So far this election cycle, almost $2 billion has been pumped into the campaign coffers of congressional office holders and candidates.
Ask most members of the public, and you’ll hear a quid pro quo explanation: Special interest groups and corporations contribute money to influence policy and votes.
But it’s not that simple. Political science debunks the notion that lawmakers can be bought and sold. Rather, studies show that lawmakers’ votes are based primarily on ideology, partisanship and constituency interests. That said, political contributions do buy access. And when a single word or sentence in a lengthy bill can vastly change the playing field for a contributor, having access to the men and women drafting and voting on those bills, or even deciding whether they come to a vote, can be invaluable.
That also explains why many interests hedge their bets, donating largely to a favored winner or splitting their contributions among both political parties or multiple leading candidates.
There’s a reason for the adage “follow the money” in politics. Knowing who contributed to whom and how candidates’ campaigns are funded can provide voters important insights into politicians’ relationships with special interest groups, policy leanings and areas of influence.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.
Elected in 2013 (previously served 2009-11). Next election: November
Titus is being challenged by Republican Joyce Bentley but is heavily favored to win.
• Top industries/groups contributing, 2017-18: Building trade unions ($50,500), transportation unions ($45,000), industrial unions ($38,000), real estate ($35,080), casinos/gambling ($34,465)
• Campaign committee and leadership PAC combined fundraising, 2017-18: $549,310 raised, $470,589 spent
• Contributions reported this election cycle, 2017-18: $147,318
• Top contributors: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($25,000); Berkshire Hathaway ($13,500); Carpenters & Joiners Union ($13,000); Rocky Research ($12,700); American Association for Justice ($12,000)
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.
Elected in 2011 (special election). Next election: November
Amodei sits on the Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful and prestigious committees in Congress. It controls U.S. spending policy.
What is a leadership PAC?
A political action committee that can be established by current or former members of Congress as well as other prominent political figures. Leadership PACs are used to fund expenses that are ineligible to be paid by campaign committees or congressional offices, such as travel to raise a politician’s profile. Politicians often use their PACs to donate to other candidates because the donor seeks a leadership position, a higher office or leverage within their party.
• Top industries/groups contributing, 2017-18: Casinos/gambling ($79,600), retired ($65,550), leadership PACs ($42,400), mining ($32,000), health professionals ($29,400)
• Campaign committee and leadership PAC combined fundraising, 2017-18: $906,003 raised, $662,956 spent
• Contributions reported this election cycle, 2017-18: $467,900
• Top contributors: Silver Lake Partners ($15,200); Northrop Grumman ($12,500); Las Vegas Sands ($10,400); Credit Union National Association ($10,000); Coeur Mining ($10,000)
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.
Elected in 2017. Next election: 2022
Gun control interest groups have donated only $4.3 million to political candidates since 1989. Cortez Masto has been a top recipient, receiving $54,688 to date, the second-highest tally in the nation.
• Top industries/groups contributing, 2017-18: Women's issues ($1,670,711), lawyers/law firms ($1,521,939), Democratic/liberal ($1,458,556), retired ($781,971), education ($632,182)
• Campaign committee and leadership PAC combined fundraising, 2017-18: $21,564,227 raised, $20,305,968 spent
• Top contributors: Emily's List ($567,760); League of Conservation Voters ($401,508); J Street ($193,558); University of California ($78,164); University of Nevada ($61,620)
Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.
Elected to CD-3 in 2017. Next election (for Senate): November
Rosen is a member of the Armed Services and Science, Space and Technology committees.
Her challenge against Heller is one of the most watched Senate races in the nation. Former President Barack Obama endorsed Rosen in the neck-and-neck race. She was the only Senate candidate to receive his nod.
• Top industries/groups contributing, 2017-18: Women's issues ($878,696), lawyers/law firms ($612,788), securities and investment ($420,521), real estate ($360,167), Democratic/liberal ($320,344)
• Campaign committee and leadership PAC combined fundraising, 2017-18: $9,278,012 raised, $5,463,590 spent
• Top contributors: Emily's List ($247,196); League of Conservation Voters ($96,691); Womencount PAC ($65,437); D.E. Shaw & Co. ($45,200); Omni New York ($32,400)
• Campaign committee source of funds: Large individual contributions 56.07%; small individual contributions (less than $200) 25.68%; PAC contributions 9.09%; other 9.16%
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
Appointed in 2011, elected in 2013. Next election: November
Did you know?
Dean Heller is the top recipient in the nation this election cycle of contributions from casinos and gambling interests.
Heller, who has never lost an election, was supposed to face perennial Republican candidate Danny Tarkanian in the June 12 GOP primary. Tarkanian was considered a real threat to Heller, having won three Republican primaries since 2004. Worried Tarkanian would win the primary only to lose in the general election (he has lost five general elections since 2004), President Donald Trump urged Tarkanian to run for a House seat instead. Tarkanian conceded and now is facing Democrat Susie Lee to represent the 3rd Congressional District. Heller instead will face Rosen, a first-term Democratic Congresswoman from Henderson. Heller is widely considered the Senate’s most vulnerable Republican up for election this cycle. Of the almost three dozen Senate seats up in 2018, he is the only Republican up for re-election in a state Trump lost.
Dean Heller is a top recipient nationally from the National Rifle Association. He has received $110,815 from gun-rights interest group over his career.
• Top industries/groups contributing, 2017-18: Securities and investment ($792,633), casinos/gambling ($624,157), insurance ($618,491), real estate ($616,128), leadership PACs ($546,450)
• Campaign committee and leadership PAC combined fundraising, 2017-18: $12,950,894 raised, $6,983,933 spent
• Top contributors: Station casinos ($127,400); MGM Resorts International ($100,250); Votesane PAC ($92,000); Berkshire Hathaway ($67,039); Silver Lake Partners ($55,482)
• Campaign committee source of funds: Large individual contributions 54.82%; PAC contributions 36.31%; small individual contributions (less than $200) 4.56%; other 4.31%
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
First elected in 1998. Next election: 2022
• Top industries/groups contributing, 2017-18: Securities and investment ($3,539,482), lawyers/law firms ($2,144,761), real estate ($1,962,166), insurance ($958,339), health professionals ($681,411)
• Campaign committee and leadership PAC combined fundraising, 2017-18: $27,398,493 raised, $27,434,114 spent, $9,754,906 cash on hand
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
First elected in 1984. Next election: 2020
Las Vegas Sands is the third top donor of all time to political campaigns, having donated more than $129 million to date. The Adelson Drug Clinic finished 10th historically, with $96 million in lifetime campaign contributions. The Adelson Drug Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment & Research Inc., founded in 2000 and located on South Maryland Parkway, is run by Miriam Adelson. The clinic treats opiate addiction by providing methadone treatment and counseling services.
• Top industries/groups contributing, 2017-18: Securities and investment ($2,135,551), retired ($1,293,149), insurance ($1,126,725), health professionals ($984,065), lawyers/law firms ($972,736)
• Campaign committee and leadership PAC combined fundraising, 2017-18: $29,387,972 raised, $33,737,712 spent, $3,406,094 cash on hand (note: Remaining funds roll into new election cycles, so “spent” totals plus “cash on hand” totals may exceed “raised” totals in a noted cycle.)
Organizations donate significantly to federal candidates, parties and political action committees. Contributions come from the organizations’ employees, PACs and treasury. These are the organizations that have donated the most so far in the 2018 election cycle. In many cases, the owners and top executives of these organizations also are the top individual contributors to federal candidates and organizations this election season.
• Uline Inc. (shipping, packing and industrial supplies company): $29,796,025 to Republicans and conservatives; $2,736 to Democrats and liberals
• Fahr LLC (political advocacy group of billionaire Tom Steyer): $29,455,507 to Democrats and liberals; $0 to Republicans and conservatives
• Carpenters and Joiners Union: $25,237,754 to Democrats and liberals; $416,000 to Republicans and conservatives
• American Action Network (conservative political advocacy group): $19,468,303 to Republicans and conservatives; $0 to Democrats and liberals
• Paloma Partners (hedge fund): $19,331,200 to Democrats and liberals; $0 to Republicans and conservatives
• Las Vegas Sands: $15,234,100 to Republicans and conservatives; $2,150 to Democrats and liberals
• Adelson Drug Clinic: $15,082,100 to Republicans and conservatives; $0 to Democrats and liberals
• Laborers Union: $12,040,080 to Democrats and liberals; $902,600 to Republicans and conservatives
• Soros Fund Management: $12,666,046 to Democrats and liberals; $23,100 to Republicans and conservatives
• Renaissance Technologies (hedge fund): $7,131,889 to Democrats and liberals; $4,608,600 to Republicans and conservatives
Other notable contributors:
• National Rifle Association: Congressional contributions since 1990: $22,340,775 Congressional lobbying costs since 1998: $49,797,564
• Merck & Co.: The pharmaceutical giant has spent more than $4 million so far this election cycle on lobbying. Key topics of interest to the corporation include Medicare and Medicaid, vaccines and pharmaceutical pricing.
• Amazon: As Amazon gains in power, its PAC has become much more politically active. During the 2008 election cycle, Amazonâ€™s PAC raised just $114,500 and spent $111,500. Ten years later, the group raised $1.4 million and spent $1.3 million supporting candidates and issues. Nevada recipients include Dina Titus and Dean Heller.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.