Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 | 6 p.m.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has raised nearly $800,000 from a handful of donors to help Republicans running for state Senate in the past few months, including $100,000 checks from major Las Vegas casino companies, according to campaign contribution and expense reports filed this week.
In the five state Senate races that will determine which party controls the state Senate, all the Republican candidates outraised their Democratic competitors, according to reports filed with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.
Republicans have to win four out of five of those competitive seats to regain control of the state Senate, where Democrats currently have an 11 to 10 lead, a steep climb even before a surge in Democratic voter registration made some of those competitive seats tilt Democratic.
To do that, they will need money. And that’s where Sandoval came in.
Sandoval’s New Nevada Political Action Committee over the past four months has given the maximum $10,000 to five Republicans running in those contested seats and contributed $500,000 to the Nevada Jobs Coalition, a group running pro-Republican independent expenditures in the Senate races.
Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who’s headed the Senate Republican effort, attributed the fundraising advantage of Republican candidates to having superior candidates.
“We have better candidates — that’s what it boiled down to,” he said.
Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said he’s not surprised — or fazed — at the money advantage Republican candidates hold.
He said Republican campaigns are spending more money, and often getting fewer contributions.
“Look, they’re getting money from large donors. Steve Wynn and those guys are writing $500,000 checks,” Denis said, referring to a $475,000 contribution Wynn made to the national Republican State Leadership Committee, which is also sending mailers into those races. “Voters vote for you, not the money people who give you large amounts of money.”
Money, by no means, guarantees success. Roberson himself was outspent when he won his seat in 2010 by beating an incumbent (which, it should be said, Roberson attributed to facing an incumbent Democratic senator). And Democrats have been helped by labor allies, which have bought major television spots in the Northern Nevada state Senate race between Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and former Democratic state Sen. Sheila Leslie.
But money matters in politics. And so does being a popular governor.
Republicans have privately grumbled at Sandoval’s hands-off approach to the election cycle, dating back to when he chose not to get involved with the state Republican Party, which was besieged by a power struggle by supporters of Rep. Ron Paul. On Wednesday, that griping became public, as Chuck Muth, a conservative activist, wrote Wednesday that Sandoval has done little to help Republicans. “The fact is you’ve rarely, if ever, seen the Republican governor on the campaign trail for Republican candidates this election cycle … especially in Clark County,” he wrote.
Sandoval said last week that he was head of Team Nevada, a joint effort by campaigns. He also cut an effusive television ad endorsing Sen. Dean Heller in his U.S. Senate race.
The contribution and expense report for his PAC speaks to just how formidable Sandoval’s fundraising capability might be when he’s up for reelection in 2014. The PAC raised almost all of its money in September and this month.
The New Nevada PAC got $100,000 checks from MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands, and the State Republican Leadership Conference, the national group. Sandoval’s PAC also received $95,000 from Station Casinos; and sizeable contributions from the company that owns the mixed martial arts league UFC; Zuffa LLC; Phil Ruffin, the owner of Treasure Island; Frias Management, the taxicab company, and others. Mining companies Barrick and Newmont combined gave $50,000.
Contributions to candidates for office are limited to $10,000. But there is no cap on contributions to political action committees, according to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.
New Nevada PAC, which raised the money, and the Nevada Jobs Coalition, which spent the money on the races, are all operated out of November Inc., the political consulting firm headed by Mike Slanker. Slanker is also a top political adviser to Sandoval and Heller.