State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford gave me an hour of his time last week, and it only cost me 10 bucks.
No, it wasn’t a discount of his since-rescinded access rate of $1,000 for a one-on-one lunch. But coffee with him and his two extraordinarily well-behaved sons, 7 and 10, ran about $10 at Starbucks.
Horsford has returned $100,675 to contributors to his political action committee Victory 2010 in the aftermath of strong criticism that the solicitation he mailed out crossed the ethical line and fell into “pay to play” mode.
Horsford says no one took him up on his offer, while conceding some may have thought they were when handing over checks to Victory 2010 at an Aug. 17 fundraiser at Morton’s Restaurant.
“No one accepted the offer,” he said. “Not one person told me: I received the letter and here’s a donation and I want to schedule the time.”
Of course, they may not have had time. He rescinded the offer on Aug. 18 after he became the butt of prostitution jokes and cartoons.
The Morton’s event raised $52,700. The suggested donation was $1,500 a person or $5,000 for a corporate donation.
Not everyone there had received the letter, yet some may have handed over checks for $1,500 and above believing that would entitle them to lunch with Horsford. After all, the cheapest offer in the letter was that a $1,000 campaign contribution bought you lunch with Horsford.
He decided to return all the money raised since the letter went out July 20 because of the stigma.
He admits he made a mistake and that he alone is responsible. Whose idea was it?
“It was no one person’s idea,” he replied, refusing to take anyone else down with him and insisting the state Senate Democratic chairs had no knowledge of the letter.
Some of the money he is returning probably is coming back to him from donors who want to keep him happy.
He will continue raising money and has a goal of $2 million to help elect Democrats to the state Senate.
But there won’t be another blatant offer of a quid quo pro.
Donations of “$25,000 or more” won’t guarantee a private dinner for a donor and 10 guests with Horsford and the chairs of nine state Senate committees.
Nor, for $10,000 to $25,000, will a donor and seven guests get to eat dinner with Horsford and the chairman of a committee of the donor’s choice.
Nor, for $5,000 to $10,000, will Horsford and unnamed Democratic state senators attend a reception with the donor and guests.
Nor, for $1,000 to $5,000, would you get lunch with the state Senate majority leader.
After the letter went out, he received $19,975 in contributions prior to the Aug. 17 reception. Those checks have been cashed and will be reported on the next campaign report. And the reports will show reimbursement checks were sent out.
The $52,700 from the Morton’s event has been returned, too. Those checks won’t be reported but have been returned without being cashed. Under the law, he doesn’t have to report them if he returned them within two weeks after they’re received without cashing them.
Another $28,000 came in between the day after the Morton’s reception and Thursday, and those checks also have been returned.
Some of those donors also might have thought they were buying access.
The money game in politics is relentless, and everybody plays. Horsford was more heavy-handed than most, but he has learned a lesson. “It’s part of my job, but I’ll do it in a way that’s ethical.”
The unspoken lesson: Be more subtle.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.