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December 20, 2014

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Sandoval pulls plug on perks for campaign donations

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013 | 5:55 p.m.

CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval pulled the plug Tuesday on a program that offered video chats and lunch with the state's chief executive in exchange for monthly campaign donations.

"The Nevada Strong Campaign was designed to engage grass roots supporters," Jeremy Hughes, Sandoval's campaign manager, told the Associated Press in an email. "We have, at Gov. Sandoval's request, removed the program from our website."

Sandoval did not personally respond to questions. Messages to his office were referred to his campaign, which issued the two-sentence response.

Launched earlier this month and first reported by the AP, the Nevada Strong recurring donor program offered various levels of access and face time with the governor depending on monthly contributions.

The campaign said the strategy was intended to entice small donors to be active in the political process.

"When you ask for money so much, you have to kind of come up with new ways to get people involved," Hughes said when questioned about a campaign email that referenced "exclusive benefits" for members. He said it was no different than charging people to attend a campaign fundraiser.

But the president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics said such perks for cash solicitations can lead to the perception that money buys access.

Martin Dean Dupalo said while there was no evidence Sandoval was actively engaging in pay for play, that type of message is generally rejected by the general public.

"It is especially dubious if the candidate is already an elected official," Dupalo said.

An Oct. 18 fundraising spiel sent out by the campaign's finance director, Kate Szafran, offered video chats, lunch and a round table with the governor, depending on the amount of monthly contribution.

The lowest level member called "Pioneer" offered donors a monthly email update and a window sticker.

"Trailblazer" memberships, at $15 per month, were to receive that plus one "all inclusive" Nevada Strong event a year. Nevada Strong is the theme of Sandoval's re-election campaign.

For $25, contributors also were offered four phone calls or video chats with the governor during the campaign.

Becoming a member of the "Battle Born Council" required a $50 monthly commitment, entitling donors to all of the lower level perks plus an "exclusive lunch" with the governor. For $100, members of the "Governor's Club" also were offered a "round table" with Sandoval and a Nevada Strong lapel pin.

Three years ago, Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, now a Nevada congressman, was criticized for a fundraising letter that sought contributions of up to $25,000 to his political action committee in exchange for access to himself and other Democratic legislative leaders. A suggested donation for lunch was $1,000 to $5,000.

Horsford canceled the program after public outcry and apologized, saying the fundraising effort was inappropriate.

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