Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008 | 2 a.m.
There is interesting irony in Sen. Barack Obama’s phenomenal fundraising. With donations averaging $86 per person from 3 million Americans, Obama isn’t in hock to any one person or industry or labor union.
Sure, he has some real heavies behind him who have raised big dollars, and no one doubts they will have access if he’s elected. But in an odd way, he has ushered in a new era of campaign finance reform because he has freed himself of the shackles of big donors.
Those 3 million small donors have a lot of sway, which means less clout for the rich and powerful.
That is not the case here in Nevada. The state Democratic Party took in $2 million during the most recent reporting period, Aug. 1 to Oct. 23. The number is astounding, as are the size of the gifts.
Robert Bass, the Texas tycoon, gave $75,000. The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care decided $100,000 was appropriate. Hewlett-Packard offered up $50,000 right in the middle of the Democratic National Convention. Also writing big checks were Aetna, superlobbyist/developer Harvey Whittemore’s Coyote Springs, TV stations, the homebuilders lobby and white-shoe law firms back East.
Of course the unions — the teachers, the Culinary and the carpenters — contributed hundreds of thousands too.
But those big out-of-town checks are the most interesting, aren’t they?
Is party chairman Sam Lieberman some sort of Midas with a magic Rolodex?
Um, no. To really understand where it all came from, note a contribution from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who moved $100,000 from his own political action committee and gave it to the party. That’s a princely sum, but a veritable drop in the bucket compared with the rain Reid no doubt brought down on his friends in the state party.
By contrast, the Republicans raised a paltry $600,000.
Yes, Reid is serious this time, and showing no mercy.
What’s this all about?
Well, the state Senate hangs in the balance, with Republicans holding a slim 11-10 majority and two incumbents, state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers, facing tough challenges from Shirley Breeden and Allison Copening, respectively.
State Democrats are eyeing control of the state Legislature, not just in 2009, but also 2011, when legislative and congressional district lines will be redrawn after the 2010 census.
Plus, people around Reid, who faces reelection in 2010, are said to fear a challenge to his seat from Heck, a physician and Army Reserve colonel. Knocking out Heck now would likely curtail a 2010 challenge.
Also worth noting is that Reid’s son, Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, is considering a run for governor in 2010. Beating Heck and Beers would leave Reid the younger with two fewer competitors.
So, Democrats have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in brutal and at-times misleading attack ads on Heck and Beers, both in the mail and on TV.
For their parts, Breeden raised $105,664 in 102 contributions, and Copening raised $111,199 from just 37 donors.
Heck raised $279,846 this period, raising his total this year to $461,381. Beers raised $244,964, bringing his total to $553,039. Who gave to the Republican incumbents?
No surprises: At least $25,000 to Heck came from entities controlled by Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, plus at least $20,000 came from entities owned by MGM Mirage.
Heck, the physician, cleaned up in the health care sector, with donations from doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
Beers’ donations were a tad smaller, but it’s all the usual suspects: developers, gaming, health care and so on.
For Nevada political veterans, a half million on a state Senate race seems ridiculous, outlandish.
And they’re likely being outspent. Robert Uithoven, who’s managing the Republican campaigns, said he’s gone back to donors again and again, pleading with them once the Democrats went on TV that Heck and Beers had to respond on the airwaves or they would be dead.
And everybody involved is still raising money, and lots of it. Recall, the most recent report covers only up to Oct. 23.
Here’s the thing: Just by judging these campaign finance reports, no matter which of the four candidates get elected, they will all be in great debt to a relatively small handful of very wealthy donors.
Who would want the job?