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Gaming Guru

Jon Ralston
 

Jon Ralston on which is really the dominant party in this state

11 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The gaming industry has a significant ownership stake in both major Nevada political parties, the GOP is a partially owned subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands Inc., and the Democrats are part of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's investment portfolio.

All of these conclusions may seem intuitively true. But the hard evidence is now available in the form of campaign contribution reports from last year for the Republican and Democratic parties. Those reports also show that the Democrats relied heavily on labor organizations for their money while calling on many, many elected officials to use their campaign accounts to help the party. (For example, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins gave $18,000.)

The fundraising numbers — thanks to the state's early-caucus stature and the accompanying expenses — surely are record-breaking: a combined $2.1 million raised by the parties. And the relative success of the party fundraising may be a sign that donors think 2008 will be a Democratic year in Nevada.

The state Republican Party reported raising just more than $558,000 in 2007, an impressive number except when compared with what the Nevada Democratic Party documented: a little more than $1.6 million, or about three times what the GOP raised.

Neither party can claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism, however: The state GOP spent more than $437,000, which looks good only compared with the deficit spending of the Democrats, who reported $1.65 million in expenditures. (I am sure Reid wrote a check to make up the difference.)

If any two documents ever proved that the dominant political power in this state remains The Gaming Party, consider this stark breakdown of these totals:

The casino companies accounted for almost half the donations to the state Republican Party — and Gondolier Numero Uno Sheldon Adelson, with a $100,000 check from Las Vegas Sands, accounted for just less than a fifth of the total. That's a lot of stock to own.

On the Democratic side, the gamers weren't as heavily invested, putting up only about a fifth of the cash for the organization. Harrah's and MGM Mirage both ponied up $100,000 checks for the cause.

As they often do, the gamers hedged their bets, but with telling comparative numbers. Harrah's ($25,000) and MGM Mirage ($50,000) also gave to the GOP. Station Casinos, often associated with GOP causes, actually gave more to the Democrats ($30,000) than to the Republicans ($25,000) — could it be that the Fertittas don't feel their usual confidence in the Republican brand?

Boyd Gaming also gave twice as much ($50,000) to the Democrats as it did to the GOP. A couple of companies — Fontainebleau and the Palms — appeared only on the Democratic report for last year. Don't these folks realize the governor is a Republican and his administration regulates gaming?

If gaming has a majority stake in the GOP, unions made up the biggest share of contributions to the state Democratic Party. Labor organizations contributed about a fourth of the party's total, led by $100,000 checks from AFSCME and Culinary parent UNITE HERE. Other national unions also sent money west, including the firefighters ($25,000), the sheet metal workers ($40,000) and the teachers ($50,000). The local carpenters union must be doing well, too, because it coughed up $25,000.

Reid, the titular head of the party, was the only other six-figure donor to the Democrats, giving $110,000 from his Searchlight Leadership Fund. But he doubtless accounted for a lot more than that with a few well-placed phone calls.

So, I am sure you are wondering, where did all this money go? How could they have spent it all in one year?

Answer: Easily.

Both parties spent their fortunes on consultants — local and national — and vendors — local and national — who tapped into the parties' largesse to enhance their bottom lines.

So now, with a campaign season beginning, the parties have to start over, and you might think because of the atmospherics that the Democrats have a huge advantage, especially because Democrat Numero Uno Reid can start twisting arms again.

That might be true. But the one person who can still raise more money than Reid recently showed up to give the Republicans a half-million-dollar head start. As many Republicans are ruefully lamenting these days, President Bush is still good for something.

Based on these 2007 reports, a few labor groups and gaming executives are about to — if they have not already — receive calls from Reid so the Democrats can start catching up. My guess is the Senate majority leader will not, however, have Adelson's number on his call list.

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