A year ago the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the owners of the Sahara hotel in Las Vegas, now renamed SLS Las Vegas, had obtained the last piece of the $415 million in financing needed to renovate the Strip resort.
The story included a statement from Nevada’s senior senator, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said the investment in SLS “will create thousands of jobs, infuse millions into the local economy, and help bring new energy to the north end of the Strip.” It went on to say that Reid said he has supported the project “from the outset and am so pleased that SLS Las Vegas is officially breaking ground.”Just how supportive Reid was came out in December in an exclusive story from The Washington Times, which reported that Homeland Security had denied visas for some of those investors from Asia because of “suspicious financial activity.” That decision was ineligible for appeal.
According to the Times account, one U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official reported getting into a shouting match with a Reid staffer over the denial of those visas.
“This one is going to be a major headache for us all because Sen. Reid’s office/staff is pushing hard and I just had a long yelling match on the phone,” that official wrote in an email. That official was later called by Reid himself, seeking the help of the agency’s head, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Soon after that the agency expedited visas for about two dozen foreign investors. The Times reported that Federal Election Commission records show executives for two companies involved in the hotel project had made $127,000 in political donations over the previous three elections, mostly to Democrats.
Less than a week after the Times report, though it has gone largely unreported until Watchdog.org picked up on it, Cause for Action filed an ethics complaint against Reid.
“Despite the fact that these applications were ineligible for appeal, Senator Reid’s efforts to lobby USCIS resulted in the reconsideration and approval of those applications …” the complaint says, adding that the recipients of the investments were major contributors to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. “Even more troublesome is the fact that Senator Reid’s son, Rory Reid, and his law firm, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins P.C., are legal counsel to the SLS Hotel and Casino.”
Cause of Action points out that the U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct permits members to assist people with executive branch agencies, but it also says:
“The decision to provide assistance to petitioners may not be made on the basis of contributions or services, or promises of contributions or services, to the Member’s political campaigns or to other organizations in which the Member has a political, personal, or financial interest.”
The complaint points out that visa recipients are allowed to contribute to political campaigns.
“The American people deserve better,” says the letter from Cause of Action’s Executive Director Daniel Epstein. “It is unfair for politicians to attempt to influence the enforcement of our laws, especially when they — or their close family members — stand to benefit. Even more importantly, such unethical efforts threaten the integrity of our immigration system and our national security.”
The letter concludes by requesting an investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
This is hardly the first time Reid has been accused of helping friends and family.
Sen. Reid in 2012 pressed NV Energy to purchase power from a solar generating facility that would be built in Laughlin if it could get a power contract. The company was ENN Energy Group from China and it was represented by Rory Reid and Lionel, Sawyer.
Reid helped recruit the company to come to Nevada during a trip to China.
ENN obtained county public land for a fraction of appraised value. Rory Reid had been chairman of the County Commission. The project failed and the land reverted to the county, despite the senior Reid’s efforts.
According to Peter Schweizer, writing for Fox News in 2012, “Sen. 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.”
And these are simply the latest allegations. We encourage a thorough probe of Reid’s ethics. It is a target rich environment. — TM