The money race

Political dollars pour into Nevada

Candidates do not always see flattering photos of themselves when they are the subject of attack ads. This one, using an image of Catherine Cortez Masto, was put together by the right wing group Priorities Nevada and ran in January.

Candidates do not always see flattering photos of themselves when they are the subject of attack ads. This one, using an image of Catherine Cortez Masto, was put together by the right wing group Priorities Nevada and ran in January.

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Catherine Cortez Masto is facing more than one opponent. She faces Republican Joe Heck. But she also faces Secure America Now, which raised more than $3 million for its efforts in the 2014 election. It is running ads against Cortez Masto.

And she faces the Koch brothers, whose Freedom Partners Action Fund is accusing her in its ads of enforcing the law as attorney general against unlicensed Uber drivers and vehicles in Nevada. This cost the state jobs, the Kochs say. They live back east.

Secure America Now is spending $46,693.11 to attack Cortez Masto. The Koch ad buy is $1.2 million.

Of course, Cortez Masto also has groups on her side running ads against Heck. But the spending disparity is normally pretty wide between Democratic and Republican groups. “Even among PACs [political action committees]—the favored means of delivering funds by labor unions—business has a more than 3-to-1 fundraising advantage. In soft money, the ratio is nearly 17-to-1,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

During this political season, according to CRP, business is responsible for 74.2 percent of all contributions, labor for 2.9 percent. Cortez Masto would normally be lucky to win.

But business is not putting all its money behind the Republicans this year. It is a 55 to 45 split, with the Democrats getting the 45. That’s not great for them, but it has been worse in some years. Given that business likes to go with the winners, it suggests that businesspeople are doubtful about Republican prospects this year.

The labor split is more lopsided—83 percent to the Democrats, 17 to the Republicans. But even if labor gave all its 2.3 percent to the Democrats, it wouldn’t address the imbalance.

Democrats are doing better with groups that CRP calls “ideological.” These are groups like the Koch PAC and Secure America Now. And for once, the Democrats are ahead in this category. Of the $136,267,574 raised so far by these groups, Democratic groups have received $48,947,275 with Republican groups receiving $38,942,607.

As a result, the League of Conservation Voters will spend almost $1.4 million to support Cortez Masto in this campaign. (The League supported Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the presidential race.)

According to the League’s Seth Stein, the $1.4 million will not be spent on broadcast or online ads: “The money is spent on an on-the-ground persuasion canvass effort—in other words, hiring staff to knock on doors and speak with voters about why Cortez Masto is a better choice for Nevadans. This campaign will run through Election Day.”



As a member of the U.S. House, Heck has received a score of eight percent from the League. In the past his ranking has been as high as 13 percent, in 2013, and as low as six percent, in 2015 and 2014. League national campaigns director Clay Schroers issued a prepared statement reading in part, “Heck is dangerously out of touch with Nevada’s families, who can’t afford to be represented by someone who rejects the conclusions of 97 percent of climate scientists, wants to block the Clean Power Plan, and consistently fights clean air and water protections.”

In a prepared statement, Heck spokesperson Brian Baluta said, “As the father of three, of course Dr. Heck cares about the future of our natural environment, which is why he co-sponsored legislation supporting renewable energy development in Nevada.

However, Heck’s acceptance of Koch money tends to play into the story line Cortez Masto and the League are selling. The two billionaires are number 13 on the Political Economy Research Institute’s list of Toxic 100 Air Polluters. The Kochs also fund climate change denial groups.

All this kind of national money trafficking, of course, is happening in Nevada’s U.S. House races as well, and in ballot measure campaigns, particularly Question 1, providing for gun purchase background checks, and Question 2, providing for marijuana regulation.

Political analyst Fred Lokken said corporate money can hurt a candidate if her opponent knows how to use the issue. It can nullify the advantage that money provides.

“At least with Bernie Sanders he was calling her [Hillary Clinton] on it,” he said. “He was relating it to her positions. Bernie Sanders did actually nullify it this year.”

He said it’s not surprising that Democrats are getting more corporate money.

“It’s been 15 years in the making,” he said, arguing that Bill Clinton took a lot of corporate money, and “it did not hurt him in his election bids. So Democrats are doing it all over.”

Lokken said the public is generally not aware of how much money comes into their states, and even when they hear about it, they don’t seem to object.

“I resent it, and I talk about it, and nobody seems bothered by it,” he said. “They are certainly unaware of how much money is coming from outside the state of Nevada. They don’t even realize that a number of their ballot initiatives are brought in from out of state.”

He said people or organizations from out of state get ballot measures on the Nevada ballot by paying for signature gatherers, and the public likely assumes those people with clipboards are local volunteers.

Two years ago, Nevada received a dramatic demonstration of the power of outside money. In a heavily Democratic U.S. House district, Democrat Steven Horsford was coasting to victory against bumbling, gaffe-prone Republican Cresent Hardy when a Karl Rove PAC suddenly dumped three quarters of a million dollars into the race a few days before the election, the money going to broadcast ads attacking Horsford, who never knew what hit him.

This time, Hardy has the power of incumbency and a healthy campaign fund, and the Democrats had a primary in which they used up a lot of money.