Follow the Money: $2.8 million in combined legislative campaign spending from minor industries

16 April 2023

Though each election cycle in Nevada typically sees the same major contributors — gaming companies, the real estate industry and unions that lead the way in campaign contributions to state lawmakers, more than a dozen smaller industries helped prop up legislators’ campaigns last year.

Still, even among smaller categories of donors, such as the mining industry and education groups, politically powerful organizations helped drive six-figure contributions across dozens of campaigns.

That included Nevada Gold Mines — the state’s largest mining company headquartered in Elko that contributed $193,500 to 47 lawmakers, ranking fifth most among all legislative contributors — and the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), a teachers union representing educators in one of the nation’s largest school districts that contributed $107,500 to 16 lawmakers.

Across 14 categories of legislative campaign contributors not previously explored in The Nevada Independent’s 2023 “Follow the Money” series, 944 donors made nearly 2,800 contributions totaling more than $2.8 million — a similar amount to what minor categories contributed in the 2021 cycle.

Those categories included the alcohol and tobacco industry ($329,191), lobbyists ($316,530), the mining industry ($306,431), telecommunications companies ($269,250) and others explored below.

This story is part of The Nevada Independent’s “Follow the Money” series tracking money in politics. This installment, and others published throughout the legislative session, will analyze the fundraising activity of state lawmakers, with deep dives into how different industries and top contributors doled out money. Find other installments here.

The data offers a look at how the state’s most powerful companies and political organizations contribute to policymakers who make laws affecting businesses and residents alike. It also provides context for the 120-day legislative session, as lawmakers face pressure from the same groups and individuals who donated to their campaigns.

Breaking down the top contributors

Alcohol and tobacco companies gave slightly more during the 2022 cycle ($329,000) than last cycle ($319,000).

Again leading the way from this industry was Altria, formerly known as Philip Morris Companies, one of the world’s largest producers of tobacco products and cigarettes. The company gave lawmakers about $85,000, down from $95,000 in the previous cycle.

Other top contributors included Anheuser-Busch ($77,000) and the Nevada Beer Wholesalers Association ($57,000). The wholesalers association opposed a bill this session to grant craft brewers the power to move product from their breweries to their own tasting rooms or taprooms without first selling that beer to a distributor. Wholesalers had criticized the measure as a danger to the state’s ecosystem of beer distribution that separates producers, distributors and retailers. 

After an initial hearing in March, the bill failed to receive a committee vote and died ahead of Friday’s deadline for first committee passage.

Though contributions from the lobbying and lobbyist category were powered largely by smaller donations of less than $7,000 from individual lobbyists, the leading donor from this group was major lobbying and advertising firm R&R Partners ($80,500), which boasts 10 registered lobbyists this legislative session.

The firm was followed by lobbyist Alisa Nave-Worth ($53,000) whose clients include Red Rock Resorts and Southwest Gas.

Contributions from the state’s mining industry were dominated almost entirely by two donors: Nevada Gold Mines, a merger of two of the country’s largest mining companies, Barrick Gold and Newmont ($193,500), and the Nevada Mining Association ($64,500) — a combined 84.2 percent of all industry donations. 

The next closest industry donors — Kinross Gold and Coeur Mining — gave just $20,000 and $15,000, respectively. An additional 11 mining-related donors gave a combined $13,431.

This session, the industry has strongly opposed AB313, a conservation measure that would require mining companies to backfill old and unused pit mines in order to prevent the creation of “pit lakes,” when such mines fill with ground water laced with acids and heavy metals. 

The measure was amended and passed out of committee last week, clearing a critical initial bill deadline Friday. 

Donations from the telecommunications industry primarily came from a group of major national companies, including AT&T ($84,500) and Cox Communications ($68,500).

Nearly 81 percent of all contributions from telecommunications companies went to Democratic lawmakers, led by Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) ($24,000) and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) ($20,250).

Sitting alone atop the education category was CCEA ($107,500), a major teachers union with significant political weight. This session, the group has thrown support behind efforts to repeal parts of a so-called restorative justice law from 2019 that placed restrictions on student suspension and expulsion. That has included targeting attacks at a Democratic lawmaker who voted against bills that would make those changes.

The union’s contributions composed nearly half of all contributions from the education category, and all of CCEA’s contributions, except one $5,000 donation to Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas), went to legislative Democrats.

Seven donors each contributing between $10,000 and $40,000 made up the bulk (about 79 percent) of contributions from the transportation industry. That included nearly $40,000 from the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association, a trade association that lobbies on behalf of the state’s auto dealers.

Following close behind was Paul Enos ($33,000), chief executive officer of the Nevada Trucking Association.

Union Pacific Railroad Company, a national train operator, contributed nearly $26,000. The company has opposed an effort this session to limit the length of so-called “monster” trains in light of recent high-profile train derailments. The bill (AB456) was passed out of a committee with an amendment striking several key portions of the bill.

Breaking down the smaller industries

Among categories of contributors that collectively gave less than $200,000, the finance industry led the way contributing nearly $189,000 to lawmakers. The group was led by the Nevada Credit Union League ($54,500), a trade association for credit unions in the state that overwhelmingly directed contributions to Democratic lawmakers.

More than 30 insurance companies and agents contributed nearly $162,000, led by a Farmers Insurance political action committee that doled out $49,000 to 12 lawmakers. The Farmers group has led the category in past years, but last cycle saw contributions decline from $63,000 in the 2020 election cycle.

Information and technology companies led by Switch ($53,500), a data center company based in Las Vegas, was the last category to clear the $100,000 mark, reaching nearly $104,000. 

Payday lending companies did not trail far behind with just two companies — TitleMax ($76,500) and Dollar Loan Center ($10,500) — combining for $87,000 in contributions.

Three tribes collectively contributed $68,000, about 87 percent of which went to Democratic lawmakers. Those tribes are the Reno Sparks Indian Colony ($35,000), San Manuel Band of Mission Indians ($22,500) and Las Vegas Paiute Tribe ($10,500).

Marijuana industry donors trailed closely behind, contributing $62,500. Only one contributor from this category gave more than a few thousand dollars — the Nevada Can Committee ($25,000), a group associated with Nevada Cannabis Association.

At the bottom of the list, eight donors in the agriculture category contributed more $25,000, led by FMC Corporation ($8,000), an agricultural sciences company with various pesticide products.

There were 609 other donors that could not be classified as industry-specific or did not fit into one of the 25 main categories highlighted in this series. They contributed a combined $492,415. Many of these donors were retirees or private citizens, and most, 521, gave $1,000 or less. 

Follow the Money explained

The Nevada Independent tracked and categorized more than 8,000 donations of $200 or more from Jan. 1, 2021, through the end of the election cycle on Dec. 31, 2022. 

Donors are limited to giving a maximum of $10,000 to a single candidate, but major corporations easily surpass that limit by contributing through various affiliated entities or businesses — a process sometimes referred to as bundling.

Some wealthy donors, ranging from lawyers to doctors to casino magnates, may also boost contributions to a single candidate by donating the maximum amount under their name and under their spouse’s name. 

Each donation was categorized by the industry or field of the organization or individual who contributed, and the entire set of donations was analyzed for patterns and trends. Our analysis has also sought to track bundled contributions where possible, linking contributions from LLCs or subsidiary companies to their largest parent company or individual donor. Total contributions from MGM Resorts International include not only money donated directly from MGM, but also from the properties it manages, for instance.  

Data collected does not include donations made to losing candidates, nor does it break down  small donations under the $200 threshold or fundraising activity for the many PACs or political groups that spend in support of candidates. 

It also excludes Assemblywoman Sabra Newby (D-Las Vegas), who was appointed after the election and did not raise funds. 

Still, the $200 threshold captures the vast majority of all the money contributed to elected lawmakers during the past two years. All legislative contributions less than $200 in the 2022 cycle — more than 7,400 individual transactions — totaled just $221,000.

Roy Visuett contributed data analysis to this report. 

This story is a part of The Nevada Independent’s weekly Follow the Money series, which examines the amount of money contributed by major industries to individual state lawmakers. For a list of all our Follow the Money stories, click here.

The post Follow the Money: $2.8 million in combined legislative campaign spending from minor industries appeared first on The Nevada Independent.

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