Reid's Kin May Have Benefited Beyond Gift Purchase

Reid's Kin May Have Benefited Beyond Gift Purchase
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On Tuesday, news broke that Harry Reid spent nearly $17,000 in campaign funds on “holiday gifts” for supporters and staff. Those gifts turned out to be jewelry made by the Senate majority leader’s granddaughter, Ryan Elisabeth Reid (who was listed on the FEC expenditure report as Ryan Elisabeth). Shortly after the story began circulating, Sen. Reid defended the arrangement but announced he would personally reimburse the campaign.  

It doesn’t appear that the Democratic leader violated any FEC rules, because his daughter’s company was technically a campaign vendor. Still, the perceived financial nepotism struck a nerve with many (and set hearts pounding among Republican opposition research groups eager to spread the news). And those bothered by the revelation may have more reason to react: The five-term senator’s ability to help his relatives may extend well beyond $17,000 for jewelry.  

His granddaughter has also received financial support for her fledgling New York theater company from two Nevada-based foundations that typically prohibit donations to organizations outside of their service areas. The foundations belong to gaming and energy companies that have also donated to the lawmaker. 

Ryan Elisabeth, in her early 20s and a recent college graduate, describes herself as a “performing arts professional.” In addition to her jewelry company -- which is not mentioned on her LinkedIn profile -- she also works as an assistant at the Tim Bavington Studio in Las Vegas and as artistic director at Sprat Theatre Company in Brooklyn, N.Y. Donations to the latter organization, which she founded, may raise some eyebrows. 

According to the Brooklyn Arts Council, Sprat “is supported by funds from Clinton Global Initiative, Caesars Foundation, NV Energy Foundation, and individual donors.” (The Sprat website also lists these contributors, along with others.) 

The Caesars Foundation is the philanthropic wing of Caesars Entertainment, a Las Vegas-based gaming corporation that owns and operates dozens of casinos. Sen. Reid has received funds from the corporation in the past.

The Caesars Foundation Facebook page indicates that it “funds programs and projects of $10,000 or more,” and requires beneficiaries to “illustrate strong leadership that will significantly strengthen communities in which Caesars operates.” 

The NV Energy Foundation, also a philanthropic wing of a larger corporation, donates to a variety of causes -- from artistic endeavors to educational institutions. However, its funding guidelines stipulate that recipient nonprofit organizations must be located within the NV Energy’s service area. New York is not part of that area. Still, the benefactor “reserves the right to give special emphasis to specific categories of funding from time to time or to change or withdraw this program without notice.” 

Though based in Brooklyn, Sprat will present a play about an elderly professor this fall at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. 

Also, both sponsoring foundations require that grant recipients have 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. According to the Sprat website, the company is “pursuing incorporation as a 501(c)(3),” though it is unclear if it has attained that designation yet. 

So far, Reid has received $3,850 from NV Energy in the 2013-2014 election cycle. Caesars Entertainment has also given $28,000 to him or political action committees that support his candidacy. 

The donor list on the Sprat website also lists Nevada Real Estate Investment's Peter Palivos, who gave $1,000 to Sen. Reid last year.

Attempts by RCP to reach Reid, his granddaughter and the donors, for comment were not immediately successful.

Update: Representatives for four of the donor organizations listed on the Sprat website say that no money was given to the theater company.

In a statement to RCP, Caesars Foundation spokeswoman Jan Jones said, "The Caesars Foundation did not provide funding to Ryan Reid's company. We funded a proposal from the Las Vegas Keep Memory Alive (of the Cleveland Clinic Luv Ruvo Center) in support, along with several other non-profits, [of] bringing Reid's play . . . to Las Vegas." Jones added that the play, which deals with Alzheimer's disease, fits with the foundation's focus on the illness. 

A spokeswoman for the NV Energy Foundation and another for two foundations set up by philanthropist Larry Ruvo separately told Nevada reporter Jon Ralston that they had received applications for funding from Reid's granddaughter. However, NV Energy is still considering a donation, and Ruvo's groups declined the requests. None of the spokeswomen knew why their foundations were listed as donors.

Also, while Sen. Reid's exact level of involvement with the theater company remains unclear, more information suggests that he has some imprint on the organization: Susan McCue, Reid's former chief of staff who now runs a public affairs firm, is listed on the Sprat website as serving on the board of directors. 

Update: A spokesman from the Clinton Foundation said in a statement that the Clinton Global Initiative did not provide funds to Reid:

"Ryan Elisabeth Reid, representing The New School, was one of more than 1,000 students from nearly 300 colleges and universities that attended the sixth annual CGI University meeting in 2013. As part of her participation, she made a Commitment to Action for which The New School provided seed funding. The Clinton Global Initiative is not a grant-making organization." 

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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