Looks like U.S. Sen. Harry Reid is in trouble again.
Reid was named in a Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report this week, which revealed that the senator spoke directly with Alejandro Mayorkas, then head of Customs and Immigration Services and now a deputy secretary of the department. Reid asked Mayorkas to expedite the EB5 visas of foreign investors who were planning on investing millions into the newly renovated SLS Las Vegas project, and Mayorkas complied.
(EB5 visas grant permanent residency status to people willing to invest $500,000 or $1 million in job-creating American projects. In the SLS case, funding for the project could have been put at risk had the investors not been approved in time.)
Now, neither Reid nor Mayorkas asked the department to overturn a decision to deny a visa to anyone; this was all about moving the SLS applicants to the head of the line, a move that department staffers resisted as unnecessary and at odds with protocol. But the report also found that Reid’s staff was briefed weekly on the matter for a long time.
Reid, of course, is unrepentant. “Senator Reid’s work helped get SLS built and created thousands of Nevada jobs,” said his spokeswoman, Kristen Orthman, in a statement. “Renovations at SLS infused hundreds of millions of dollars into the Las Vegas region and created thousands of jobs. The investments made to secure the SLS project had bipartisan support in Congress and the support of Governor [Brian] Sandoval. Senator Reid considers it part of his basic responsibility as Nevada’s senator to ensure that projects that benefit Nevada get fair and timely consideration from the federal government. Senator Reid was not involved in the security screening process in any way.”
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s spokesman, Neal Patel, confirms that Heller’s office sent a letter to the Customs and Immigration Service on behalf of the SLS applicants, but said that letter did not generate a response from the department. (At the time, Democrats controlled the Senate and Reid was majority leader.)
Now, it would be one thing if Reid was anti-immigration and then acted to help wealthy would-be residents jump to the head of the immigration line. But Reid has been one of the most pro-immigration reform lawmakers in Congress, and has pushed President Barack Obama to take executive action on immigration reform. In short, he wants to let poor immigrants stay in the United States just as much as rich ones.
But let’s say Reid refused to act, and told the SLS investors to go through the process like anybody else. If the funding had fallen through and the project had been scrapped because the timing didn’t work, what would have happened then? Probably a headline that read, “Reid refuses to help Las Vegas business; hundreds of jobs lost as a result.”
■ Somer Hollingsworth, the former head of the Nevada Development Authority, is retiring from his job as executive vice president of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance.
Hollingsworth will perhaps best be remembered for zany ad campaigns designed to lure businesses to Nevada from neighboring California. Over the years, those ads included lipstick-wearing pigs, California lawmakers portrayed by monkeys, cartoon bears, flash mobs and talking orangutans.
With a body of work like that, it was surprising when Hollingsworth was found to criticize the “what happens here, stays here” ad campaign, which he said rubbed some would-be Nevada business owners the wrong way. “They had no idea there was anything else here except for what they were seeing on the ads, which obviously are very provocative,” Hollingsworth told the Review-Journal in 2003. “A few of them have said they don’t think the ads are in the best of taste.”
Hmmm, maybe they should have added some monkeys? And which of the two campaigns has proved more successful over the years?
Occasionally, Hollingsworth would indulge himself, once by erecting a billboard in Los Angeles mocking California Gov. Jerry Brown, another time by remarking at an NDA luncheon: “Government has one business: That’s to beat the crap out of you.”
Well, that and give Hollingsworth millions over the years to do his bear/monkey/flash mob road shows.
Ironically enough, the Global Economic Alliance, which absorbed the Nevada Development Authority in 2013, has become a significant player on the business scene, in conjunction with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s total revamping of the state’s economic development efforts. Without using a single orangutan, the GEA has attracted plenty of business to Nevada and addressed itself to the primary problem standing in the way of economic development: education reform and funding.
Still, we’ll miss those cartoon bears. Godspeed, Somer, and watch out for that government!
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-376-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.