Senate Democrats holding on to Manendo’s campaign contributions

Updated February 10, 2018 - 11:54 pm

Nevada Democrats who received contributions from disgraced former state Sen. Mark Manendo have yet to return or donate that money, campaign finance reports show.

In 2016, state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse collected $4,000 from Manendo’s campaign, and state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro received $3,000. Both faced competitive races. Senate Democrats, then under the leadership of Majority Leader Aaron Ford, accepted $13,500 from Manendo over a two-year period.

Last July, Manendo resigned from the Senate after an investigation found multiple instances of “inappropriate, offensive and unacceptable behavior toward female staffers and lobbyists.”

Most Republicans and Democrats return or donate contributions when someone credibly accuses a donor of sexual harassment. U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Attorney General Adam Laxalt quickly announced plans to donate contributions from Steve Wynn after The Wall Street Journal published harassment allegations. Rep. Jacky Rosen donated to charity a contribution she received from Al Franken’s PAC after a picture came out of him groping a women’s chest.

One potential reason for this difference is that, unlike the surprising allegations against Wynn and Franken, Manendo’s behavior was an open secret among Democrats.

Way back in 2003, Democratic Speaker Richard Perkins stripped Manendo of his Assembly chairmanship over sexual harassment allegations. Manendo’s reputation was even an issue in his 2010 Senate primary, a race he ultimately won.

“Manendo’s proclivities to harass and insult women who spurned him were not unknown to most people involved in the Legislature,” wrote Sheila Leslie, a Democratic former state senator. “He was admonished privately by numerous Democratic leaders over the years and even had a coveted committee chairmanship taken away from him.”

But Democratic leaders kept embracing Manendo. In 2014, Nevada Senate Democrats, while under the leadership of state Sen. Mo Denis, made a $3,376 in-kind contribution to Manendo’s re-election campaign. Ford later accepted a $5,000 contribution from Manendo to Senate Democrats that December. Ford then made Manendo a committee chair after Democrats won the majority in 2016.

Those actions are in stark contrast to Ford’s current rhetoric.

Sexual harassment is “not acceptable and should never be tolerated, especially by elected leaders,” said Ford in a statement after allegations of harassment surfaced late last year against U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen.

Ford did initiate the investigation that led to Manendo’s resignation. That’s to his credit. But it’s the height of hypocrisy to now champion zero tolerance for sexual harassment when you gave a known sexual harasser a chairmanship 15 months ago. Plus, Senate Democrats still have Manendo’s money in their campaign coffers.

Manendo has donated $41,000 through his campaign account since 2012. In 2014, he gave $7,500 to state Sen. Justin Jones. Jones lost his re-election bid but is now a candidate for Clark County Commission. A review of Jones’ campaign finance reports shows he hasn’t refunded or donated the money, either.

Ford, Woodhouse and Cannizzaro didn’t return calls or emails seeking comment. No surprise. Woodhouse and Cannizzaro will need every cent they can get to defeat GOP efforts to recall them. Ford is trying to ride his hypocritical outrage over sexual harassment to become Nevada’s next attorney general.

The biggest problem isn’t that they kept the money. It’s that they took it in the first place.

Listen to Victor Joecks discuss his columns each Monday at 9 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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