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July 29, 2015

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Wynn, Adelson spread influence to state-level races

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Paul Takahashi

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson attends a special “sundown” caucus at the Adelson Educational Campus that capped off the Nevada GOP presidential caucuses on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.

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Steve Wynn

Las Vegas casino moguls have won both acclaim and derision for their roles in financing national political campaigns this year.

But they’ve also spent considerable money to influence Nevada legislative races.

Companies controlled by Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, the two most vocal casino operators who have been critical of national Democrats, particularly President Barack Obama, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Republican group focused on state-level races, according to IRS filings and interviews with Republican operatives.

That committee, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has been funding mail pieces in the five competitive Nevada Senate races that will determine whether Republicans can wrest control of the state’s upper house from Democrats.

The Republican State Leadership Committee received a $475,000 contribution from Wynn Resorts in July, and $150,000 from the Las Vegas Sands, the company controlled by Adelson, in 2011.

Multiple Republican political sources confirmed that additional sums targeted at the state Senate level had been committed by the companies, though they would not provide exact figures. Tax documents for the group, which voluntarily reports contributions and expenses on a monthly basis, were only available for the period through Aug. 31.

Adam Temple, spokesman for the RSLC, said donations can’t be “earmarked” to be spent in a specific place.

“We get involved in states where control of a chamber is up for grabs,” he said. “Nevada is a state where clearly there are competitive races. The margin for control is tight.”

To take back control of the state Senate, Republicans will have to win four out of five of the competitive seats. A recent Democratic surge in voter registration has given some of these seats significant Democratic voter registration advantages.

The state’s major casino companies have a history of contributing to both sides in Nevada political races, and for many companies — MGM, Boyd, Caesars — that is likely to remain true.

But the concerted effort by Wynn and Adelson’s companies — whose chief executives had, until recently, a longstanding feud — comes as conservative business interests have become frustrated by Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature since 2009.

One GOP source with knowledge of the effort said: “We’ve seen session after session, that Democrats have advanced plans to massively increase taxes on Nevada job providers. We believe a Republican-controlled Senate would be more business friendly.”

Asked to respond to the third-party expenditures in the competitive races, Democratic Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, would only defend his party’s record in Carson City.

"This election has made it clear that the Democrats have a proven record of fighting for better schools, more teachers in the classroom and protecting the middle class,” Denis said in a statement.

State campaigns will have to report contributions and expenses next week. But those contributions are limited to $10,000 per entity, including corporations. No such limitations exist for national political nonprofit groups such as the RSLC.

A Las Vegas Sands representative did not return calls for comment. A Wynn spokesman said the company would have no comment on Wednesday about state Senate races.

But both Adelson and Wynn have been outspoken in their criticism of national Democrats.

Most recently, Wynn told Las Vegas political commentator Jon Ralston that Obama had spurred class warfare.

“I’ll be damned if I want him to lecture me about small business and jobs,” he told Ralston. “I’m a job creator. Guys like me are job creators and we don’t like having a bull's-eye put on our backs.”

“I can’t stand the idea of being demagogued, that is being put down, by a president who hasn’t created any jobs and doesn’t even understand how the economy works,” he added.

Billy Vassiliadis, lead lobbyist for the Nevada Resort Association, said that executives from casino companies have sat down with the four caucuses — the Republicans and Democrats in the Assembly and Senate — in an effort to determine who to support.

“This year, in an almost unprecedented way, the membership has taken a great interest in individual members,” he said. He expected casino company contributions to go to candidates of both parties.

“I honestly believe that my members don’t robotically follow each other,” he said. “They’re all pretty independent thinkers.”

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