists helped push passage of similar anti-B.D.S. laws in 27 states over a four-year period, including in Nevada. Hutchison, the bill’s sponsor and public face, worked closely with a lobbyist for the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, including forwarding planned testimony from a state assemblywoman to the lobbyist.

Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, who advocated for the bill in 2017 and authored a three-page memo on her experience pushing the bill through the Legislature, said in an interview that the legislation was focused more on a sense of supporting Israel and opposing anti-Semitism as opposed to targeting a specific movement in Nevada.

“Someone's support for Israel or not, is not necessarily indicative of someone being anti-Semitic,” she said. “The fact of Israel's existence is something that is very important to the Jewish community. When it comes to anti-Semitism, Jews need to have a refuge and a place to go when anti-Semitism becomes so great that they can no longer stay home.”

She said that since the bill has passed, the focus for her and other Jewish legislators has moved to fighting anti-Semitism and promoting Holocaust education (a bill that would have laid the groundwork for a Nevada Holocaust museum but failed to pass out of the Assembly in the 2019 session). But asked if passage of the anti-B.D.S. bill had two years later helped with those goals, she demurred.

“I haven't really thought about it,” she said.

Booker hires Nevada communications director, other staff with ties to the Silver State

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker is bringing on a Nevada communications director as part of an overall ramp-up of his communications team for his 2020 presidential campaign.

Vanessa Valdivia, who worked as an organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in Nevada in the run-up to the caucus and led Latino outreach for Clinton’s campaign in Colorado in the general election, will serve as both Nevada communications director and deputy national press secretary for Spanish language media. Most recently, Valdivia worked as communications director for U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and led the communications team for his 2018 re-election campaign.

Valdivia is among a handful of communications hires Booker’s campaign announced Monday, some of them with Nevada ties. Julie McClain Downey, who was deputy press secretary for former Rep. Shelley Berkley’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2012, will serve as director of state communications, while Chris Moyer, who was press secretary for former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election campaign in 2010 and served as a deputy press secretary to Reid, will serve as New Hampshire communications director.

Sabrina Singh will also join the team as national press secretary from the Democratic National Committee, where she served as deputy communications director overseeing the states and coalitions communications programs.

Other presidential campaigns have been onboarding staff with Nevada ties, too. Kristen Orthman, Reid’s former communications director, is on U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign team, while another former Reid aide, Faiz Shakir, is U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign manager.

Warren has also made on-the-ground hires in Nevada including Suzy Smith, who most recently was digital director for former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander’s Let America Vote group, as her state director and Michelle Villegas as her state political director.

Horsford joins House Budget Committee

A week after Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford was appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, the panel announced he will also be one of five members to serve on the House Budget Committee.

“These two committees are at the center of this Congress’ efforts to reduce out-of-pocket health care costs and craft a federal budget that puts government back on the side of the people,” Horsford said in a release. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to give Southern Nevadans a voice on these important panels.”

The budget panel writes the annual spending blueprint for the party in power, which highlights the party’s legislative goals. The spending measure, known as the budget resolution, also determines the caps for annual appropriations.

Horsford sees both assignments as jibing well with his stated priorities of helping reduce prescription drug prices and general health care costs, issues on which he campaigned.

On the Ways and Means Committee, he will serve on the Health Subcommittee, which handles legislation and oversight related to Medicare, a program that provides health care to nearly 500,000 Nevadans 65-years old and older as well as to those with disabilities. The subcommittee is also responsible for legislation and oversight of the Affordable Care Act.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee typically only serve on that panel, but the House requires that Budget Committee membership to include five lawmakers from the Ways and Means Committee, five from the Appropriations Committee, one from the Rules Committee, and one from the leadership of the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

Horsford is the first Nevadan to serve on the Ways and Means Committee since former Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley in 2012.