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PAY DIRT

Steve Wynn Consigliere Tapped for Top Trump Re-Elect Post

In his brief tenure atop the Republican National Committee’s formidable fundraising apparatus, Steve Wynn built a small shadow party primed for political action in his home state of Nevada. Now a top Wynn political operative is poised to wield significant influence over President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Wynn stepped down as RNC finance chairman in January amid numerous sexual-misconduct allegations from current and former employees of his casino company, Wynn Resorts. But the political machine that he and some senior RNC officials crafted last year appears ascendant.

Two days after Wynn was named RNC finance chief, the committee’s then-political director, Chris Carr, left D.C. to helm Wynn Resorts’ political and government-relations operation. At the same time, a top Carr deputy, RNC Field Director Chris Young, left that post to form a new Nevada political group, Our Founding Principles. That group stayed mostly dormant last year. But in January, a few weeks before Wynn’s resignation, it reported its only publicly disclosed income to date: a $125,000 donation from Wynn Resorts, the only contribution the company has reported to the Federal Election Commission this cycle. A week later, Our Founding Principles spent most of that money, $95,000, on research and data consulting, the bulk of it going to the firm Causeway Solutions. Causeway is run by Bill Skelly, a former top data official at the RNC. The committee has paid Skelly’s firm nearly $1 million since he left the RNC post in 2013.

A source familiar with Wynn’s political operation provided some insight on the thinking behind it. It of course was not a coincidence that the operation was set up in Wynn’s home state, where he has significant financial interests in election and policy outcomes. But the source, who is deeply familiar with Republican political efforts in Nevada, also noted the increasing importance of the state—and the American West more generally—to Republican fundraising efforts. The region “has a high concentration of donors—so many billionaires and millionaires that play in the political process that proximity to guys who want to impact policy and impact elections is really valuable,” the source said. Chief among them are Wynn himself and fellow casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. “Those donors want access and they want to be able to sit down and talk strategy,” my source said. And they don’t want to have to fly cross-country to do it.

In any case, Wynn’s business and political ventures appear to have been intertwined (Carr was also a registered Nevada lobbyist for the company). And though Wynn is now on the outs in D.C., the Nevada-centric political operation he helped set up while at the RNC just got a big boost. On Wednesday, Politico reported that Carr is leaving Wynn Resorts to be the Trump re-election campaign’s new political director. The campaign is staffing up as early as it is in order to inject Trump himself, a potent motivator for Republican voters, into key midterm election contests. Carr’s hiring in particular could also help keep Wynn in the game in spite of the scandals that continue to plague him.

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Speaking of Nevada: Heller Campaign Accidentally Cops to Illegal Corporate Contribs

Sen. Dean Heller’s campaign has been paying his son’s company to advise the campaign on digital strategy, according to a report this week from HuffPost. It’s generally legal for a campaign to pay a candidate’s family member for services rendered. But in trying to improve the optics of its own familial payments, the Heller campaign appears to have accidentally admitted to accepting illegal corporate contributions.

A spokesperson for the campaign told HuffPost that Harris Heller’s company, Heller Enterprises, “produces quality content at a cheap discount to the campaign.” Emphasis added, because services offered to campaigns at below-market rates are considered in-kind contributions from the people or entities providing the services. In this case, it was an incorporated entity doing so. Though the Heller campaign has paid the candidate’s son personally, all of its FEC-disclosed social-media consulting expenses—the ones the campaign said were offered at a discount—went to his company, not to Harris Heller himself.

That’s a problem. It’s illegal for campaigns to accept contributions, even in-kind, from corporations. In trying to explain away a practice that was entirely above board, the Heller campaign appears to have copped to a different, far more serious offense.

The Nevada State Democratic Party plans to file an FEC complaint today. “The Heller campaign has already admitted to this unethical and deceptive arrangement,” spokeswoman Sarah Abel told me in a statement. It’s a notable unforced error for Heller, who’s already facing an uphill climb to re-election this year.

This Week at The Trump Hotel

Washington, D.C. health authorities conducted a routine inspection of the Trump International Hotel a few weeks ago. As noted in PAY DIRT at the time, they noticed that the hotel was operating a number of commercial kitchens on-site despite lacking the proper city permits to do so. Inspectors circled back for a follow-up this month (h/t Zach Everson) and found that, despite directing the hotel to remedy that permitting issue, it didn’t appear to have taken any steps to do so.

“The establishment was instructed to contact [the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs] to remedy this issue,” the inspectors wrote. “The inspector requested proof be sent via email that the establishment contacted DCRA and provided contact information to the manager to due so. No emailed correspondence was sent.”

The inspection writeup ended ominously: “Further action shall be taken.”

The hotel is not the only Trump property with a checkered health-code history.

Farenthold Follow-Up: New Lobbying Gig May Be Illegal

Last week, PAY DIRT covered disgraced former congressman Blake Farenthold’s very swampy move to a new lobbying gig at the Port of Port Lavaca, Texas. It turns out that move might have violated state law. A local newspaper, the Victoria Advocate, filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to void Farenthold’s hiring, saying the Calhoun Port Authority, which oversees the port, violated state law by failing to disclose the details of a meeting in which the decision to hire the former congressman was reached.

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