Las Vegas Sun

April 16, 2014

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Meal sponsorship tells tale of state parties’ strength

Sun Expanded Coverage

For all the questions directed at the Nevada Democratic Party on corporate sponsorship of events at the party’s convention last week, the state’s Republicans are suffering another kind of indignity: Digging into their pockets to pay for meals.

The Republicans aren’t ponying up in deference to strict new ethics rules. They are spending for breakfasts and cocktail receptions because the state party didn’t get enough corporate sponsorship to pay.

Joe Brown, a state Republican Party leader, said in hindsight, he should have asked the state’s corporations to dig into their pockets to feed the Nevadans.

Instead, the longtime attorney relied on a few of his corporate clients to foot the bill.

Hence, one Nevada luncheon was sponsored by Community Financial Services of South Carolina, one of his longtime clients. Other events were sponsored by national corporations (such as Eli Lilly) and local ones (such as Las Vegas Sands).

But the daily breakfasts that were a key starting point of the day for Democrats in Denver were hosted here in St. Paul by the Arizona delegation. The Nevadans could have a seat at the table if they paid $25 fee.

“The Democrats just did a better job than we did of asking,” Brown said, shrugging. “If I had it to do over again, I’d ask.”

The difference in the experience at the conventions shows the shift caused by Democrats’ rising fortunes.

Voter registration in Nevada has soared this year among Democrats, and Sen. Harry Reid’s position as majority leader is a magnet for fundraising.

But the difference also points to the organizational strength of the state parties this year — and the Republicans have had a difficult year. Spirits are down as the party recoils from the missteps of its governor. The national party rebuked state Republicans for “ineptness” in selecting delegates for St. Paul after a challenge by supporters of candidate Ron Paul.

“If people see disarray in the state party, they don’t want to fund that” at the conventions, said a veteran Republican political consultant in Nevada.

So the difference played out over the past two weeks.

Democrats had a daily 7 a.m. breakfast sponsored by Nevada’s leading corporations and political players, including Newmont Mining, Cox Cable and the powerful law firm Holland & Hart. Many days offered delegate lunches, too, thanks to corporate sponsors, and a few evening receptions.

Congressional ethics laws don’t forbid delegates from attending those events — provided federal lawmakers don’t attend. (If they do, the events must follow new rules that limit meals to finger food in hopes of limiting potentially undue influence from wining and dining over sit-down meals.)

Asked about the absence of corporate sponsorship, the Republican state party chairman, Sue Lowden, said she’d rather spend money on registering voters than throwing parties.

Sort of.

When asked why the party didn’t ask companies such as Newmont to sponsor meals, state Republican Party leaders said they did ask but were rebuffed.

The next day they said there had been a misunderstanding when the Sun asked the question. The party hadn’t asked Newmont; it had asked Barrick, the other mining giant in Nevada. But it was told Barrick wasn’t sponsoring any convention meals this year.

The following day, however, the party said Newmont in fact would be sponsoring a meal after all.

Finally, on Thursday, the party said it was too late for Newmont to sponsor a meal, so the company would simply make a donation to the party.

The party said the donation was what it had planned all along.

Newmont did not respond to requests for comment.

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