Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid solicited money from a donor who gave $100,000 to a SuperPAC linked to the senator, which dances very close to a legal prohibition.
Will Kemp was a prime player in this fascinating story by the Review-Journal's excellent capital reporter, Steve Tetreault, about the timing of the contribution to the Senate Majority PAC in proximity to the majority leader pushing one of his law partners for a federal judgeship. When I talked to Kemp on Saturday, he told me Reid asked him for money near the beginning of 2012, when the Democrats feared the GOP might make a run at Senate control.
Kemp recalled Reid's pitch went something like this: "Things don't look so great...Do what you can for me." Kemp said Reid told him that he could "give money to the various senators, but the PAC thing seemed the more preferred route."
Kemp said Reid told him if he he wanted to give to the SuperPAC, "He said he'd have someone contact me. Someone contacted me."
This is not the first time this issue has been raised about Reid, who sent out a controversial solicitation in 2011 for the Super PAC. That missive had the caveat that Reid is "only asking for a donation of up to $5,000 from individuals and federal PACs. He is not asking for funds from corporations, labor unions or other federally prohibited sources."
So how to explain a contribution 20 times what Reid said he would ask for?
Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman told me, "It has been widely reported that Senator Reid supported the efforts of Majority PAC by seeking federally permissible donations of up to $5,000. Senator Reid's actions in this case are fully consistent with FEC rules and advisory opinions. The donor's decision to give more than the normal federal limit was presumably based upon his discussions with the PAC and not Senator Reid."
The issue of the coziness between SuperPACs and candidates or elected officials has been debated for a couple of years, including a case of a GOP congressman and even the president. Closer to home, Las Vegas Sands boss Sheldon Adelson, who has had nearly a two-decade relationship with Newt Gingrich, gave tens of millions to a presidential SuperPAC associated with the former speaker.
The lines also have been blurred because of the people who run these SuperPACs have clear ties to the officials, including the Senate Majority PAC, run by Reid campaign gury Rebecca Lambe and his ex-Chief-of-Staff Susan McCue.
Kemp clearly was directed to the SuperPAC by Reid, but Orthman's explanation may be enough to satisfy legal questions if not Republican operatives.
Kemp also talked about the heart of Tetreault's story, which indicates a very unfortunate time line for Reid and Kemp that some will take as an attempt to purchase a judgeship.
From Tetreault's story: “This feels problematic to me,” said Charles Geyh, John F. Kimberling professor of law who teaches and writes on ethics at the University of Indiana Maurer School of Law. “There’s no denying a perception problem here. Politically it seems like a dangerous thing to undertake.”
Kemp, one of Nevada's most accomplished trial lawyers, gets the unseemly perception. But he says it is nonsense.
He pointed out the long-standing relationship he has had with Reid, calling it "a 45-year relationship" to their days together in Henderson. Kemp also said any perception he is a major Democratic donor is erroneous because he has given plenty to Republicans as well, including a $20,000 contribution to ex-Gov. Kenny Guinn.
Kemp also said he and a friend "talked John Ensign into running against (ex-Rep. Jim) Bilbray (in 1994)." And, he added, "I just gave (Gov. Brian) Sandoval some money, even though he might not want me to say so." (Because of this state's ridiculous campaign laws, that doesn't have to be disclosed until next year.)
Indeed, Federal Election Commission records show Kemp has given to Ensign, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Lindsey Graham, Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign and congressional hopeful Danny Tarkanian just last year. That is, like many business people, he gives to both sides, and he has donated to many campaigns of both parties inside and outside Nevada.
But he did give that $100,000 contribution to the Reid-linked SuperPAC last year, as well as donations to Reid in 2012 and 2010. And his federal contributions to Democrats ($192,000) far outstrip his donations to Republicans ($18,000).
While he did not fault Tetreault -- Kemp said he was in Phoenix and could not be reached on Friday -- he said the timeline looks much worse than it is. He said the contribution was solicited in January or February of last year, delivered in April and reported to the FEC in May. His law partner, Jennifer Dorsey, first talked to the senator in March 2012, was recommended by Reid in June and nominated in September by the president.
Kemp said the question of Dorsey's nomination "never came up in any conversation then (when Reid asked for money) or later." And, he added, "The reality is that I don't really benefit from Jenny being gone from the firm. She will have to recuse herself, and she's a damn good partner. We lose a lot of money."
On her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Dorsey informed the panel she would recuse herself "for a significant period of time" from cases involving her firm or her husband's (Snell & Wilmer). Kemp said that likely means at least five and perhaps as long as 10 years.
It must also be said that Republicans who are ecstatic about the Tetreault story (imagine how they will feel when they read about Reid's solicitation) should be careful of any damage to their glass houses. There have been several instances of nominees giving contributions to GOP senators while awaiting confirmation, although the size of the Kemp contribution and Reid's direct involvement vis a vis the SuperPAC may make this case different.
Two other interesting nuggets in Tetreault's story:
----Dorsey also made a personal contribution of $2,500 to Reid’s campaign committee in March 2012, shortly after they initially spoke about her interest in becoming a federal judge, according to Senate records. Reid returned that contribution a month later, as he proceeded to check out her credentials and experience as a litigator.
So Reid returned $2,500, but his PAC took $150,000? Nice trade-off.
----Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., declined to comment on Friday. In recent weeks he has declined comment on Dorsey’s nomination, saying he prefers to let the confirmation process move forward before saying how he would vote.
This week Heller declined an invitation to appear at Dorsey’s confirmation hearing. Although Dorsey was nominated in September, only last month did Heller return the customary “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee, signalling that he did not object to a confirmation hearing.
Methinks the junior senator may not be backing Dorsey.