MGM contributions stand out as Biden leads Nevada fundraising

By: - August 8, 2019 12:11 pm
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Joe Biden campaigning in Southern Nevada in July. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has raised more than four times as much money in Nevada as any other Democratic presidential candidate, and more than one of every ten dollars Biden raised in the state came from contributors at a single company, MGM Resorts.

Between Biden’s campaign launch in late April and June 30, Biden raised $410,295 in itemized contributions from Nevada. Kamala Harris was a distant second, raising $90,000 in Nevada thus far in her campaign.

MGM officials in Nevada donated at least $52,550 — about 13 percent of Biden’s Nevada total — according to the data submitted to the Federal Election Commission. 

That amount includes itemized contributions — all donations that exceed $200 as well as some smaller donations detailed by the campaign. 

MGM executives in Nevada were ponying up for Biden’s campaign on the same day the Democratic presidential candidate railed against large corporations at a Southern Nevada campaign rally. 

Biden visited Nevada on May 7, marking his first stop in the state since announcing his campaign in late April. The former vice president told a crowd at a union hall in Henderson that corporations had broken their “basic bargain” with American workers. “The only people who benefit when a company does well are CEOs and the shareholders.”

Later that day, he attended a fundraiser hosted by MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren. (Murren himself does not appear to have donated to Biden’s campaign). 

Several top MGM executives cut checks to Biden’s campaign that day, according to the most recent campaign finance report that tracks donations through June 30. 

Phyllis James, chief diversity officer and corporate responsibility officer, donated $2,800 (the maximum allowed contribution per candidate per election cycle). Ann Hoff, MGM’s portfolio president, also cut a $2,800 check. Several other senior MGM employees gave to Biden that day, including Steve Zanella ($2,800), Niklas Rytterstrom ($1,000), Mark Lefever ($1,000), Ari Kastratri ($1,000) and Eric Fitzgerald ($2,800). 

Other MGM executives who have donated to Biden’s campaign so far this year include Bill Hornbuckle, president and chief operating officer ($2,800); Corey Sanders, chief financial officer ($2,800); and John McManus, executive vice president, general counsel and secretary ($2,800). 

Biden, who was a U.S. senator from Delaware for more than three decades before serving two terms as vice president, has sought to position himself as a more moderate alternative to candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. 

“I’m not surprised that Biden is doing better than the other [Democrats], he has always been a little bit more approachable to business than someone like Sanders or Warren,” said Jim Manley, a former longtime aide to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. 

However, “Biden has never been especially well known as friendly to Wall Street or to big business, with the exception of the banks in his home state,” Manley added. 

In his visit to the Nevada union hall in May, Biden called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, closing tax loopholes and rolling back the tax cuts Trump and Republicans passed in 2017 that Biden said overwhelmingly helped the wealthy and corporations. 

But some business leaders “see him as the best of all the options” before them, Manley added. “I don’t know how a gaming industry official in this day and age can be publicly donating to Donald Trump, given the pressure they’ll be under from the labor unions and the Hispanic community.” 

Biden has received far more itemized contributions from MGM employees in Nevada this year than has any other presidential candidate, although other contenders have also gotten donations from MGM staff. Pete Buttigieg reported receiving $1,350 from MGM Resorts employees in the state; Bernie Sanders’ campaign reported receiving $216 and President Trump’s campaign received $337.50. 

The gaming giant also runs a political action committee (PAC) that has historically given to Democratic and Republican candidates alike, although it’s donated more to Democrats than Republicans in every election cycle since 2008, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2018 cycle, for example, the MGM Resorts International PAC gave about twice as much to Democratic candidates as it did to Republicans.

MGM Resorts PAC Contributions

2010 was Sharron Angle just sayin
MGM Resorts political action committee contributions, by party. Center for Response Politics

MGM’s press office did not respond to a request for comment for this story. 

Several of the MGM executives now backing Biden’s candidacy have also donated to GOP candidates in the past. For example, Hornbuckle donated to Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign in Sept. 2015. McManus contributed to former Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s 2018 campaign. 

In Nevada, contributions from the gaming industry are highly coveted by political candidates.  

According to Manley, “There’s three ways to get money when it comes to Nevada as far as I can tell: The wildly wealthy contributions from [GOP mega-donor] Sheldon Adelson, money from the Culinary union and other labor unions and then there’s the gaming industry, with MGM in the lead.” 

MGM Resorts has about 77,000 employees and is the largest employer in Nevada, according to the Associated Press. The company has been laying off employees this year, mostly in Las Vegas. 

In addition to being a favorite among Democratic donors in the state, Biden is leading the Democratic field in national polls.

Morning Consult data released this week showed that, among Democratic voters in early primary states — Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — Biden was favored by 32 percent of those polled. Sanders received 19 percent of the vote share and Warren got 16 percent. 

And while Biden has establishment backing in the state, other candidates aren’t backing off. Politico reported this week that Democratic operatives have been impressed by Warren’s ground game there, and it’s still very early in the cycle. 

Nevada’s 2020 donations

Here’s how much Trump and the 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls who appeared in the most recent televised debates have received from Nevada donors so far this election cycle. The numbers include data through June 30 and include only the donations itemized in the campaigns’ filings, which likely exclude some small donations. 

President Trump: $518,158.21

Joe Biden: $410,295.00

Kamala Harris: $89,894.98

Bernie Sanders: $61,814.15

Pete Buttigieg: $53,036.77

Elizabeth Warren: $41,373.49

Cory Booker: $27,183.15

Andrew Yang: $21,174.51

Beto O’Rourke: $18,263.67

Tulsi Gabbard: $15,803.15

John Delaney: $11,016.40

Marianne Williamson: $9,281.98

John Hickenlooper: $8,450.00

Amy Klobuchar: $8,153.00

Jay Inslee: $6,862.17

Kirsten Gillibrand: $6,551.00

Tim Ryan: $5,600.00

Julian Castro: $2,594.00

Michael Bennet: $2,000.00

Steve Bullock: $1,150.00

Bill DeBlasio: $0.00

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.