Follow the Money: Nevada Justice Association dominates law groups in campaign donations

26 March 2023

Out of more than $856,000 in campaign contributions to state lawmakers last cycle from lawyers, law groups and legal political action committees, no single donor spent more on legislative campaigns than Citizens for Justice — the political arm of the Nevada Justice Association, an organization for Nevada trial lawyers. 

A group that has long dominated law firm-related spending in state campaigns, Citizens for Justice has cast itself primarily as a foe of “tort reform,” or efforts to undo or limit laws that allow individuals to sue for damages in civil courts. In the 2022 election cycle, that amounted to $274,000, making the political action committee the third largest single donor overall, behind only the Nevada Association of Realtors and MGM Resorts International

Though that was a jump from the 2020 cycle, in which Citizens for Justice distributed about $203,000 to state lawmakers, it was down from the group’s sweeping activity in the 2018 cycle, when it contributed $305,000 to lawmakers. That money has generally benefited Democrats far more than Republicans — largely in-line with a historic partisan split that has put Republicans generally on the side of tort reform. 

The remainder of the law-related campaign money (about $582,000) came primarily from major law firms Lewis Roca and Kaempfer Crowell, which combined to give more than $137,000. However, a vast majority of industry contributions came via smaller donations from local law firms and individual attorneys. Nearly 250 donors gave between $200 and $500, and those contributions combined amounted to more than $230,000 (or more than a quarter of industry contributions).

Those totals represent a marked increase compared with past cycles. In 2020, for instance, similar groups contributed just $607,000, compared with $630,000 in 2018. 

Ahead of a major bill deadline Monday, relatively few bills related to tort law — rather than criminal law — have been introduced by lawmakers. However, a political group representing doctors, Your Nevada Doctors, has been lobbying legislators during the past few months in opposition to a proposal that would roll back caps on so-called “pain and suffering” damages for medical malpractice suits.  

“We are a broad coalition of health care, business and community groups who know that Nevada needs MORE health care, not wealthier trial lawyers,” the group’s webpage states.

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 set 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

Out of the $274,000 Citizens for Justice contributed to 43 separate lawmakers, a vast majority — $239,000 — went to 35 Democrats, with the remainder, $35,000, split among eight Republicans. 

The group also concentrated much of its spending by making maximum contributions, giving $10,000 to 17 lawmakers (of which just one, personal injury lawyer and Assemblyman Toby Yurek (R-Henderson), was a Republican). 

Just two of those 17 maximum contributions went to members who do not serve in leadership or as committee chairs — Yurek and Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), who works as a criminal defense lawyer.

This session, the Nevada Justice Association, which in the 2000s changed its name from the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, is expected to pursue legislation to lift the cap on “pain and suffering” damages for medical malpractice suits. 

It echoes a 2009 push to eliminate the cap amid a Hepatitis C outbreak revealed the year prior that exposed more than 50,000 people in Las Vegas to the disease. (A lawsuit against the health insurance companies involved later yielded a $500 million judgment, an amount the companies claimed at the time would spike premiums.) 

The fight over medical malpractice suits stems from a 2004 ballot measure (Question 3), known as Keep Our Doctors in Nevada, that passed by a margin of nearly 19 points. It limited the damages injured patients could collect for pain and suffering from medical malpractice to $350,000 and limited the fees attorneys could charge someone seeking damages for medical malpractice. 

Doctors supporting the measure argued that without tighter restrictions on medical malpractice lawsuits, physicians and medical malpractice insurers would continue to pull out of the Nevada health care market. Opponents of the measure argued that the $350,000 cap would not be fair compensation for severe consequences of malpractice, such as paralyzation or death, and that it would grant insurance companies and negligent health care providers unfair legal protections.

Nationwide, 28 states have implemented a wide range of caps on malpractice damages, while 16 states maintain no cap and nine states have made caps unconstitutional. 

The Nevada Justice Association declined a request for comment.

Despite an outpouring of financial support for the 2004 ballot measure from national insurance companies that significantly outspent the trial lawyers on the Question 3 campaign, the Nevada Justice Association enters this session having ranked among the top legislative donors and comes armed with an ample team of lobbyists.

This session, 19 lobbyists registered with the Legislature list the Nevada Justice Association among their clients — significantly more than the five lobbyists registered to represent Your Nevada Doctors, all of whom work at R&R Partners, the most prolific donor among lobbyist groups ($80,500).

In a distant second to the trial lawyers’ PAC was the interstate law firm Lewis Roca, which dispersed its $80,000 in contributions more evenly across parties in relatively smaller amounts. Yeager received by far the largest single contribution from the firm ($8,000), with Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) both receiving $4,500. 

But no other lawmaker received more than $3,000 from the group, with 43 legislators receiving just $2,000 or less. 

Lewis Roca is a large law firm originally founded in Arizona that now maintains offices in five states, including Nevada, and employs hundreds of lawyers. This legislative session, the firm also employs three legislative lobbyists representing 29 different clients as part of its Nevada government affairs arm, including companies such as FedEx, CharlesSchwab and the parent company of the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Another major law firm, Kaempfer Crowell — which operates offices in Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City, and provides legal counsel and government affairs services in a broad group of practice areas — similarly distributed small amounts across a wide group of lawmakers, giving between $750 and $2,000 to 42 legislators, for a total of $57,250.

Other major business law firms, as well as public affairs firms, that operate with a focus on government relations were grouped under the “lobbyist” category — a group that includes McDonald Carano, the Ferraro Group and the Ferrato Company.

Breaking down the top recipients

Leading all lawmakers by a wide margin was Yurek, a managing partner at Las Vegas-based GGRM Law Firm that specializes in workers’ compensation and personal injury litigation. He received nearly $127,000 from lawyers and legal groups, including maximum contributions of $10,000 from Citizens for Justice and several of his GGRM co-workers: Jason Mills, Dillon Coil and Gabriel Martinez.

That amount also included a pair of campaign loans from his wife, Carrie, totaling $35,000.

Behind Yurek was Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson), also a personal injury attorney in Las Vegas at Marzola & Ruiz Law Group, who received more than $92,600 from lawyers and law groups. That also includes a maximum $10,000 contribution from Citizens for Justice, as well as dozens of smaller contributions of $3,000 or less. 

Coming in third was Dondero Loop ($51,700), a Democratic senator who won a competitive race for re-election and chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee. A former educator, Dondero Loop is one of the few nonlawyers among the top recipients from lawyers and law groups.

 Following the top three, several other lawyers neared the top of the list, including Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), a former Clark County prosecutor now working as a personal injury attorney, at $29,200; Sen. Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas), also a personal injury attorney, at $29,050; and Nguyen, who works as a criminal defense and injury attorney, at $26,300. 

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 over the last two years. All legislative contributions under $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: Nevada Justice Association dominates law groups in campaign donations appeared first on The Nevada Independent.

Need help?

Please use the contact form to get support. Thank you.