The Grandfather

Column: The autumn of patriarch Harry Reid

March 28, 2014

Another man might have assumed, correctly, that launching a campaign of insult and insinuation against two billionaires would result in renewed attention to his own finances. Not Harry Reid. The Senate Democratic leader since 2005, and the Senate majority leader since 2007, is not one to reflect before speaking. His mouth runs far ahead of his brain.

In recent years Reid has declared an American war "lost" while our troops still fought overseas; praised President Obama for his "light" skin and "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one"; asserted falsely and without evidence that Mitt Romney had not paid any taxes for a decade; and said "Why would we want to do that?" when asked if he would fund cancer research during the government shutdown.

Now, with his majority in danger, his president unpopular, his floor agenda obstructed by members of his own caucus, Reid thrashes about uncontrollably. He calls Obamacare horror stories "untrue." He says Obamacare numbers are not as high as projected because Americans "are not educated on how to use the Internet." His Senate Majority PAC launches a $3 million ad campaign tying Republican candidates to two men most Americans have never heard of, two men who, funnily enough, are more popular than Reid.

From the floor of the Senate Reid says these two men, Charles and David Koch, are "un-American," are trying "to buy America." Without the terrible specter of the Koch brothers Harry Reid would be disarmed. He has no issue for his Democratic Senators to run on; the minimum wage and climate change are not enough. Nor has he another means of inspiring donors to open their checkbooks. He only has fear, fear of the Kochs, fear of extractive industry, fear of the portion of the elite that favors economic freedom. The Koch brothers, Reid says, "rig the system to benefit themselves." He should know.

The fact that Harry Reid’s political and influence operation includes his five children has been established for some time. A few weeks ago, when I first heard Reid accuse private citizens of being un-American, I dredged up a Los Angeles Times article from 2003 with the headline, "In Nevada, the Name to Know Is Reid." Chuck Neubauer and Richard T. Cooper’s meticulously researched and reported article begins with the story of the "Clark County Conservation of Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002," a land bill of the sort that puts people to sleep. "What Reid did not explain" when he introduced the bill in the Senate, Neubauer and Cooper wrote, "was that the bill promised a cavalcade of benefits to real estate developers, corporations, and local institutions that were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to his sons’ and son-in-law’s firms." I wonder why he left that part out.

Firms tied to the Reid family, the Los Angeles Times reported, earned more than $2 million from 1998 to 2002 "from special interests that were represented by the kids and helped by the senator in Washington." How much more have they earned in the 11 years since this article was published? Land, energy, water, gaming, and mining—the Reids manage a diversified portfolio. They are not financial investors but political ones. Reid’s four sons are lawyers, as is his son-in-law. They make their money furthering the interests of paying clients, clients operating businesses in the state represented by Reid.

Those businesses are not necessarily American. After a 2011 trip to China Harry Reid began touting the virtues of ENN Energy Group, a Chinese firm that sought to build a $5 billion solar farm in Nevada. Reid’s son Rory represented ENN, though Rory claimed in a 2012 Bloomberg article never to have discussed "the project with my father or his staff." Somehow, though, commissioners friendly with the Reid family agreed to sell property to ENN for one-sixth of the land’s appraised value.

The senator repeatedly expressed his support for the project. But ENN could not find a customer for its energy, and dropped its plans last June. In another instance Reid pressured Homeland Security officials to approve the visas of Chinese casino investors represented by Rory Reid. Rory’s brothers should not feel left out, however. Hoover Institution scholar Peter Schweizer says Papa Reid has "sponsored at least $47 million in earmarks that directly benefited organizations that one of his sons, Key Reid, either lobbies for or is affiliated with."

Who could have been surprised, then, when the Washington Post in 2012 "uncovered nearly 50 members who helped direct millions of dollars in earmarks to projects that either held the potential to enhance the surroundings of a lawmaker’s own property, or aided entities connected to their immediate family," and one of those members was Reid. The Post zeroed in on an almost $22 million earmark, passed close to a decade ago, that financed a bridge over the Colorado River. The bridge connects the gambling resorts of Laughlin, Nev., to Bullhead City, Arizona. Harry Reid owns 160 acres in Bullhead.

Reid and his family appear to work within the confines of the law, which should not be surprising, because Reid writes that law, and illegal activity hurts the bottom line. Others are not so careful. Last year one of Reid’s longtime donors, Nevada lobbyist Harvey Whittemore, was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of violating campaign finance laws. Whittemore used associates as "straw donors" to run around donation limits, giving more than $130,000 in dirty money to Reid’s campaign. His sentence is delayed pending appeal.

This week we learned that Reid’s willingness to funnel other people’s money to members of his family extends to a third generation. On Wednesday the veteran Nevada journalist Jon Ralston reported that Harry Reid had used $31,000 in campaign funds to buy "gifts for my staff and supporters" from his granddaughter, Rory Reid’s daughter, Ryan Elisabeth Reid, a "performing arts professional" living in Brooklyn.

Ryan Reid is the artistic director of the Sprat Theatre Company, which says it receives donations from the likes of the Caesars Foundation, the NV Energy Foundation, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Keep Memory Alive, one Peter Palivos, and the Clinton Global Initiative. The Caesars Foundation is the charitable arm of Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas, a Harry Reid contributor. A Caesars spokesman told Real Clear Politics that the Caesars Foundation had funded a proposal from Keep Memory Alive to bring Ryan Reid’s play to Vegas, because she needs the help. Keep Memory Alive and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health are philanthropies founded by Larry Ruvo, general manager of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, member of the American Gaming Association board of directors, and donor to Harry Reid’s Searchlight Leadership Fund PAC. Peter Palivos is a Las Vegas developer, Reid donor, onetime client of Rory Reid, and convicted felon. NV Energy is another Reid donor; a spokesman for that company told Real Clear Politics, and should probably tell the Sprat Theatre, that the theatre’s grant proposal is still under consideration. You have heard of the Clintons.

I have not seen the Sprat Theatre’s new piece, "One Day in the Life of Henri Shnuffle," which concerns "moments of the title character’s life, from youth to old age, to demonstrate a fuller understanding of aging, Alzheimer’s, and the way others live," but I do not doubt for a moment that it is so innovative, so compassionate, so compelling and cathartic that the numerous corporate and private sponsors who are financing its Vegas stint this coming October are writing their checks based totally on merit, without a moment’s thought to who Ryan Reid’s father and granddad are. There can be no other way: We all know the motives of liberal Democrats are pure, their hearts true, their lives guiltless of the favoritism and nepotism and self-interest and ideological blindness of Republicans and conservatives. Harry Reid is willing to go the extra step. He did nothing wrong in handing $31,000 of his donors’ money to his granddaughter, he told reporters, but he plans to reimburse his campaign anyway. What a saint.

"I must study politics and war," John Adams said, "that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." In Harry Reid’s America a man must win political office so that his sons may have the liberty to practice law and register as lobbyists, engage in rent-seeking and government relations and crisis management and communications, in order to give their children a right to live in Brooklyn, to enroll in the New School, to visit the Vermont Studio Center, to have cronies finance their off-off-off-Broadway shows, to enjoy their allowance from grandpa. This is the arrangement put before the voters this coming Election Day; this is the "system" rigged to benefit the family Reid; this is the configuration of power that Charles and David Koch want to disrupt. How awful of them. How "un-American."

Published under: Harry Reid , Koch Brothers