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Under fire, state senate majority leader pulls plug on ‘pay to play’


by Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, today criticized a fund-raising “pay to play” letter sent out recently by Majority Leader Steven Horsford, saying it borders on an ethics violation.

“I have always avoided that kind of a fundraiser,” he said. “I think it is inappropriate. The perception is that to have access to a leader or chairman you have to pay. I think that sends a terrible message.”

The Nevada News Bureau first reported Tuesday the existence of the letter sent by Horsford, D-Las Vegas, seeking as much as $25,000 in contributions to his political action committee in exchange for access to himself and committee chairmen and women.

Horsford did not return a call seeking comment on the email solicitation. But in a statement released to KRNV Channel 4 in Reno in response to the story, Horsford said he will pull the plug on the fund-raising plan.

“This really was a poor action,” Horsford said. “I take full responsibility for it. I have directed my staff to discontinue the program. It was never our intent to send a message that in order to gain access to our chairs that people needed to make donations, but clearly the optics show that, and at a time when we need confidence and responsibility among our elected officials, I pulled the plug.”

“I just thought it was inappropriate, offensive,” Raggio said. “It’s a very poor way to campaign. This is really strong-arming.”

Raggio said he has also been told by Republican candidates that their efforts to raise money for their campaigns are being hampered by intimidation tactics aimed at lobbyists.

“I’m told there is a lot of intimidation out there,” he said. “My GOP candidates are being told by lobbyists that if they contribute to their campaigns, they won’t get anything done in the session.”

The Nevada News Bureau has been unable to confirm with any lobbyists directly that such tactics are being employed by Democratic legislative leadership.

Neither Horsford or Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, returned calls seeking comment on the claims.

Horsford has a 12-9 majority in the Senate but is seeking a veto-proof 14-seat majority.

Oceguera is seeking to hold on to his current 28-14 veto proof majority. The Assembly 40 seat is a key race in that effort. Incumbent Democrat Bonnie Parnell is not seeking re-election.

Both Pete Livermore, a Republican candidate for the Assembly 40 seat in Carson City, and Michael Roberson, the Republican candidate challenging Democrat incumbent Joyce Woodhouse in Clark District 5, say they have been told the same story by lobbyists.

“The bulk of the lobbyists I talk to tell me the same thing,” Roberson said. “He (Horsford) is definitely playing hardball.”

Nevada State Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei said he too is aware of the effort by Democrats to prevent campaign donations to GOP candidates.

“It’s not even an if or a maybe,” Amodei said. “Lobbyists have been told that if you contribute against my candidate, don’t bother showing up. I absolutely believe it to be true.”

Amodei, a former state Senator from Carson City, said in an interview Tuesday that such an edict borders on an infringement of constitutionally protected free speech rights.

“I don’t know if it is illegal or not but it sends a clear message about the ability of people to participate in the process,” he said.

No such edicts came from Republicans when they were the majority in the Senate, Amodei said.

“I think it falls under the category of a sad state of affairs for Nevada politics,” he said.

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