State Senate Democratic Campaign Report Shows Return Of Contributions From ‘Pay To Play’

CARSON CITY – A campaign report filed by the Senate Democratic Caucus shows the group’s political action committee received about $20,000 before ending a short-lived proposal to give lobbyists access to lawmakers in exchange for campaign contributions.

The report filed Oct. 26 by state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford shows that 15 contributions by groups and individuals made to the Victory 2010 PAC in August were returned. A $10,000 donation by Newmont USA Ltd. on July 21 was not returned.

The only other contribution reported as being received by the PAC after Horsford, D-Las Vegas, abandoned what was called a “pay to play” effort, came Oct. 26 from the Nevada Senate Democrats.

The July email soliciting contributions from lobbyists did not include a date so it is not clear exactly when it was sent out. The Nevada News Bureau first reported the pay-to-play plan on Aug. 17. Horsford announced he was ending the solicitation the next day.

The return of the contributions is reported on the Victory 2010 contribution and expense report filed with the secretary of state’s office. The donations are listed both as contributions and expenses because they were returned to the contributors.

But the number and amount of contributions received before the pay-to-play plan was abandoned may not be fully disclosed on the report. Campaign contributions returned within 14 days do not have to be reported according to Nevada law.

Horsford, D-Las Vegas, declined to comment for this story.

Horsford offered different levels of access depending on the size of the contribution. A $25,000 contribution would have given the donor a private dinner with Horsford and the chairs of the standing committees.

State Republican leaders criticized the fund-raising effort as being inappropriate.

In abandoning the effort, Horsford said it was “a poor action” and took responsibility. He said it was not his intent to send a message that access to the Senate Democratic leadership required campaign donations.

Horsford told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Aug. 20 he would return all contributions made to the PAC as a result of the letter. Those who contributed before the letter was sent out were given the choice of having the money returned.

An anonymous ethics complaint has been filed against Horsford alleging the solicitation violated Nevada state law by securing unwarranted privileges for himself and his Democratic caucus members. The complaint also says Horsford violated a provision prohibiting the acceptance of a gift that could improperly influence his actions as a lawmaker.

The filing of the complaint with the Ethics Commission was first reported by political commentator Jon Ralston in late October.

The campaign report showed the largest contributions, besides the Newmont donation, were in the $5,000 range. The Consumer Lending Alliance in Crawfordville, Fla. Donated $5,000 on Aug. 11. Tiger Financial Management of Wichita, Kan., gave $5,000 as well. Others were for smaller amounts and all were returned.

Horsford was seeking financial support for Senate Democrats in an effort to build a veto-proof 14-seat majority in the 21-member upper house for the 2011 legislative session. Instead, Democrats lost ground, losing one seat and reducing their majority to 11-10.