By GABE STERN Associated Press/Report for America
RENO, Nev. (AP) — A political action committee backing Democratic candidates filed a complaint Friday alleging that Nevada Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt violated campaign finance laws by using an annual GOP cookout to promote his campaign while he was president of the PAC that organized it.
The Basque Fry is run by the Morning in Nevada PAC, which Laxalt was the president of until August 2021, when his candidacy for U.S. Senate was announced. By allegedly controlling a state PAC as a federal candidate, he violated Federal Election Commission guidelines, said End Citizens United in its complaint.
Laxalt’s campaign says he had “nothing to do with the PAC” after he announced his candidacy a day after last year’s event.
“Adam, I guess he’s not supposed to say that he’s going to be your next United States senator. There’s some campaign finance rules against it.”
The cookout, which includes live music, an inflatable rodeo ride and Basque cuisine, is modeled after Adam Laxalt’s grandfather and former Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt’s cookouts. The elder Laxalt was the son of Basque immigrants.
It has become a yearly tradition attended by Nevada GOP brass and national headliners, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Trump administration counsellor Kellyanne Conway.
In Nevada, state political action committees are allowed to take unlimited contributions, unlike PACs that fall under federal election rules, which have a maximum contribution of $5,000 per donor each year.
The Democratic group said in its report filed with the Federal Election Commission that Laxalt violated federal campaign finance laws by raising and spending well over the $5,000 limit for in-kind contributions from the Morning in Nevada PAC after he became a federal candidate for office. It argues since Laxalt’s campaign was touted at both events, it should be recorded as a contribution.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton announced Laxalt was running at the 2021 Basque Fry on Aug. 14, which “triggered federal candidacy,” the complaint alleges. Laxalt filed paperwork announcing his candidacy the following day, on Aug. 15. According to the complaint, his name appeared on Morning in Nevada’s state registration until Aug. 31.
“Adam, I guess he’s not supposed to say that he’s going to be your next United States senator. There’s some campaign finance rules against it,” Cotton said at the 2021 Basque Fry. “But what do I care about some stupid rules like that? Adam Laxalt is going to the United States Senate for the Battle Born state in 2022.”
End Citizens United argues Laxalt violated the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 by controlling a “soft money organization” — typically a PAC that falls outside federal spending limits — as a federal candidate. And he received “excessive, unreported, and potentially prohibited in-kind contributions” from the Basque Fry. In-kind contributions are non-monetary goods and services.
It also alleges that Laxalt’s speaking slot at this year’s Basque Fry, which was used to promote his campaign, should count as an in-kind contribution. Laxalt has not reported any contributions from the Morning in Nevada PAC during his campaign.
“He was an invited speaker to this year’s Basque Fry, along with a number of other federal and state elected officials and candidates,” Laxalt spokesperson Courtney Holland said in an email. “His attendance at the event was certainly permissible, despite the frivolous claims of a leftist, dark money group” that backs his opponent, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Holland said.
One of Laxalt’s longstanding advisers, Robert Uithoven, is the new president of Morning in Nevada. Laxalt for Senate has reported paying Uithoven and his political consulting firm nearly $330,000 to date. In an email, Uithoven called the complaint “meritless.”
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter @gabestern326.