Las Vegas Sun

November 18, 2018

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Dark money in Nevada elections stirs concern

Millions of dollars going into Nevada’s election from groups that don’t have to disclose their donors is raising concerns about misleading voters.

The Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened the door for corporations, unions and, increasingly, super PACs and so-called dark money groups, which do not have to disclose donors, to use their funds to put out ads on candidates.

More than $43 million in dark money has gone into Nevada’s Senate race in the 2018 cycle, with another $11.1 million going toward congressional races, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Fernando Romero, president of the nonpartisan Hispanics in Politics, said the Libre Initiative is one of the groups coming into Nevada and working to influence Latino voters toward conservative causes. The Libre Initiative is a project of Americans for Prosperity, funded by the conservative megadonor Koch brothers.

“The Koch brothers are concentrating very heavily on the Latino population, so we have a lot of discombobulated voters that will be coming out to the polls and still not being very sure for whom they should vote and what issues that you support,” Romero said.

Supporters of education savings accounts and education vouchers say these programs help tax-paying parents send their kids to the school of their choice. Opponents say those dollars are better spent on public education.

Romero said the Libre Initiative is seeking to convince Latinos that ESAs are best for their families. This may be true, he said, but overall these programs take away from public education.

“These individuals lie to our community by saying you’re going to get certain benefits if you approve or support candidates who are running in favor of ESAs,” Romero said. “It’s a difficult matter out there right now.”

Congressional District 4 candidate Steven Horsford, who previously held the seat and is running against Republican Cresent Hardy, said dark money ads targeting him and funded by the National Republican Congressional Committee PAC have been inaccurate, misrepresenting and distorting his record. The group has spent nearly $2.9 million against Horsford in the district, according to OpenSecrets.

“Sadly, the damage has been done because those ads have run,” Horsford said.

In Horsford and Hardy’s race, nearly $564,000 in dark money has gone toward supporting the Democratic side, compared to nearly $2.9 million against it in the 2018 cycle, according to OpenSecrets. Nearly $2 million in dark money went toward opposing Republicans, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit research group.

Citizens United, he said, was a poor decision by the court, and one of his top priorities if elected will be campaign finance reform.

“We’ve really got to fix this problem,” he said. “Not only is it bad for our democracy, but it’s affecting our ability to address the issues that the majority of people here in Nevada want us to address.”