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Companies led by stadium developer continued political donations before stadium special session

Posted at 4:00 PM, Oct 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-21 22:06:07-04

Companies led by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Nevada lawmakers in the weeks ahead of a special session where legislators approved a partially-publicly funded $1.9 billion stadium project designed to attract the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas.

Adelson-led businesses donated a total of $82,500 to sitting state lawmakers between June and October, according to campaign finance reports released this week. A KTNV review of political donations to state lawmakers found that from Adelson-led businesses have contributed more than $650,000 to legislators since 2008, with nearly half that amount coming in 2016.

Nevada lawmakers were called into a special session earlier this month to review and discuss a measure that would raise hotel room taxes that would partially fund construction of a publicly-owned stadium near the Las Vegas Strip as well as an expansion to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

After a week of late-night hearings and hours of testimony, lawmakers in both houses voted to approve the proposal narrowly eclipsing the required two-thirds majority for any tax increase.

The new tax revenue will go to financing $750 million in construction bonds for the new stadium, with Adelson promising to give $650 million and the Raiders chipping in another $500 million to cover construction costs. The stadium will be owned by the public and operated by a stadium authority board, but a stadium events company likely to be owned by Adelson will manage day-to-day operations.

Adelson is the CEO and chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which operates The Venetian hotel-casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

Campaign finance reports released earlier this week cover the period between June 10 and Oct. 14 and show donations from those businesses to 11 lawmakers over that time.

Republicans and Democrats alike received the donations, including many who ultimately voted against the proposal. Of the 18 total lawmakers who voted against the proposal, only five have never received a contribution from a company led by Adelson.

Lawmakers receiving contributions in the most recent reporting period include Republican state Sen. Pete Goicoechea and Assembly Republicans John Ellison, Brent Jones, Stephen Silberkraus, Jill Dickman, Victoria Seaman and Libertarian John Moore (elected as a Republican.)

All Republicans who accepted campaign donations from Adelson-led companies in the last reporting period other than Goicoechea voted for the stadium legislation.

Democrat Assembly members receiving donations include Dina Neal, Olivia Diaz, Amber Joiner and James Ohrenshall, though Neal, Diaz and Joiner all voted against the final proposal. 

In an interview, Neal said the donation came as a surprise to her because the Sands tends to give primarily to Republican candidates. She said she thought it "will probably never happen again" after she voted against the stadium bill.

Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson told KTNV earlier this month that donations are up across the board because there are more Republicans in office and because fundraising always increases in presidential election years.

“Across the board, you're seeing contributions up,” he said. “And so if you just take one entity, you can certainly start to paint a picture, but I don't think it's accurate."

Nevada law prohibits candidates from fundraising during a special session and 15 days after it adjourns, meaning legislative candidates are in a “blackout” period until Oct. 30.

Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the bill into law on Monday, but having the Raiders officially move to Las Vegas would require a 3/4 vote of the NFL's owners during their regular meeting in January.

You can view a copy of all donations compiled by KTNV here.

This story has been updated to note that all Republicans other than state Sen. Pete Goicoechea who accepted campaign donations from Adelson-led companies voted for the stadium legislation.