Nevada billionaire megadonor gives $2 million to Sam Brown super PAC

Nevada Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sam Brown speaks to the media as he was at Reno High School for casting his ballot in Reno, Nev., Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

By Nevada Current

October 19, 2023

BY APRIL CORBIN GIRNUS, Nevada Current

GOP Senate hopeful Sam Brown has a new financial backer: an Incline Village-based billionaire who has not previously donated large amounts to candidates in Nevada.

David Duffield over the past three months donated $2 million to Duty First Nevada, a super PAC founded by Brown, according to campaign finance reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission. Duffield donated $1 million to the PAC on July 26 and $1 million on Aug. 27. The $2 million represents all but $530 of the total contributions to the PAC from July through September.

Duffield and his wife, Cheryl Duffield, also donated $11,600 each to the Sam Brown Victory Committee on Aug. 24.

Duffield is not an established political mega donor and his previous contributions have largely gone unnoticed, though they have increased in recent years. FEC records show the couple donated more than $1.1 million to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in 2020.

Duffield also donated $5,000 to U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei’s campaign in 2022.

Nevada campaign finance records show a ‘David A Duffield Trust’ donated $10,000 to Republican Joe Lombardo’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 2022. Cheryl Duffield also donated $10,000.

David Duffield contributed $10,000 to Washoe County Commissioner Marsha Lee Berkbigler’s reelection campaign in 2020. Berkbigler represented Incline Village.

Forbes on Oct. 18 calculated Duffield’s real time net worth at $12.1 billion — making him the 171th richest person in the world and the second richest in Nevada. Miriam Adelson, widow of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, is the richest Nevadan.

The Adelsons have long been GOP mega donors, giving hundreds of millions in federal donations in the years prior to Sheldon Adelson’s death in 2021.

Robert Bigelow, the Las Vegas businessman who owns Budget Suites of America and Bigelow Aerospace, has funneled millions into federal, local and state campaigns — including an estimated $30 million to support Lombardo last year. Bigelow is often referred to as a billionaire, though his net worth hasn’t been estimated by billionaire trackers in recent years.

Bigelow’s torrent of campaign contributions into an already high stakes, tight race was seen by many as a contributing factor in Lombardo’s defeat of Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak. Brown supporters would no doubt like a similarly deep-pocketed donor to support their attempted unseating of Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen. Brown significantly trails Rosen in fundraising currently.

The Democratic incumbent reported raising $16 million last quarter — spending $7.4 million and leaving $8.8 million cash on hand. Rosen raised the 10th most of all 2024 Senate campaigns, according to the FEC.

Brown directly raised just $1.2 million over the quarter.

Brown’s GOP primary competitors, which include Jeff Gunter, Jim Marchant and Tony Grady, all raised and spent significantly less.

Brown established Duty First Nevada in July 2022, one month after losing the GOP Senate primary to Adam Laxalt. The political action committee — which is allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, including from corporations — describes itself on its website as a “grassroots movement to take back Congress from the Left and hold Republicans accountable to the people.”

In August, CNN reported Duty First Nevada had raised less than $100,000 and spent the majority of that on repaying campaign debt incurred during Brown’s first Senate run. That spending has been criticized by campaign finance experts and Democrats.

Duffield’s $2 million in donations — given in the reporting quarter after the CNN report — marks new possibilities for the PAC.

Who is David Duffield?

Duffield made his billions through the software companies PeopleSoft and Workday, both of which he co-founded. The octogenarian, who is now CEO of Ridgeline Inc. and Nevada Pacific Development, lives in Incline Village, a wealthy community on Lake Tahoe.

The Duffields have lived in Nevada since the late-1990s when they first purchased property near Lake Tahoe, according to media reports.

Duffield made headlines in 2004 when he purchased and closed Ponderosa Ranch, a beloved western-themed amusement park where several episodes of the 1960s television show Bonanza were filmed. That private deal upset local, state and federal officials who for years had been working toward purchasing the land, which overlooks Lake Tahoe, and preserving it for public use.

A decade later, in 2014, Duffield proposed a land swap with Washoe County to try and secure a private sliver of Lake Tahoe shoreline. That proposal was met with local opposition and abandoned, and the following year the Duffields donated 18 acres from the proposed swap deal to the Nevada Land Trust.

More recently, the billionaire is known for donations made through their David and Cheryl Duffield Foundation. In June, the foundation donated $27 million to the Washoe County School District to renovate and expand Incline High School. The Duffields are also longtime financial benefactors of Lake Tahoe School, a private school in Incline Village that offers pre-K through eighth grade.

In 2022, the Duffields made headlines when their foundation walked back a planned $25 million donation to renovate the Incline Village Recreation Center.

This story was originally published by Nevada Current and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.

CATEGORIES: ELECTION | POLITICS

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