Follow the Money: Politicians and PACs gave $2.4 million to lawmakers last cycle

12 March 2023

While Democratic campaign financing was largely fueled by labor groups and leading economic industries, including gaming, more than $900,000 made it to its final destination when a few prolific fundraisers in the Legislature redistributed the wealth.

That total more than quadrupled the amount Republican lawmakers raised from other candidates and politicians last cycle, at just under $221,000.

Democratic legislators, who were favored to retain their majorities in both houses and expected to hold power during the 2023 session, similarly raised massive amounts from political groups and political action committees ($885,000) and candidate-led PACs ($291,000) — such as Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s (D-Las Vegas) ​​Battle Born and Raised Leadership PAC — compared with their Republican counterparts’ fundraising from those groups ($91,000 from political groups and $21,000 from candidate PACs).

The advantage helped drive the campaign fundraising of Democrats locked in tight races, such as Sens. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) and Julie Pazina (D-Las Vegas), who received more contributions from other politicians and political groups than any other lawmakers. Both won their seats by fewer than 3,000 votes, as outside Republican groups focused their efforts on winning those competitive races.

The combined contributions of candidates, politicians and political PACs reached more than $2.4 million last cycle, significantly outpacing previous cycles, including $1.7 million in the 2020 cycle and $1.4 million in the 2018 cycle. The uptick came as Nevada politicians repeatedly set fundraising records during the 2022 cycle.

This year’s total also excludes a small chunk of fundraising that came from candidates who loaned personal funds to their campaign. Those contributions can be repaid, typically by using funds received from others over the course of the campaign or through post-campaign fundraisers. The 2022 cycle saw $181,000 raised through candidate loans, most of which came from Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Henderson) loaning his campaign $100,000 in January 2022. He repaid those funds later in the cycle.

Contributions from PACs directly to candidates also marked only a fraction of the spending by those groups on legislative races. Candidates are limited to receiving a maximum of $10,000 from any single donor, leaving top PACs to spend most of their funds on “independent expenditures” — typically advertisements in support or opposition of a candidate that are made without any input or involvement from that candidate.

For example, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which supports Democratic candidates for state legislative offices, contributed $130,000 directly to Democratic lawmakers in Nevada — but that was only a small portion of the nearly $2 million the group spent in the state during the cycle. That spending went primarily toward opposition research and digital and mail ads. 

Tracking the source of PAC funds is often much more difficult than tracking direct legislative contributions because of so-called “dark money.” PACs, unlike political candidates, are not subject to individual contribution limits. As a result, many major PACs will receive individual contributions at six or seven figures, with the source of that money obscured by PACs and other political groups giving that money through a chain of other PACs.  

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.

Unlike previous editions of this series that focused on one category of contributors, this story combines three similar categories — candidates and politicians, political groups and PACs and candidate PACs — that do not reflect any particular industry.

Breaking down the top contributors

As Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) fended off a mildly competitive Republican challenger, winning by fewer than 7 points, he raised more money than any other lawmaker during the 2022 election cycle. That allowed him to played a significant role in boosting other Democratic lawmakers, sending nearly $123,000 to 17 elected Democrats — more than any other single candidate or politician.

Party leaders generally receive the lion’s share of contributions from major companies and political donors looking to fill the coffers of those who wield the most power over the legislative process, a norm that typically empowers those leaders to play a role in distributing funds to help other party members finance their campaigns. But Yeager stands out in particular during the past cycle, having been a top donor to other legislative Democrats even prior to his rise to the top leadership role.

Unlike legislative Republicans, who have lacked a top fundraiser within party leadership, Yeager’s fundraising prowess benefitted newer Democratic candidates — including a pair of first time assemblymen who each received maximum $10,000 contributions from Yeager’s campaign committee, Duy Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) and Max Carter (D-Las Vegas).

Following Yeager, just three other politicians doled out more than $60,000 to other lawmakers: Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), a former state senator who resigned last year to take a private sector energy job; Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), who won re-election to the Assembly in November, before being appointed to Brooks’ open seat in December; and Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas), the most prolific fundraiser among legislative Republicans and the only Republican in the top 14 contributors to other lawmakers.

A similar dynamic unfolded among the top contributing candidate-linked PACs, which poured hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional funding into the Democratic rank-and-file. Cannizzaro’s PAC, Battle Born and Raised Leadership, and Yeager’s PAC, Nevada Strong, combined to contribute $200,000 to other legislative Democrats.

They were followed by the Let’s Get to Work Nevada PAC, linked to Democratic Treasurer Zach Conine, which contributed $50,000, all to legislative Democrats.

By comparison, the top Republican-linked candidate PAC was Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert’s (R-Reno) NV First, which sent $13,500 to just three other Republican senators — Robin Titus (R-Wellington), Carrie Buck (R-Henderson) and Lisa Krasner (R-Reno). Unlike Titus and Krasner, who won competitive primary elections last year as they moved from the Assembly to the Senate, Gansert was not facing re-election in 2022.

Direct contributions from outside PACs and political groups also broadly boosted Democratic candidates more than Republicans. At the top of the list, for instance, is the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), the national party’s state legislative campaign arm that gave 13 Democrats — all in key competitive districts or first-time campaigners — the $10,000 maximum for a total of $130,000. 

EMILY’s List, a group boosting female Democratic candidates, followed the DLCC with more than $107,000 in contributions, while New Day Nevada — a PAC linked to Democratic consultants that internally raised nearly $3.5 million last cycle — gave legislative Democrats another $91,000. 

Republican groups still spent heavily on key races. Instead of giving directly to candidates, however, groups such as the Republican State Leadership Committee (the DLCC’s Republican counterpart) made direct media buys that attacked Democratic incumbents (often tying them to President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings) in the most hotly contested races. 

Breaking down the top recipients

Scheible and Pazina, a pair of Democratic senators who won competitive races in swingy, Southern Nevada suburban districts, received more from politicians and PACs than any other lawmakers, bringing in nearly $265,000 and $238,000, respectively.

They were followed by a pair of lawmakers who similarly faced competitive races — Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson), who raised nearly $201,000, and Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), who raised more than $192,000.

But there was a large gap between those top four and the following four, who were the only other lawmakers to receive more than $100,000.

Those remaining four included Assembly members Sandra Jauregui ($114,000), Elaine Marzola ($114,000), Carter ($112,000) and Michelle Gorelow ($106,000), all Democrats based in Southern Nevada.

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: Politicians and PACs gave $2.4 million to lawmakers last cycle appeared first on The Nevada Independent.

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