One way to evaluate an election campaign is to follow the money.
An assertion often made is that money raised and spent is always a decisive factor. I believe that is incorrect. What I think matters is that a challenger to an incumbent or insider raises enough money to be effective on the campaign trail.
As reported by Senior Staff Writer Mark Waite’s front-page story, candidates had a Tuesday deadline to turn in their latest campaign finance reports to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office.
The report that stood out to me was that of Nye County Sheriff’s candidate Rick Marshall, the current assistant sheriff I would call an insider. Marshall far outpaced opponent Sharon Wehrly by raising $16,552 since the June primary, and $51,717 since Jan. 1. Those amounts shadow the $5,860 Wehrly has raised since the primary, only raising $12,079 overall.
While Wehrly supporters are quick to point out that nearly $8,600 of Marshall’s contributions since the primary came in the form of loans from Marshall himself, that still means approximately $7,900 came from outside contributions, which is still more than his opponent.
Despite her lack of fundraising, Wehrly has spent $38,826 on her campaign this year. However, Marshall has spent $53,418. Where the money is coming from for the county’s next chief law enforcer is another important question.
That is not to say every dollar buys influence. When I was in Las Vegas, politicians would often say they didn’t know who had donated to their campaigns because there were so many. Maybe that’s true, even if I tend to doubt that statement. A candidate might not know a grandma in Alamo donated $50, but I find it hard to imagine a $10,000 donation goes by unnoticed. In a small community such as Pahrump or Nye County, the opportunity for closer contact at lower entry fees between policy makers and king makers is something to keep an eye on.
Marshall received four $1,000 contributions: one from the corporate office of Cash America, another from an import company from Henderson, and one each from the medical marijuana applicant MM Development and its land owner Creekside Investment. Creekside is co-managed by Pahrump resident John Shea and California partner David Carroll, co-owners of Pahrump Valley Disposal and operators of the county’s landfill.
Marshall also received $300 from current Sheriff Tony DeMeo. The largest contribution to Wehrly’s campaign since the primary was $500 from a private resident.
Another key could be to follow the money donated by single contributors across different campaigns.
Creekside Investment also donated $1,000 to the campaign of District Attorney Brian Kunzi, as did Cash America. In fact, Cash America spread its donations around, dropping $1,000 on the campaigns of County Commissioners Andrew “Butch” Borasky, who is running unopposed, and fellow Commissioner Dan Schinhofen. Creekside and Cash America have made similar donations throughout Nevada.
The biggest single money drop came from Las Vegas-based Golden Gaming, owners and operators of Pahrump Nugget Hotel and Casino, Gold Town Casino and Lakeside Casino and RV Park. The casino, tavern owner and slot route operator gave $5,000 to Kunzi.
The district attorney race has been as contentious financially as it has been verbally. Kunzi reported raising $10,742 since the primary and $41,492 this year. Opponent Angela Bello had a surge in donations since the primary, gathering $22,290 of her $23,392 year total since June 6. However, Kunzi’s early funding has enabled him to outspend his opponent $33,820 to $14,198 this year.
Another important place to follow the money is in county commission races. In the race for County Commission District 5, incumbent Dan Schinhofen raised $8,200 since the primary and $18,364 this year. He received a $2,000 contribution from Las Vegas-based home builder and real estate developer American West Development.
Former County Manager Richard Osborne has struggled to keep pace with Schinhofen, raising $3,779 since the primary and $4,902 overall. Schinhofen has spent $14,342 on his re-election campaign, Osborne $3,269 on his challenge.
Financial reports for judges can have some interesting reveals, but the District 5 Court race between long-time Judge Robert Lane and Lillian Donohue does not reveal much. Lane has raised nearly twice as much as Donohue, a local attorney, and spent nearly three times as much on the campaign.
One of the more interesting private donors is Anthony Greco, who is awaiting trial next year on an arson charge. Greco donated $300 to Marshall’s campaign and $500 to Bello’s campaign.
The money flowing through Nye County pales in comparison to other jurisdictions. The race for Clark County Sheriff saw Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo raise $1.6 million and spend $1.4 million. Republican Mark Hutchison has raised a mind-boggling $2.4 million for his campaign for lieutenant governor, while contributions to the Coalition to Defeat the Margin Tax Initiative raised nearly $4 million this year.
Political watchdogs sometimes over-analyze the money that flows through campaigns. Journalists are guilty of that too. Sometimes donations come from friends or business associates who want to see someone they know do well.
Not every dollar is nefarious. But campaign finance reports are important public documents that help everyone keep any eye on what is going on with our public officials, and where campaign donors give their money.
Arnold M. Knightly is editor of the Pahrump Valley Times. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind.