Tags: HarryReid | nepotism | gifts | family

Politico: Reid's Favors to Family Dragging Him Down

Image: Politico: Reid's Favors to Family Dragging Him Down

By Drew MacKenzie   |   Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 09:53 AM

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has found himself slowly sinking into the political quicksand as he faces close public scrutiny over potentially enriching family members through his powerful position as a Democratic leader.

The Nevada senator has recently become embroiled in the embarrassing controversy surrounding the $31,268 that his campaign paid to his granddaughter Ryan Elisabeth Reid for the purchase of gift items from her jewelry line, according to Politico.

But his weakness for pulling strings to help family members was first exposed by the Los Angeles Times a decade ago when a Nevada land bill proposed by Reid appeared to benefit his son-in-law Steve Barringer's consulting firm and his sons' legal firm.

The Howard Hughes Corp. paid $300,000 to the Washington firm Steve Barringer worked for to push a provision allowing the company to buy 1,000 acres of federal land for development in the then-burgeoning Las Vegas area, according to the Times.

The bill also benefited a real-estate development headed by a senior partner in the Nevada law firm that then employed all four of Reid's sons — Rory, Leif, Josh, and Key — by moving the right-of-way for a federal power transmission line off his property and onto what had been protected federal wilderness.

In its report, the Times said, "So pervasive are the ties among Reid, members of his family, and Nevada's leading industries and institutions that it's difficult to find a significant field in which such a relationship does not exist."

Reid's reputation for promoting his family's power, status, and wealth was further enhanced when it was revealed that he had lobbied the mayor of Henderson and a councilwoman to support his son Josh Reid's application to become the city's attorney.

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Although Josh got the job in 2011, the officials said that Reid's phone calls did not influence them.

Reid has also faced allegations that he used his connections in 2012 to help his son Rory's legal firm receive legal fees from a Chinese company building a solar plant in a dusty corner of Nevada, according to Bloomberg.

The company's billionaire founder, Wang Yusuo, joined with Reid to win incentives, including paying just $4.5 million for land to build the plant, which was one-eighth of what it was assessed for. The project produced legal work for Rory's firm, which has donated $40,000 to Reid during the past three cycles, says the report.

And earlier this year, Reid's blind spot for his family made him the target of an ethics and conflict-of-interest complaint after he helped to fast-track U.S. visa applications for Chinese investors in the new Las Vegas casino SLS represented by his son Rory, Ryan Elisabeth's father.

Until the recent controversy, Politico writer Jon Ralston said in a report titled "Harry Reid's Kryptonite," referring to his family, that the senator was Mr. Teflon.

"Even when Reid gets caught pulling strings for his family, nothing seems to stick," Ralston wrote.

But the scandal surrounding his campaign payments to his granddaughter has brought intense scrutiny, with Jahan Wilcox, a Republican National Committee spokesman, calling it a "personal slush fund."

The latest family problems for Reid began when it was revealed that his campaign had paid a total of $16,787 in 2013 to Ryan Elisabeth for "holiday gifts" for the senator's staff, consisting of jewelry items created by his 23-year-old granddaughter.

The nepotism issue escalated when it was learned Reid's campaign had paid another $14,481 to Ryan in 2012, bringing the total in payments over two years to $31,268.

Although he appears to be enriching a family member, Reid defended the payments by stating that he had complied with Federal Election Commission standards that allow the purchase of goods from relatives if those goods are sold at fair market value.

The Democratic leader explained, "I thought it would be nice to give supporters and staff thank you gifts that had a personal connection. But I have decided to reimburse the campaign for the amount of the expenditure."

But to Ralston, who worked the political beat for two Las Vegas newspapers before joining Politico, the appearance of impropriety still lingers.

"I gave the money back so I don't look guilty of something," said Ralston in Politico, quoting what he thought Reid was really saying.

Politico also pointed out that although the law allows for "nominal gifts," there needs to be a great deal of such gifts to reach $31,268. One report even calculated that with a piece of jewelry from Ryan Elisabeth's line costing $70 on average, it would be the equivalent of buying 450 "nominal gifts" over two years.

Ralston said that when he appeared last month on Fox News, host Sean Hannity introduced him by saying, "Tonight we have an in-depth investigation into a scandal that is just beginning to break, and it's one that could mean the end of Harry Reid's political career."

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