Gov. Joe Lombardo’s campaign accepted major donations from corporations last year

Then-Nevada Gov.-elect Joe Lombardo speaks during a news conference on Nov. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ellen Schmidt, File)

By Mark Credico

April 12, 2024

Several wealthy individuals used multiple businesses to give more money to the governor’s campaign than the legal limit would have allowed them to give directly.

Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo’s campaign took hundreds of thousands of dollars from multiple out-of-state corporations last year, according to campaign finance reports, but that is common practice in Nevada according to a campaign finance expert.

Nine Florida-based limited liability companies (LLCs) donated a combined total of $90,000 to Lombardo’s campaign last year, according to the governor’s campaign contributions and expenses report filed to the secretary of state’s office on Jan. 15. All of the LLCs are registered to the same Miami address on the Florida Department of State website.

Five men are listed as title holders for some or all of the LLCs in this group, including three who are directly associated with alcohol distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, which, according to its website, has an office in Las Vegas and a warehouse in Sparks. Another is a co-owner of Glazer Distributors (which was one of two companies that joined together to form Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits), and the fifth is the senior vice president of an investment firm.

According to the Florida Department of State website:

  • Wayne Chaplin, former CEO of Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, is a title holder for all nine LLCs
  • Steven Becker, senior vice president of Wintrust Investments, is a title holder for all nine LLCs
  • Bennett Glazer, owner of Glazer’s Distributors, is a title holder of eight of the LLCs
  • Harvey Chaplin, co-founder and chairman of Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, is a title holder of seven of the LLCs
  • Lee Hager, executive vice president of Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, is a title holder on one of the LLCs.

While the LLCs donated more combined money than the five title holders would legally be allowed to donate directly, none of the five men gave money to Lombardo’s campaign.

Other wealthy individuals also used multiple businesses to give more money to the governor’s campaign than the legal limit would have allowed them to give directly.

The Fertitta family, which founded and operates Station Casinos and owns stakes in multiple other companies, gave the governor’s campaign $100,000 directly from eight of its members last year, but eight LLCs connected with the family also gave over $70,000 to the governor’s campaign. The LLCs in question were Zuffa, Station Casinos, and six casino properties associated with Station Casinos, according to campaign finance records.

Gov. Lombardo’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘Not unique to Nevada,’ but ‘not that common’

UNLV assistant professor of political science Kenneth Miller said multiple LLCs affiliated with the same people donating to the same candidate is a common practice in Nevada, because campaign finance restrictions are “looser at the state level in Nevada than they are at the federal level.”

Miller said Nevada election law allows for corporations to give money directly to political candidates, a practice that he said is “not unique to Nevada, but is not that common,” and is illegal at the federal level.

Having no restrictions on corporate campaign contributions allows for wealthy donors to get around Nevada’s other restrictions on campaign contributions, such as the state law against straw donations, Miller said.

Straw donations are when someone who already donated the maximum legal amount to a candidate gives more money to another person to donate on their behalf, according to Miller. The practice is forbidden by campaign finance laws in Nevada, but it is legal for donors to create a company that gives that money to the candidate.

“What a lot of wealthy individuals have figured out is they can create a whole series of companies and all of them donate to a candidate,” Miller said—like the contributions from the Florida LLCs and multiple Station Casinos LLCs to Lombardo’s campaign.

While corporations cannot give money directly to candidates in federal elections, they—and wealthy donors—can give money to Super PACs, which then donate that money to the political campaigns.

Miller said that while Super PACs still deliver large donations to candidates, the existence of Super PACs creates a “thin barrier” between the major donors and candidates. Nevada allowing direct corporate donations removes that barrier.

“In our case in Nevada,” Miller said, “because of the system of corporate donations, the corporations and wealthy individuals are just that much closer to the candidates.”

‘The appearance of corruption’

Miller said allowing wealthy donors to make larger donations to politicians’ campaigns, whether through corporations or Super PACs, creates a problem where policymakers are incentivized to pass laws that favor their donors.

“If those people want tax cuts, they’re likely to get tax cuts when those people get elected,” Miller said. “So there’s that whole problem, that the rich get what they want out of policy more often, because they pay for the campaigns.”

Another major problem with large campaign contributions, Miller said, is that it gives “the appearance of corruption” to the general public, which can disenfranchise voters.

“If we see politicians get all their money from wealthy people,” Miller said, “there’s no breaks in the system to prevent wealthy people from just writing seven figure checks to politicians, then the public gets more cynical.”

Miller said the Federal Election Campaign Act passed in 1972 imposed limits on campaign fundraising “because America was shocked at the level of corruption that was associated with fundraising for the presidential campaign in 1972.”

But he said court decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and Speechnow.org v. FEC and Nevada allowing corporate campaign contributions “just undermines all of that.”

RELATED: Lombardo tries to pin housing woes on Biden after vetoing bills and naming ex-housing lobbyist as chief of staff

  • Mark Credico

    Mark Credico is a born-and-raised Las Vegas native. He graduated from UNLV after writing for the school newspaper, then spent a year writing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal covering local government and breaking news.

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