Las Vegas Sun

May 4, 2015

Currently: 71° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Deep-pocket Super PACs pumping cash into Nevada Senate race

Names of corporate donors coming Friday



Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is seeking his fifth term in a bruising race against Republican Sharron Angle, is critical of groups helping Angle, but has also benefited from other groups’ spending on ads attacking his foes.

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Sun archives

When the U.S. Supreme Court this year determined that corporations and unions had the same rights as the rest of us and could contribute copious amounts of money to candidates and political causes, the ruling was applauded by some and greeted by others with prophecies of doom.

Proponents hailed it as an expansion of First Amendment rights. Opponents said it would open a floodgate of special-interest money, further wresting control of the political dialogue from average citizens to the benefit of the powerful.

The reality of what that decision has so far wrought — good and bad — is on display in Nevada this campaign season as this new breed of spending — unlimited and much of it anonymous — is pouring in to influence voters who will decide the high-profile race between Republican Sharron Angle and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Nevada’s Senate race ranks sixth in the nation for outside spending, according to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics. About $5 million has been spent attacking or supporting both candidates.

A lot of that money is from a new form of political actor — the Super PAC — created in the wake of two Supreme Court rulings this year. Unlike candidates or traditional political action committees, Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, labor unions and individuals and can spend that money expressly advocating for a candidate of their choice.

Under past law, such political groups could indirectly support a candidate — for example, by telling voters to tell Reid to nix health care reform — but they could not expressly say vote for or against Reid.

Because these new groups are so young — they’ve only been legal since July — the identity of many donors won’t be revealed until Friday — a day before early voting begins and about two weeks before Election Day.

“Groups can now raise and spend as much money as they want directly advocating in the most profound ways for and against the candidates,” said David Levinthal, spokesman for Center for Responsive Politics.

“The big caveat is they don’t have to immediately disclose their donors. They can put up an ad today and you won’t know until the middle of October as to who may truly be funneling the hundreds of thousands of dollars they are spending.”

At a campaign stop last week, Reid denounced the spending of “shady” organizations to oppose his candidacy, blaming those groups for driving down his approval rating.

“They’ve been spending tens of millions against me for a year and a half, all these outside groups,” Reid said. “Where’s the money coming from? There’s no transparency.”

Although he inflated the amount spent against him so far (it’s only $2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics), Reid has been the subject of attack ads funded by groups with varying degrees of transparency. Most notably, American Crossroads, launched by GOP operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, and its sister organization, Crossroads GPS, are spending heavily in Nevada.

Rove is widely credited as the architect of George W. Bush’s successful presidential bids, and Gillespie is a former Republican National Committee chairman.

American Crossroads is an example of the Super PAC, and has accepted contributions as high as $1 million from Fortune 500 companies, oil executives and other interests. The organization has elected, however, to disclose its contributors monthly. (Under federal guidelines they can report monthly or quarterly.)

Crossroads GPS, however, is a political nonprofit organization that does not have to disclose its donors as long as less than half of its activity is politically related. To maintain it’s tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization, however, it must have a broader mission outside of politics.

Reid has borne the brunt of that opposition spending, but he has also benefited significantly from more than $1 million spent against his opponents.

Patriot Majority, a group run by one of Reid’s former campaign staffers, Craig Varoga, played a key role in defeating Sue Lowden in the Republican primary. By hammering Lowden, the group helped provide the opening for Angle, seen by Reid allies as a weaker opponent, to win that contest. That effort was funded by large contributions from labor unions.

In July, the group began taking advantage of the new Super PAC status and has spent more than $700,000, mostly on television advertising against Angle.

Some of Patriot Majority’s ads have been humorous and targeted on the economy. Lately, however, its been launching an uglier line of attack, reminding voters of Angle’s comments that abortion should be universally opposed, even in the case of rape or incest.

“They have carte blanche to get as ugly as they want to and spend as much money as they want,” Levinthal said.

Reid supported the failed Disclose Act, which would have required more transparency from groups funding political advertising. The measure was opposed by Republicans.

Some organizations benefiting from the money sources are operating more covertly this election cycle, eschewing the large-scale television ad buys for ground operations to get voters to the polls.

Americans for New Leadership, a Super PAC launched by Republican operative Dick Morris and run in-state by Robert Uithoven’s j3 Strategies, has contracted with a paid get-out-the-vote vendor to conduct turnout operations for Republicans in the 3rd Congressional District.

American for Prosperity, a nonprofit political group largely funded by Manhattan tycoons Charles and David Koch, is quietly conducting voter turnout operations in Southern Nevada.

The Kochs, who made their fortunes in oil, manufacturing and paper products, have spent decades funding conservative think tanks and movements. A recent New Yorker piece detailed their work funding the Tea Party movement, recognizing the upstart activists as a desperately needed cadre of “boots on the ground” for conservatives.

Although some groups in Nevada are benefiting from $1 million contributions from billionaires, others are relying on much smaller donors, indicating the ruling hasn’t pushed aside grass-roots efforts.

“We’re able to accept million-dollar contributions, but ... there are so many groups out there right now competing for large-dollar contributors and there are only so many of them,” Uithoven said. “For us it has been mainly a Web-based, small-dollar-donor funded group.”

Although the effects of the Supreme Court ruling may not be known for years, the millions spent so far in Nevada by outside groups have shaped the U.S. Senate race that’s attracting many of those dollars.

Spending by the conservative groups Club for Growth and Tea Party Express was credited with sweeping Angle to an unexpected victory in the GOP primary. Since then, their money bought Angle time to raise her own funding to challenge Reid’s expected $25 million war chest.

And in that regard, the outside groups may end up having more influence than the candidates.

“The avenues of influence have expanded and as a result of that, outside groups have the opportunity to play a potentially greater role in elections than they have before,” Levinthal said.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 15 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. It will be interesting to "follow the money."

    Will we ever find out how much of taxpayers' money gets cycled through the federal government and directly back to the very politicians who run the federal government.

    For example: Incumbent senators & congressmen vote to give taxpayers' money ("our money," in the form of a bail-out or loan or tax break) to a union pension fund or a particlar company. That same pension fund, or particular company then cyles the money back into the incumbents politician's campaign. They get re-elected and the same cycle repeats itself two years or six years later. Along the way they all take some of the money to pay their administrative costs.

    Are we being duped with our own money? And when politicians need more money they just raise our taxes?

    Perhaps this is the reason why -- this year -- the sentiment is "throw all the bums out" and send some new people to Washington to try and clean up the corruption. The federal government has become too big & too powerful It's supposed to work for us, not the other way around!

    It's a good idea to follow the money trail from the taxpayers' coffers and then out, as it passes from hand to hand and from group to group and right back to the incumbent politicians.

    On the other hand, most of the ordinary people who join non-government groups, like the Tea Party, give ten or twenty bucks (about all they can afford these days) out of pocket, to support some new candidate who is not backed by the powerful government interests. No wonder the people are frustrated and feel like they're losing their government.

  2. As long as they declare their contributions and we are informed as to who they are, let them back whomever they choose. Since we know who they are, we can take their support seriously or with a grain of salt. Years ago, I stopped patronizing businesses or buying their products because I did not agree with their policies, practices or political persuasions. They don't get any of my money to help them do it. That's what free & informed choice in the market place is all about.

  3. What this really means is that paid operatives destroyed legitimate debate on Health Care Reform,were most likely the instigators of chaos at Town Hall Meetings, and are slinging hate speech.We thought things were bad before...All this, just to win an election.

  4. Why does knowing the contributors make you more informed on the subject? The contributors have nothing to do with whether their statements are factual or not. Forcing donors to be outed silences political opposition - the Supreme Court has already ruled as much when they defended the NAACP and donors from racists in the 1960s.

  5. Mr. Lamy,

    Don't worry about the billionaires you sell you stuff you voluntarily buy. Worry about the billionaires who collude with government and get Obama and congress to subsidize them, protect them from competition, or give them market power.

  6. Mr. Sun, ALL the effin money in the world cannot change the fact that Harry Reid and Sharron Angle are two of the most inept Senate candidates Nevada could produce...fellow Nevadans, we should be ashamed of ourselves...

  7. In some of the races for these mid terms, it really don't matter how much money is spent.

    One particular instance is the Senate race here in Nevada.

    On one hand, you have a proven leader who stands with his record. Opposing is a State Government worker who did nothing and, during the campaign, propounds really, really whacky stuff thrown out there left and right...and then retracts it...flip flopping.

    I think it's safe to say that it really don't matter how much money is spent, people have made up their mind already.

    And they want sanity (Senator Reid). And not tea (Sharron Angle).

    The other instance is what is happening in California between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown. That billionaire woman is trying to buy that election. So far, she has spent $140 million of her own money. And she was up in the polls. But then, her hiring of an illegal immigrant and other things basically tanked her. She is down now in the polls and predicted to lose this race. And Jerry Brown has only spent about $10 million of his own money!

    Money ain't everything. I STILL say that people can see who are nothing but talk. And I STILL say that the truth is far more valuable than any flowery ads, catchy phrases and wide disseminated media.

    One thing that is good about this controversy is that it has been revealed. And it has motivated Democrats to go on the offense and go in the attack mode. And I love it. Because Tea Partiers and their Republican brethren just hate that when we lash out back at them with the truth.

    One piece of information that is glaring about this mid term election is the total and complete absence of President Bush. He is holed up and incommunicado. Why? Because, no matter how many people all claim it is unfair to blame stuff on Bush, even stuff we're facing now, the fact of the matter is...IT'S TRUE! Bush screwed everything up. And he knows it. And to the Republican hacks out there that are trying to get elected, Bush campaigning for them would essentially be the kiss of death...totally toxic. In other words, even the Republicans want Bush to go away. Because he has already went down in the history books as heading the worst, most incompetent and totally ineffective American Government ever. But what's funny, and they won't point this out, the Republicans STILL stand by his failed plans and policies that bankrupted America...and even want to start it up all again...but do it in such a way as to blame President Obama and his administration.

    There basically are truths that just cannot be glossed over. No amount of money can cover this stuff up. And this is a dilemma for the Republicans. To prove my point, look at Karl Rove today! He's jumping up and down and blaming everyone in the Democratic Party for everything. Because his latest dirty tricks have been revealed in the light of day. And he likes to work behind the scenes, absolutely hating to be put in the spotlight.

  8. We should all be worried about this. The Chamber of Commerce and other traitors are selling America to foreigners.
    America IS overrun by illegals, you betcha.

  9. Karl Rove doesn't care about Nevada. Voters who vote for his candidates are fools for that fear-and war-mongering neo-con.

  10. Anyone want to check every donation to see if it comes from an illegal immigrant? Those are not not allowed either.

  11. Compare the reporting in the AP article taken from this story and the full story:

  12. Going back to basics, I also think that Citizens United was one of the worst decisions ever (if not *the* worst ever) rendered by SCOTUS.

    Simply put, corporations are NOT people and do not vote.

    Individual shareholders already have the right to voice their opinions and they CAN vote if they are legal US citizens. Why should they be given a second bite at the apple, as it were?

    I know that most of my classical liberal brothers and sisters (libertarians) would disagree with me, but I ask you to give this a second look. Why should anyone's voice be louder than mine just because they have more money? I submit that such a state is not in our best interests.

    As I have said elsewhere, I would like to see campaign donations, indeed political activity in general, be limited to those who are eligible to vote in the race in question. After all, we supposedly electing people to represent us. Unfortunately, thanks to Citizens United, it will take either a new panel on SCOTUS or a constitutional amendment to effect this change.

    At the very least, and this IS constitutional, direct campaign donations should be limited to "people" who reside in the state that will be served by the office in question.

  13. Comment removed by moderator. All caps.

  14. Reid is a big joke that isnt funny. How is it anyone cannot look at this mans face and not see how he is exactly like every other politician in the world, a lying skunk who feeds off the blood of the citizen.

  15. I find it interesting that Sen. Reid is raising money in Nevada and Ms. Angle has lots of her money coming in from out of the state. Just because the state animal is the Desert Bighorn Sheep doesn't mean we need to act like sheep and get herded around by people that don't even live here.