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Midterm election in Nevada becomes battle of the billionaires

The 2018 midterm election in Nevada has become a battle of the billionaires.

Of the top 10 donors to state elections and initiatives, half are associated directly with some of the wealthiest Americans. The five groups with ties to billionaires have combined to donate more than $116 million during this election cycle.

Most of the billionaire-linked money isn’t being poured into the contested races for governor or control of the state Legislature, but rather into the battles over ballot measures.

The fight over Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative, has seen nearly $100 million in funding by itself.

On one side is Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns NV Energy, which stands to lose its electricity monopoly if the measure passes.

And on the other is Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., and Switch, founded by Rob Roy. Switch paid $27 million in 2016 to leave NV Energy so it could buy its electricity on the open market. Sands explored leaving NV Energy but chose to stay rather than pay a $23.9 million exit fee.

Here’s a look at the top 10 donors to Nevada campaigns from Jan. 1, 2017, through Friday’s most recent campaign finance reporting deadline, according to campaign finance reports from the Nevada secretary of state’s office.

This list does not include donations made to congressional candidates, which are tracked differently.

1. NV Energy — $63.4 million

The state’s largest electricity provider gave all but roughly $300,000 of the $63.4 million donated this cycle to fight Question 3, contibuting $63.1 million to the Coalition to Defeat Question 3.

If Question 3, the proposed constitutional amendment, passes, NV Energy’s hold as an electricity monopoly in Nevada would be eliminated.

The company also donated $70,000 to the Nevada State Democratic Party and made donations ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 to dozens of candidates on both sides of the aisle running for various offices across Nevada.

2. Sheldon Adelson/Las Vegas Sands — $23.2 million

Adelson has been the biggest funder for the group supporting passage of Question 3, called Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices. Of the $23.2 million that Adelson; his wife, Miriam; Las Vegas Sands Corp. and other Sands companies have donated, $21.9 million has gone directly to the Yes on 3 campaign.

Sands and the Adelsons also have given $50,000 to Adam Laxalt’s gubernatorial campaign; $40,000 to Laxalt’s Morning in Nevada PAC; $50,000 to the NV Majority PAC, which supports Republicans running for state Senate; and various donations to candidates for statewide and local offices.

3. Switch — $11.4 million

The data center provider has poured more than 90 percent of its donations into the groups pushing for the passage of Question 3, but Switch also donated $75,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, the group that funded the recall attempts of Democratic state Sens. Joyce Woodhouse and Nicole Cannizzaro and Independent Sen. Patricia Farley.

Other recipients include both gubernatorial candidates’ PACs — Switch gave $40,000 to the Morning in Nevada PAC and $15,000 to Democrat Steve Sisolak’s Sandstone PAC — and various donations to down-ballot candidates on both sides of the aisle.

4. NextGen Climate Action — $10.1 million

Like the billionaires higher on this list, Tom Steyer and his NextGen Climate Action group have been hyper-focused on constitutional amendments. NextGen Climate Action has given $10 million to the group supporting Question 6, which would require that at least 50 percent of the electricity in Nevada comes from renewable sources by 2030.

The group also gave $100,000 to Nevadans for Secure Elections, which is pushing for the passage of Question 5, which would enable automatic voter registration through the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

5. Republican Governors Association — $9.9 million

The national group aimed at electing Republican governors has pumped nearly $10 million into Nevada this cycle. About $8.8 million has gone directly to the association’s local group, called RGA Nevada PAC, which is supporting Laxalt’s bid for governor.

It also donated $10,000 directly to Laxalt’s campaign and $1 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which supports GOP candidates running for state legislative seats.

6. Henry T. Nicholas/Marsy’s Law For All — $8.6 million

Henry T. Nicholas, the Broadcom co-founder and billionaire, has put $680,000 of his own money in the fight for Question 1, commonly called Marsy’s Law, while his political group, Marsy’s Law For All, has donated $7.95 million to the effort.

7. Democratic Governors Association — $7.7 million

The Governors Association has also been one of the biggest players this cycle in the governor’s race between Sisolak and Laxalt.

The biggest chunk has gone to Nevada Families First, the PAC supporting Sisolak in his bid for the governor’s mansion. The association also gave $1.5 million to its local PAC, Democratic Governors Association — Nevada, $85,000 to the state Democratic Party and $10,000 to Sisolak’s campaign.

8. Sixteen Thirty Fund — $6.3 million

A mysterious Washington, D.C.-based group has been the biggest backer of Question 5, Nevadans for Secure Elections, with all of the $6.3 million the group has donated this cycle going to the fight for that ballot measure.

Little is known about the group or its donors, but Politico described it in July as a “progressive nonprofit” that has spent millions nationally attacking Republicans on health care and taxes.

9. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — $3.7 million

The largest public employees union in the nation is also one of the biggest donors to state politics in Nevada this cycle.

About $2.6 million of the group’s donations has gone to its local affiliate, AFSCME Nevada; $425,000 to the state Democratic Party; $165,000 each to the Nevada Senate Democrats and Assembly Democratic Caucus; and $10,000 to several Democrats running for office in the state.

10. National Education Association — $3.6 million

The parent of the state teachers union was heavily involved in the Democratic gubernatorial primary fight between Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani.

About $1.9 million of the group’s donations went to Strong Public Schools Nevada, its locally affiliated PAC, which has been supporting Sisolak in the general election. It is also attacking Laxalt for his opposition to the 2015 commerce tax, which has been used to increase education funding in the state.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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