Las Vegas Sun

January 22, 2018

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Sandoval has unusual enemy in GOP primary: Democrats

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Rory Reid

Rory Reid

Michael Montandon

Michael Montandon

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

The Democratic Governors Association is heavily funding a group attacking GOP gubernatorial front-runner Brian Sandoval — meddling in the opposition’s primary at an unprecedented level, Nevada political observers say.

The association, according to an IRS filing, made a $500,000 donation Feb. 26 to the Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs — a group with clear ties to Democratic Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid.

The committee is run by Dan Hart, a longtime consultant to Reid, who is the likely Democratic nominee for governor. Hart is also political consultant to the Nevada State Education Association, which has endorsed Reid.

A television ad released this week by the Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs attacks Sandoval for his role in the state’s 2003 tax increase, while Sandoval was attorney general. The ads are supported by a six-figure statewide buy.

The Democratic Governors Association declined to comment for this story.

Hart refused to identify donors or his overall budget, saying he would wait until state law requires him to disclose that information. Under Nevada’s weak campaign finance laws, campaign and independent political groups don’t have to report contributions and expenditures until early June, after early voting for the primary begins.

A source with knowledge of the committee said the governors association was a “major” funder of the committee, though not the only one.

Sandoval, a former federal judge, said the ads are “lies and inaccurate” and that the donation from the association “shows Rory Reid and national Democrats have created an orchestrated campaign against me. I’m confident Nevada voters will see it for what it is — a partisan sham.”

Sandoval said that as attorney general, his role in the 2003 tax fight was to follow the direction of former Gov. Kenny Guinn, who wanted to sue the Legislature for not passing a balanced budget on time. He said he did not anticipate, and did not support, the Nevada Supreme Court’s ultimate decision to throw out the requirement that two-thirds of legislators must support a tax increase.

Still, the association donation could prove a powerful bludgeon in the Republican primary. While Sandoval’s campaign has received almost all of the Republican establishment money, Gov. Jim Gibbons finds himself without campaign funding. Former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon, the third candidate in the GOP field, also has little money.

Enter Hart’s group, taking up the attacks that Montandon and Gibbons deploy in news releases and media interviews but can’t afford to trumpet in television ads: questioning Sandoval’s conservative credentials.

The group’s Democratic ties, however, could bring a backlash among conservative voters. Sandoval said it proves that Democrats are desperate to keep him out of the general election because polls show Reid neck and neck with Gibbons but losing to Sandoval by a wide margin.

Reid spokesman Mike Trask said Wednesday was “the first time we’ve heard about it (the association’s donation to the committee). It’s illegal for us to know if and how much money is being spent” by a third-party group.

He said Reid’s campaign isn’t “rooting” for any Republican candidate to win the primary: “We’re eager to face whoever comes out of the Republican primary. You have three candidates, saying similar things. They seem to think the same thing.”

Hart acknowledged this level of involvement in an opposition’s primary appears unprecedented in Nevada.

“This is just about passing the information,” he said. Sandoval “sued to ask the Legislature to raise taxes. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. People need a full picture of Brian Sandoval before they make a choice. Fundamentally, he’s a moderate Republican.”

It’s a label that Sandoval has been trying to shake, pledging recently that he would not raise taxes as governor and attacking Gibbons for supporting fee increases in the Legislature’s February special session.

Sandoval said: “People are deeply offended that Democrats are getting involved in the Republican primary.”

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