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State workers get reduced cuts during special session after their union donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats


Nevada’s government employee union infused a ton of cash to Democratic legislators in advance of the most recent special session of the Nevada Legislature. It appears to have paid off. 

During the 12-day special session, legislators ended up cutting more than $500 million from the state budget to help offset a $1.15 billion deficit in the state’s coffers resulting, in part, from the months of economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nearly every state agency and service were impacted by the cuts—some in smaller amounts, others to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in funding. Public comments on the largest budget cut bill—Assembly Bill 3—totaled nearly 700, with the vast majority opposed to it. 

Sen. Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Clark County) said on the final day of the session that while, “hearing the testimony and the folks reaching out about some of these programs was quite heartbreaking,” she thought “there were some decisions that have eased that pain.”

The Nevada wing of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in June gave maximum contributions to a number of Democratic legislators. AFSCME praised legislators upon the end of the special session.

“AFSCME Local 4041 members stepped up and spoke out against budget cuts that would negatively affect working families in Nevada,” said Harry Schiffman of AFSCME.

Schiffman pointed to hits state employees took under Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s administration to deal with recession shortfalls, which included furloughs and pay cuts in place for years. 

Proposed during the 2020 special session were 12 furlough days, but through negotiations with Democratic legislators, AFSCME was able to get that reduced to six days.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson on the eleventh day of the 31st Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City on Saturday, July 18, 2020. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson on the eleventh day of the 31st Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City on Saturday, July 18, 2020. (Pool Photo by David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

AFSCME thanked Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Cannizzaro, Chair Maggie Cartlon and Assembly member Sandra Jauregui “for listening to state workers…”

Each of those Democrats received AFSCME donations in June in amounts ranging from $1,500 to $5,000.

But the Democratic Assembly and Senate caucuses each received $50,000. The group in February gave $19,000 to Nevada’s Democratic party.

So far in 2020, AFSCME has made four $50,000 donations, one each to the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus, Nevada State Democrats, Battle Born and Raised Leadership, and the Leadership in Nevada political action committee. 

The contact person listed on the Nevada Secretary of State’s website for Battle Born and Raised Leadership is Cannizzaro. The Leadership in Nevada PAC is associated with Frierson. 

Many of AFSCME’s donations this year went to the reelection campaigns of current Democratic state legislators, including Connie Munk, Brittany Miller, Frierson, Rochelle Nguyen, Carlton, Howard Watts, Teresa Benitez-Thompson, Lesley Cohen, Skip Daly, Michelle Gorelow, Cannizzaro, Shea Backus and Jauregui. 

AFSCME also gave donations to many Democratic candidates currently running against incumbent Republicans in Nevada’s various Senate and Assembly districts.  

The majority of AFSCME’s spending in 2020 thus far was made just days before the Nevada primary election, which happened about a month before the 31st special session of the Nevada Legislature convened.

Current and hopeful legislators had to turn in their reports detailing contributions they’ve received and political spending for the period of April 1 to June 30 to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office on July 15. That’s thanks to a state law passed in 2019 requiring local and state candidates to comply with rules similar to those of federal candidates. A big difference, however, is that local and state candidates don’t have to do so prior to primary and general elections.

Current legislators who padded their reelection campaign accounts earlier in the year may be grateful for it now, considering that due to blackout rules they were unable to take in donations during the special session and may not do so until it has been 15 days since its conclusion, which will be on Aug. 3. 

AFSCME contributions to Democrats are nothing new

AFSCME has been a major contributor to Democratic causes and candidates in Nevada over the years. 

In 2019, AFSCME contributed $100,000 to the Nevada State Democratic Party, and $50,000 each to the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus and the Nevada Senate Democrats. It also contributed $5,000 to the Committee to Elect current Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, who took over that role in March 2019 after the resignation of Kelvin Atkinson. She was elected to the Nevada Senate in 2016. 

During the 2018 midterm year, AFSCME’s contributions totaled just over $3.7 million. Much of this money went to Democratic causes and candidates. 

In addition to $250,000 contributed to the Nevada State Democratic Party, AFSCME contributed $10,000 to the Friends for Steve Sisolak campaign and smaller contributions totaling between $500 and $10,000 to various Democratic candidates.

Its contributions included ones to current Nevada Lieutenant Governor Kate Marshall, current Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine and Nevada State Controller Catherine Byrne. A contribution was also made to Atkinson Leadership PAC, a political action committee that supported former Speaker Atkinson; and to the late Assembly member Tyron Thompson, who passed in May 2019. 

Of the 42 current Assembly members, 24 of them received money from AFSCME in 2018, all of them Democrats.  

In 2018, the group also contributed to current Democratic Senators Mo Denis, Marilyn Dondero Loop, Melanie Scheible, Yvanna Cancela, Chris Brooks and Julia Ratti.

AFSCME’s contributions that year also included ones made to a number of ultimately failed Democratic candidates, like Julie Pazina, who lost in her 2018 bid for Senate District 20 against Republican Keith Pickard. 

Pickard was recently the subject of a social media stunt pulled by Democrats after he changed his mind about supporting Senate Bill 4 during the 31st special session. 

Flip flops at the Nevada Legislature. Image:Lucia Starbuck
Flip flops at the Nevada Legislature. Image:Lucia Starbuck

Democrats placed dozens of pairs of flip flops leading up to the door of Pickard’s office. SB4 would have placed a 60 percent cap on the amount of deductions available to mining operations in Nevada. The Democrats needed one Republican vote to pass the measure by the required two-thirds. 

“The top of their priority list was held by public employees, not K-12 students,” Republican Senator Ben Kieckeher said of Democrats during the special session.

The libertarian-oriented, free-market think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute agreed. 

“Lawmakers cut millions from education and health care to appease politically connected unions,” NPRI’s Robert Fellner said. “The Legislature’s decision to spend $41 million to undo the incredibly mild pay cuts proposed by Governor Sisolak, rather than restoring vitally important education programs like Read by [Grade] 3, reflects government unions’ undue and corrupting influence on the democratic process.” 

Neither the Assembly nor the Senate Democrats responded to requests for comment from This Is Reno prior to publication of this story. 

Jeri Chadwell
Jeri Chadwellhttp://thisisreno.com
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.