Las Vegas Sun

January 17, 2022

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GOP not making political hay over Reid story

WASHINGTON -- Republican operatives do not appear -- or do not wish to appear -- eager to pounce on a Los Angeles Times story critical of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. The Monday article analyzed the ties between Reid and his sons' law firms.

"There's really no smoking gun there," said Mike Slanker, a Nevada GOP political consultant who ran the 1998 campaign of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who narrowly lost to Reid. (Ensign won his seat two years later).

"I don't think the story has legs," Slanker said. "It's great for water cooler chatter. But beyond that there isn't anything incriminating in the story."

Reid said the story wrongly suggested that he has advocated for Nevada industries, including gaming and mining, in order to benefit the clients of his four sons' employer, law firm Lionel Sawyer & Collins, which also does lobbying. Reid said he fights in Congress for Nevada and its top industries, not for his sons' firm.

Reid's son-in-law, Steve Barringer, works for Washington-based lobbying firm McClure, Gerard and Neuenschwander. The Howard Hughes Corp. paid the firm to lobby on behalf of its land deals.

There was no immediate public outcry from Republicans, although several sources said tongues have been wagging in political circles. Slanker said he had talked to about 100 people about the Monday story. But the story, while it outlined how Reid's advocacy for state issues also happens to help the firm, did not uncover any examples of anything illegal, or even improper, Slanker said.

"I'm not saying there's no there there," Slanker said. "The shrewd move is to not point the finger until you have concrete evidence there's something there."

It's too soon to tell how -- or if -- the story would be used by the GOP in the campaign of a Reid challenger next year, Slanker said.

The leading contender for Reid's seat is Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., who has said he will announce in August whether he is going to run. But after reading the piece, Gibbons said through his staff that he would have no comment.

"The article pretty much speaks for itself," Gibbons' press secretary Amy Spanbauer said. "The L.A. Times didn't call us asking for comment."

The Times story focused on a Clark County lands bill that Reid championed in Congress but that had the support of the whole Nevada delegation, as well as environmentalists, developers and Nevada city and county representatives.

The story noted that the bill included provisions that helped clients of Lionel Sawyer & Collins, including, in one case, the Howard Hughes Corp. But that provision was introduced first in the House by Gibbons.

A spokesman for the Republican Senatoral Campaign Committee suggested the story may resurface later.

"At the very least, this brings up a lot of unanswered questions that you would expect the former chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee to have answers to," spokesman Dan Allen said. "It has the potential -- as well as many other issues -- to play a role in next year's campaign."

Republicans almost certainly will try to use the story to damage Reid, said Erik Herzik, interim Unversity of Nevada, Reno political science professor and interim dean of the college of arts and sciences.

Whether the Times story hurts Reid politically may depend largely on the media, Herzik said. For now the story is a problem for Reid only if it generates more national attention on CBS' news magazine "60 Minutes" or cable news network MSNBC or another outlet, Herzik said.

"If I'm his staff, I hope this story goes away," Herzik said.

Herzik also noted that he was fascinated that a 5,200-word story about the powerful Nevada senator had received little to no attention in Northern Nevada, including no coverage in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Herzik said the story "wasn't flattering."

"Whether it is damning remains to be seen," he said.

But Democrats said they were skeptical the newspaper story could damage Reid politically.

"I would hope the Republicans wouldn't attack Sen. Reid's family," Reid chief of staff Susan McCue said. "Personal attacks against a member's family can be dangerous territory for the attacker. And in this case, the attack would backfire."

McCue said the story's premise that Reid's lawmaking benefits his sons is "highly misleading" because Reid works for the good of the state, not Lionel Sawyer.

"Nevadans would see (an attack) for what it is: cheap shots," McCue said.

The story won't hurt Reid at all, said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"The people of the state of Nevada are not going to hold it against Harry Reid that he is looking out for his state's interests in the United States Senate," Woodhouse said.

Reid, the No. 2 Democrat as Minority Whip, is in a "safe zone" as long as he continues to fight for Nevada, said Jim Margolis, one of Reid's top paid political advisers.

Reid since October has banned his sons from lobbying his office, although congressional rules allow family members to lobby their lawmaker relatives. Reid has said that while his sons may have talked informally to him about their clients, they did not directly lobby him in a formal setting, such as his office.

Margolis also said a Republican attack based on the Times story would only hurt the GOP.

"Probably everything is on the table these days," Margolis said. "But you take shots like this and you may well have Republicans standing up and crying foul. Attacks on family are out of bounds."

Other Democrats said that while the newspaper story may have had some national or Washington interest, it wasn't news to Nevadans that Reid's lawmaking in Congress often matches the lobbying interests of the state's largest law firm. Lionel Sawyer is also one of few if not the only Nevada firm with a Washington office -- staffed by Reid's son Key and part-time by former Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., a long-time Reid ally.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, who plans to run for governor in 2006, said the Times article's focus on Reid's ability to wield power and influence was little suprise.

"He was the number two person in the Senate for a while and he's still number two in the minority party," Perkins, D-Henderson, said.

Reid's influence in Washington is a key factor in Nevada political races, and there is no early evidence that has been tarnished, sources said. Potential Democratic candidates for statewide or federal office first seek Reid's blessing to open the doors to fundraising from outside the state's borders.

Anyone considering a run for Congress, like Assemblyman David Goldwater, D-Las Vegas, know their chances are impossible without Reid's backing and the silent OK that gives to those who would contribute.

And Reid remains the best fundraising Democrat in the state, GOP adviser Slanker said.

"I don't think a newspaper article is going to change that," he said.