ICYMI: Follow the Money: Major businesses, developers behind Lombardo’s $10M fundraising effort

Joe Lombardo will always cave to special interests, and the proof is in his donor list. A new analysis by The Nevada Independent sheds light on how Lombardo has spent his time in office working on behalf of his wealthy donors instead of Nevada families. 

The analysis details how Lombardo’s big-money donors “stood to benefit the most” from his election and how Lombardo is now delivering for them at the expense of Nevadans, including by vetoing critical legislation that would have made housing more affordable across the state after the real estate industry gave him $1.7 million. 

Now with more data to prove it, this is all yet another reminder that Lombardo will always put wealthy special interests first.

Read more below: 

The Nevada Independent: Follow the Money: Major businesses, developers behind Lombardo’s $10M fundraising effort

November 19, 2023

  • On his path to taking the governor’s mansion last November, Joe Lombardo drew support from hundreds of big-money donors, with the majority coming from large businesses and developers, according to an expansive new analysis by The Nevada Independent of thousands of campaign contributions that underscore how major candidates are often financed through “bundling” arrangements that experts say skirt the spirit of campaign finance laws. 
  • The former Clark County sheriff’s victory — bolstered by $8.1 million in big-money contributions ($200 or more) — made him the only Republican to unseat a Democratic governor last year, even though he was outraised by a 3-2 margin through Election Day by his opponent, incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak.
  • While Sisolak benefited from his incumbency and a powerful Democratic fundraising machine, the financial gulf was partially closed by billionaire Robert Bigelow, who contributed millions of dollars to pro-Lombardo PACs and was also the largest individual donor to Lombardo’s campaign through Election Day, providing maximum $10,000 contributions using 19 of his own companies. 
  • Nearly a year into Lombardo’s term, the data also underscores the politics of a new governor who has pursued his own policy vision in a Democrat-controlled Legislature while juggling the pressures from outside businesses who helped get him to Carson City.
  • Despite a state law that limits individual contributors from giving more than $10,000 to a single candidate in an election cycle — $5,000 for the primary election and $5,000 for the general — about 60 individual donors and companies sidestepped this limit by giving through subsidiaries, family members and other creative mechanisms.
  • Prior to Lombardo’s win, Bigelow — the billionaire owner of Budget Suites of America, a low-income, long-term stay motel chain, and founder of an outer space technology company — was the faraway leading contributor to his campaign.
  • Using myriad business subsidiaries with obscure names, such as “Bigelow Arizona TX336, LP” and “Sun Harbor Budget Suites LLC of NV,” Bigelow contributed $95,000 to Lombardo in August 2021 and another $95,000 after he won the primary election in June 2022.
  • Even if that level of funding does not lead to corruption, McKean said the public should have information about “where the money comes [from]” and transparency on the politician’s actions in office.
  • After almost a year in office, Lombardo has already found himself on the same side of key issues as some major donors.
  • Across nearly two dozen groups of donors, general business interests ($2.7 million) and companies involved in real estate and commercial development ($1.7 million) ranked as the biggest industries donating to Lombardo.
  • The real estate and development category includes some major individual developers, including Bigelow ($190,000); industry groups, such as the Nevada Home Builders Association ($20,000); real estate agents, such as Donna Ruthe ($20,000); and construction and contracting companies involved in development, such as XL Concrete Masonry ($20,000).
  • These big-money donors stood to benefit the most from a Republican who made the economy a central issue of his campaign and firmly declared in his first State of the State address that “Nevada is back open for business.” In that speech, he proposed increasing the threshold for the Commerce Tax, an annual tax on gross business revenue exceeding $4 million in a year (a policy that failed to advance this year through a Democrat-controlled Legislature).
  • In the wake of the legislative session, Lombardo vetoed a raft of bills meant to support affordable housing and tenant protections, citing concerns about placing additional burdens on the rental market. That position landed him on the same side as several real estate groups and landlords, who expressed opposition to potential rental caps and changes to the state’s eviction processes.
  • After assuming office, Lombardo quickly moved to streamline state regulations and professional licensing requirements. That included working with the Gaming Control Board to speed up technology approvals and repeal outdated regulations — moves aligned with another key category of donors.
  • The gaming industry collectively contributed nearly $1.7 million to Lombardo, though nearly half that amount came only after the election.
  • Miller said though contributions may not be tied directly to specific votes, there is a connection “between money and access.” He described the top categories of donors — businesses, real estate and development interests and gaming — as groups ”interested in maintaining good relations with government and maintaining a high level of access.”
  • Even outside the biggest donors, some contributors ended up working closely with the governor.
  • NV Energy, a Berkshire Hathaway-owned company that serves as the state’s primary electric utility and a perennial top Nevada political donor, contributed $40,000 to Lombardo through bundled contributions. 
  • In March, Lombardo signed an executive order calling for a balanced approach to natural gas and renewables and aligning generally with the company’s goal of building more in-state energy generating resources.
  • Lombardo’s access to Bigelow’s money helped him stay competitive in a race that Sisolak often dominated in terms of fundraising. McKean noted that someone with deep enough pockets can provide “enormous sums” to outside groups unchecked by the same contribution limits on candidates to essentially run “unending TV ads.” 
  • Bigelow directed more than $25 million — far more than Lombardo raised alone — to the Republican Governors Association and a combination of in-state PACs, which spent those funds primarily to support Lombardo.
  • “There’s no doubt that the candidate knows if an industry or a wealthy donor is spending on their behalf, regardless of whether that contribution is direct to the candidate, or if they’re doing it through a super PAC, supposedly independently of the candidate,” McKean said. “They might take that into consideration when they’re making decisions in office, and that’s what we have to guard against.”
  • Though the governor won’t face re-election until 2026, he’s endorsed a suite of legislative candidates this year in competitive races, while a PAC supporting him — Better Nevada PAC — has sought to undermine incumbent Democrats through a social media and traditional media blitz  tied to links between individual lawmakers and nonprofit entities that received millions from the so-called “Christmas tree” bill passed at the close of this year’s legislative session (which Lombardo signed). 



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