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Nevada’s election cycle calls for big bucks

CARSON CITY — With one of the most watched U.S. Senate races in country, a hotly contested gubernatorial race and a ballot measure that has seen more than $30 million in donations, the 2018 election cycle in Nevada will be anything but cheap.

Three of the top 10 donors are almost entirely focused on Question 3, the proposed constitutional amendment that would shake up how Nevadans get their electricity — and the margin between them and the rest of the list is miles wide. Three of the other top donors are deeply involved in the race to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, and two of those are aligned with Democratic candidate Chris Giunchigliani.

Outside of the billionaires’ battle over Question 3, the list is dominated by national PACs and organizations from outside of Nevada that are pouring millions into various races up and down the ballot, as well as the attempt that Republicans started last year to recall three state senators.

Here are the top 10 donors who have contributed during the period from Jan. 1, 2017, through Friday’s campaign finance deadline:

1. NV Energy — $12.8 million

Nevada’s largest electricity provider has donated largely to the Coalition to Defeat Question 3. If Question 3 passes, NV Energy’s hold as an energy monopoly will be eliminated and consumers will be able to choose their electricity provider.

NV Energy , whose parent company is billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, also has donated to the campaigns of more than 50 candidates on both sides of the aisle, ranging from $500 to the maximum of $10,000.

2. Switch LTD — $11.3 million

The data center provider has poured its money into the groups pushing for the passage of Question 3. The tech company, founded by Rob Roy, has been critical of NV Energy’s practices, and in 2016 agreed to pay a $27 million exit fee to leave the utility altogether.

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.

Switch also donated to two gubernatorial candidate PACs, giving $20,000 to Republican Adam Laxalt’s Morning in Nevada PAC and $15,000 to Democrat Steve Sisolak’s Sandstone PAC.

3. Sheldon Adelson/Las Vegas Sands Corp. — $9.5 million

Like the two donors above, almost all of the billionaire and Republican megadonor’s funds have gone to the fight over Question 3 — more than $9 million.

The donations to Nevada-based PACs and groups have come since the start of 2017 through either personal donations from Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, or through donations from various Sands companies.

Like Switch, Sands looked at leaving NV Energy, but it chose to stay rather than pay a $23.9 million exit fee.

Beyond Question 3 donations, much of Adelson’s support has been geared toward a handful of candidates. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson each donated $10,000 to Adam Laxalt’s campaign, while another $30,000 went to Laxalt from Las Vegas Sands, Sands Expo Center and the Venetian.

Other notable donations from Sands groups appear geared toward keeping state Sen. Tick Segerblom off the Clark County Board of Commissioners.

Sands companies donated a combined $30,000 to Segerblom’s Democratic primary opponent, Marco Hernandez, and another $30,000 to a group called Nevada Progressives United PAC. That group is tied to the Laborers Local 872, which has criticized Segerblom over his opposition to the Las Vegas Raiders Stadium. Hernandez is the vice president of the Laborers union.

4. Emily’s List — $2.17 million

The progressive group is backing Democrat Chris Giunchigliani, who is locked into a bitter battle for the party nomination for governor against fellow Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak.

Most of donations from the group, which aims to elect women to office across the country, have gone to the Women Vote! PAC, which has paid for a large number of mailers supporting Giunchigliani. The group also donated $150,000 to the committees fighting the Republican state senate recall efforts.

5. NextGen Climate Action — $2.16 million

Most of the money that the group tied to California billionaire Tom Steyer has put into the Silver State has gone to Nevadans for Clean Energy Future, the ballot measure that would force energy providers in Nevada to get at least 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Steyer’s group also donated roughly $100,000 to For Nevada’s Future, Against the Recall, a PAC formed to fend off the state senate recalls.

6. Jesse Sbaih — $2 million

Several candidates are self-funding their campaigns, including Republican governor candidates Jared Fisher and Dan Schwartz. But none of them lent their campaign as much as Las Vegas attorney Jesse Sbaih.

Of the roughly $2.15 million that Sbaih has reported raising in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary against Jacky Rosen, $2.05 million came as a personal loan.

But the question for Sbaih is how much of that he’ll spend.

In 2016, Sbaih ran against Rosen in the Democratic primary for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, and loaned his campaign $500,000 while raising an additional $267,000. But Sbaih only spent $240,000 during the campaign, and refunded the entire $500,000 loan according to federal campaign finance reports.

Thus far, Sbaih has spent $126,000 on campaign operating expenses.

7. Democratic Governors Association — $1.9 million

The national group that seeks to elect Democrat governors has jumped head on into trying to secure the election of Nevada’s first Democratic governor in two decades.

The group donated $1 million to the Democratic Governors Association — Nevada PAC, and $850,000 to the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which advocates for social and economic rights for workers.

The group also gave about $30,000 to the state Democratic Party.

8. National Education Association — $1.6 million

The parent of the state teachers union has thrown more than $1.2 million into Strong Public Schools Nevada, the PAC run by the Nevada State Education Association that is supporting Giunchigliani. Those donations make up two-thirds of the total donations that Strong Public Schools Nevada has received this year.

The national teachers group also gave $300,000 to Our Voice, Our Vote, another group formed to fight the recalls targeting Woodhouse, Cannizzaro and Farley.

9. Republican State Leadership Committee — $1.4 million

The group that works to elect Republicans to state legislatures spent nearly $1.4 million in the attempt to recall the trio of state senators.

The Farley recall failed to gather enough signatures to qualify. The others, targeting Woodhouse and Cannizzaro, did reach the signature threshold, but later failed after a judge ruled that people seeking to have their signatures removed from those recall petitions must be allowed to do so.

The RSLC was the only funding source for the recall campaigns, according to the finance reports.

10. Law & Justice PAC — $1.2 million

This national PAC with ties to liberal billionaire George Soros infused $1.2 million into a local PAC called Nevada Law & Justice PAC. The group has run ads attacking incumbent Democratic Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

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

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

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