Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 | 2 a.m.
In Nevada, the most a person or company can give to a candidate for political office is capped at $10,000.
But that limit didn't stop Caesars Entertainment from giving $215,000 in completely legal contributions to Gov. Brian Sandoval's re-election campaign.
And Caesars isn't alone.
In more than a dozen cases, one company or person used multiple companies to donate to a single candidate in excess of the state's standard $10,000 cap, according to a Las Vegas Sun analysis of 28,000 campaign finance records from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan research group in Montana.
The practice stems from the way Nevada law is written. Political contributions are capped at $10,000 per contributor, whether it's a person or a business. But for businesses that operate subsidiaries, each subsidiary or affiliate is eligible to make a $10,000 contribution, even if they're all controlled by the same person or group of people. Those subsidiaries are typically registered with the state as limited-liability companies, or LLCs.
The result is a gap in the law that allows mostly large companies in Nevada's gaming, mining and taxi industries to direct tens of thousands of dollars to their preferred candidates.
Here's a look at the practice, why it's legal and how it affected this year's election:
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1996 to cap campaign contributions to Nevada candidates. The law limits individual contributions to a candidate to $5,000 for the primary election and $5,000 for the general election, making for a total maximum of $10,000 per four-year election cycle.
"From our perspective and the law, a registered LLC or corporation, those are all separate legal entities, even if there's similar people involved," said Scott Gilles, the deputy secretary of state in charge of elections. "Each would have the ability of maxing out the contribution to a single candidate."
Corporations created with the sole purpose of making political contributions are illegal and subject to fines, Gilles said.
Ten states ban donations to candidates from corporations outright, including Wisconsin, Iowa and Massachusetts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twelve other states prohibit direct contributions to candidates but allow corporations to give to political action committees.
In the 2014 election, these contributions went mostly to three candidates: Sandoval, lieutenant governor-elect Mark Hutchison and attorney general candidate Ross Miller. Those three raised the most money of any candidates this year and have bright political futures that extend beyond their current offices. Two of them, Sandoval and Hutchison, are Republicans. Miller, a Democrat, is current secretary of state and lost his race to Republican Adam Laxalt.
The big donors
Barrick Gold Corp.: Sandoval received contributions totaling $55,000 from six Barrick Gold-affiliated businesses: Barrick Gold Exploration, Barrick Gold of North America, Barrick Goldstrike Mines Inc, Barrick Turquoise Ridge Inc. and Cortez Gold Mine. All six were based out of one of two Utah addresses, according to Secretary of State records. In total, Barrick-affiliated companies spent $271,000 on 67 candidates running in the 2014 election.
Wynn Resorts: Wynn Resorts-affiliated companies gave $100,000 to Hutchison, including $40,000 one month before the election. Wynn subsidiaries also gave $120,000 to Sandoval and $107,000 to Miller. In addition to contributions from Wynn Resorts itself, money came from subsidiaries Chamber Associates LLC, Kevyn LLC and Las Vegas Jet LLC.
MGM Resorts: The company gave $120,000 to Sandoval, $97,000 to Miller and $65,000 to Hutchison through its casino properties.
Caesars Entertainment: The company gave $215,000 to Sandoval through its properties, including contributions from properties in New Orleans, Atlantic City, Tunica, Miss., Kansas City, Mo. and Joliet, Ill.
Dennis Troesh: It wasn't just big businesses using multiple companies to support candidates. Three businesses that share an address near the Henderson Executive Airport — CD Hangar LLC, CDT Management LLC and Quarry Capital LLC — gave a combined $30,000 to Hutchison. Troesh is listed as the manager of all three business in Secretary of State records.
Why it matters
Campaign contribution limits are designed to prevent any individual or business from having an outsized influence on the political process.
"State legislatures and Congress have said reasonable limits have to be put in place so no one voice can drown out the other voices," said David Magleby, a political science professor at Brigham Young University. "History has taught us over and over again that absent limits, sooner or later large donors become more and more important and tend to dominate public policy."