MY COLUMN: Who owns the Legislature?

Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses.

Donors, mostly from casinos and business interests, have spent about $6.6 million this election cycle on races for the Legislature, with two state senators, GOP Minority Leader Michael Roberson, and Democrat Justin Jones, running in arguably the most important race in the state, leading the way with more than $450,000 raised each.

That’s according to a Ralston Reports analysis of 70 different campaign accounts since Jan. 1, 2013, including incumbents, anointed challengers in major races and leadership political action committees. To understand just how concentrated it is, too, the top 10 donors accounted for about a fifth of total donations from scores of contributors; the top 20 donors totaled about a third of all contributions. (Note: I am constrained by the accuracy of the SOS site, which could contain data entry errors, and my own skills with Excel and mathematics. But the numbers herein will be close if not dead-on.)

Although there are some notable new players to talk about, and some relative frugality by some previously major donors, those who invest in outcomes in Carson have not changed greatly over the years.

Of the top 10 donors, four are casinos, two are telecom companies, one is a mining conglomerate, one is the dominant electric utility, one is an uber cab company and one is an ex-speaker unloading her hoarded campaign cash.

Of the top 10 recipients, besides Roberson and Jones, we have the GOP leader’s two anointed candidates, including one taking on Jones and one challenging Marilyn Dondero Loop; the Senate caucus funds; the Senate majority leader; the speaker; and two other state senators up for re-election.

The top 10 donors and recipients and some notes on a scorecard:



1. MGM Resorts International  $210,000

2. Station Casinos                   $201,000

3. Frias cab company              $167,500

4. Las Vegas Sands                  $163,500

5. Barrick Mines                     $128,500

6. NV Energy                          $120,500

7. Ex-Speaker Barbara Buckley $104,000

8. CenturyLink                        $97,000

9. AT&T                                $93,850

10. Wynn Resorts                    $90,240



1. Michael Roberson                $463,000

2. Justin Jones                        $463,000

3. Nevada Senate Democrats     $405,000

4. Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick $334,500

5. State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer     $334,000

6. Senate ML Mo Denis           $300,000

7. Senate GOP caucus             $270,000

8. St. Sen. Debbie Smith           $237,000

9. Becky Harris (vs. Jones)       $228,000

10. Patricia Farley (vs. Loop)  $197,600

►Of course it must be noted that in this cycle, more than perhaps any other preceding it, spending by outside groups or newly formed independent  expenditure funds could dwarf contributions to candidates in some of these races by November. For instance, what will the pro-gun control and anti-gun control lobbies spend?

► Major donors often play both sides, and this cycle is no different. The gaming companies gave plenty to both parties, including large amounts to the various caucuses. Several have donated to Farley, who is running against an incumbent, Loop, although her delay in getting into the race may be a convenient excuse for some. Sheldon Adelson’s company, of course, was eager to give to Farley and Harris.

►One strange performance came from Caesars Entertainment, apparently more focused on getting online gaming passed. The company only gave just over $30,000 to legislative races, one tenth of its overall spending during the cycle. The rest went to statewide hopefuls and Clark County commissioners.

►The Frias contributions are very interesting. Cab companies obviously feel under assault. (Nevada Yellow Cab didn’t give nearly as much, but loaded up on the governor, giving Brian Sandoval's PAC a $50,000 contribution.) This is all about buying access to stifle competition. Anyone who thinks otherwise can ride the bus.

►Barrick is much more of a player than Newmont, the other major mining company. The former gave almost 10 times more than the latter.

►NV Energy, soon the property of Warren Buffett, invested a lot in saying thank you for the omnibus bill it sponsored with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013.

►You think the telcom business isn’t competitive and that lawmakers are not used to further those lucrative interests? Look at those numbers.

►On the donation side, not too many surprises. The exception may be Kieckhefer who raised (and is spending) a lot of money for what should be a non-race against a perennial candidate. But in politics, taking no chances is always better than taking re-election for granted.

As ex-Gov/Sen Richard Bryan used to say: “There are only two ways to run: Scared or unopposed.”

Being well-funded doesn’t hurt, either.

(Premium subscribers to this site will get even more detail later Sunday in The Weekly Report.)