Everyone Is Waiting for Gibbons

FEC Demands Answers as Nevada Senate Race Turns Topsy Turvy

Posted July 18, 2003 at 6:43pm

Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) has told supporters that he expects to announce whether he is running for Senate sometime in August.

The Federal Election Commission wants Gibbons to decide by Thursday. And he could be in violation of campaign finance laws if he doesn’t.

The FEC wrote what’s known as a letter of disavowal to Gibbons in late June, noting that while he appears to be raising and spending money for a federal campaign in 2004, he has not filed a statement of candidacy. The letter orders Gibbons to disavow the fundraising activities — he raised $129,000 in the last three months and had $515,000 in the bank — or formally file candidacy papers by July 24.

“He would need to tell us one way or the other,” said Kelly Huff, an FEC spokeswoman.

The FEC action is the latest twist in a Senate race that has been marked by Gibbons’ protracted deliberations, as he considers whether to seek re-election or challenge Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2004.

Most House Members who are weighing 2004 Senate bids — or have declared their intention to run — have filed statements with the FEC that they are candidates for the House. The money they raise can be used for either a Senate or a House race.

But by not filing anything with the FEC, Gibbons could run afoul of the law, although Huff could not say what the penalty might be.

Gibbons’ chief of staff, Robert Uithoven, called the FEC letter “routine,” and said Gibbons will notify the commission that he is a candidate for re-election by Thursday while he continues to mull a Senate candidacy.

“It’ll remain that way until he makes a decision the other way,” Uithoven said Friday.

But Gibbons’ indecision could be confusing donors, Nevada voters and other political observers, Democrats charge.

A recent column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted that a powerful Nevada law firm recently hosted fundraisers for both Gibbons and Reid under the assumption that Gibbons would be running for re-election next year.

Joe Brown, a partner at the firm, Jones Vargas, told Roll Call last week that Gibbons had not made up his mind about which office to run for. Brown, the Republican National Committeeman from Nevada, said that the firm — whose partners include former Democratic Gov. Bob Miller — routinely raises money for Democrats and Republicans.

“We have Republicans and Democrats in our firm,” he said. “We don’t have an official party mandate.”

Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the flap over Gibbons’ FEC paperwork and uncertainty over which office he is running for suggests that the Congressman “has a propensity to deceive his donors.”

Certainly there seems to be an up-is-down quality to the nascent Nevada Senate race. Last week, Roll Call reported that Sig Rogich, a prominent Las Vegas-based Republican consultant, was aiding Reid’s re-election campaign. Nevada papers last week also revealed that Frank Fahrenkopf, a former Republican National Committee chairman who is now head of the American Gaming Association, contributed $1,000 to Reid’s robust $3.1 million war chest.

Meanwhile, Gibbons’ advisers seemed momentarily stunned and distraught by a state Supreme Court decision 11 days ago throwing out a law requiring a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to raise taxes.

The court concluded that the law — which Gibbons put on the statewide ballot when he was in the Nevada Assembly, and which passed with 70 percent in a referendum — violated the state’s obligation to fund education. Until the court ruling, Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) and the state Legislature had been deadlocked over a tax-hike proposal that was needed to keep the state in the black.

Gibbons quickly recovered from the news, however, and within 24 hours of the court decision he was inviting supporters to a July 12 statehouse rally to condemn the court decision and announce a push to put an initiative on the state ballot requiring the Legislature to pass an education budget before tackling other programs.

“I believe we all owe that to Nevada’s children,” Gibbons said at the rally.

Now the court decision has become a sidelight to the Senate campaign.

Angry anti-tax activists have begun a recall campaign on the six justices who voted to strike down the supermajority law. Because five of them are Democrats, voter ire could be directed at Reid, some analysts believe.

Republicans say that Gibbons is well-positioned to capitalize on the pro-education sentiments of the voters and could also take advantage of the fact that the supermajority referendum was approved so overwhelmingly.

“It could probably only help the Congressman if he decides to run for the Senate, because it shows his concern for education,” said Lia Roberts, chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party.