“In Texas, an honest politician is one who stays bought.” Molly Ivins
It seems illogical that local elected officials would approve developments with major flaws that were broadly unpopular with their constituents. You would expect the officials to please their constituents to favor their own re-election. But, money buys advertising and campaign marketing for these elections. For the many voters who are not following local issues, the marketing may be more important than goodwill. Both Reno and Washoe County limit council members and commissioners to three terms. Campaign contributors for local officials may support their campaigns for state and federal offices once the officials cannot run again. Perhaps, the power of marketing, combined with the advantage of incumbency, makes money more important than reputation.
As a voter, taxpayer, and resident, you might wonder if there is really a correlation between campaign contributions received by officials and their votes. There is; but, correlation is not causation. Just because there is a pattern between campaign contributions and votes does not mean that these votes are “bought”. Local officials might have valid reasons for their votes independent of the contributions. It may be that it is influence that is bought which colors all decisions. The correlation is strong, however, making the premise “contributions buy votes” hard to discount.
There are caveats to this analysis.
- The contribution information comes from the Nevada Secretary of State records. This information is provided by the candidates. If the candidate makes an error or omission, it will not be corrected.
- Contributions below $250 per quarter were not examined. Only a few of these smaller contributions are from development interests.
- Some contributors could not be easily categorized. If these had an interest in development, it was not obvious, and they were not counted as developers.
- Only recorded campaign contributions are listed. Gifts, or other contributions would not be recorded.
- “Developer” is defined here as any person or corporate body that benefits financially from development directly or indirectly. A developer benefits directly when his development gets approved. A realtor benefits indirectly when there is a lot of new housing to sell. So, “Developer” would include developers, builders, realtors, engineering firms, building-trade unions, building supply companies, and attorneys that represent developers.
Given these limitations, the actual contributions from developers are under-counted in this analysis.
So, what about the votes? For this analysis, 13 major development votes were selected from 2014 to present. These may not be the most significant votes, but they are representative and cover the tenure of the current council members.
Development Date Voting in Favor
- Evans Ranch 1/15/14 Delgado, Jardon, Schieve
- Bella Vista Ranch 10/8/14 Delgado, Jardon, Schieve
- West Meadows Estates 11/24/14 Delgado, Jardon, Duerr, Schieve
- Rancharra 5/13/15 Brekhus, Delgado, Jardon, Duerr, Schieve
- Sky Vista Amendment 11/18/15 Brekhus, Delgado, Jardon, Duerr, Schieve
- North Valley Estates 6/8/16 Brekhus, Delgado, Jardon, Duerr, Schieve
- Meridian South rezoning 11/8/17 Delgado, Jardon, Duerr
- Stonegate 2/14/18 Delgado, Jardon, Duerr, Schieve, Weber
- Westview Estates rezoning 5/2/18 Delgado, Jardon, Schieve
- Logisticenter Lemmon Valley 7/18/18 Delgado, Jardon, Schieve, Duerr
- Daybreak 11/14/18 Jardon, Duerr, Schieve, Weber
- Daybreak revisited 9/23/19 Delgado, Jardon, Weber, Reese
- Bella Vista Ranch II amendment 1/8/20 Weber
Candidates elected in 2012; (contributions from 1/1/2012 through 4/15/2020)
Jardon: $146,256 from developers, 40% of total $364,339; voted w/developers 92%
Delgado: $100,275 from developers, 40% of total $251,171; voted w/developers 85%
Brekhus: $62,950 from developers, 22% of total $290,941; voted w/developers 25%
Candidates elected in 2014; (contributions from 1/1/2014 through 12/31/2019)
Schieve: $280,286 from developers, 33% of total $858,007; voted w/developers 75%
Duerr: $87,323 from developers, 29% of total $300,680; voted w/developers 80%
Candidates elected in 2018; (contributions from 1/1/2014 through 12/31/2019)
Weber: $103,700 from developers, 61% of total $169,329; voted w/developers 100%
Appointed to fill a vacancy in 2019; (contributions from 3/15/2019 through 4/15/2020)
Reese: $43,450 from developers, 43% of total $100,250; voted w/developers 100%
Note: Reese was only on the council for one of the votes considered.
It’s clear: large developer contributions correlate to favorable consideration of developments by the council members. The correlation is imperfect, but convincing. The true intentions behind the votes cannot be known.
The casinos contribute nearly as much as the developers do to local campaigns. Behind them are the many cannabis (pot) interests. Some candidates get few individual campaign contributions.
Table of contribution data in Excel (Reno_Swamp_05)
Nevada Secretary of State contribution and expense reports
Reno City Council minutes