Hospitality tycoon, believer in UFOs, spends in Nevada governor race
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Robert Bigelow, a Las Vegas-based hotel magnate, has always had a cause.
For decades, he invested profits from his hotel in UFO research, starting his own aerospace company while lobbying senators to fund additional research. More recently, he offered nearly $1 million in prizes for a contest to show consciousness after death, as part of his newfound interest in the afterlife.
Now Bigelow, 78, has become the biggest donor this cycle in Nevada’s midterm gubernatorial race, donating $5.7 million through his companies to the campaign of the Nevada GOP gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo and the political action committees supporting him. The race has implications for inflation politics, reproductive rights and Democrats’ hold on the Legislature.
Bigelow’s donations give a lifeline to a Republican challenger who spends more and raises less money than the Democratic incumbent. According to the latest filings, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak leads Lombardo, the Clark County Sheriff, with cash in hand of $10.78 million to $1.2 million, which includes direct contributions to their campaigns but doesn’t take into account. don’t include donations to political action committees, which make up the bulk of Bigelow’s donations to Lombardo.
PACs are required to operate independently of candidates, meaning they can fundraise for candidates but are not allowed to coordinate with their campaigns.
Bigelow made his fortune from his chain of extended-stay apartments Budget Suites of America, which he used to fund his UFO research. He also strongly criticized the federal eviction moratorium, calling it “legalized theft” because some tenants weren’t paying rent, and he filed 46 eviction actions at the height of the pandemic. He lamented Sisolak’s shutdown of nonessential statewide businesses at the start of the pandemic, which he said sank his aerospace company.
Bigelow’s political and social influence in Nevada has long been pronounced, especially in his UFO research which now turns to the search for the afterlife. In an interview with The Associated Press, he said UFOs are “under our noses” and wondered why news agencies hadn’t covered UFO sightings extensively.
But Bigelow, a staunch Republican, said his interest in UFOs and the afterlife was unrelated to his current political gifts.
“Number one, honesty in government. That’s the base,” Bigelow said of his priorities. “Liberalism is a cancer. And we have American senators and representatives who have to leave. And the second would be a philosophy of freedom – a philosophy of free enterprise and freedom for all.
He called Sisolak a “puppet” for California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who is a frequent target of Republican politicians. And he compared Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to a young Ronald Reagan, saying he hopes the Republican runs for president in the future after resisting other states’ approach of issuing protective orders. emergency COVID-19 during pandemic. Earlier this summer, Bigelow donated $10 million to DeSantis-backed political action committees, also making him the largest individual donor in DeSantis’ re-election race.
For decades, Bigelow has invested millions in UFO research with the money he earned from his hotel and real estate business. He also pushed her into politics. He once convinced his friend and then US Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat, to allocate $22 million to a secret program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification program, which investigated UFO reports from 2007 to 2012. Much of the money went to Bigelow. company to investigate and the attribution was only made public in 2017 by a New York Times investigation. The Pentagon said the program was shut down in 2012, though Reid later said he had no regrets about the funding.
Bigelow said he considered Reid a good friend, although towards the end of Reid’s term in the Senate they maintained that friendship by not discussing politics.
Since focusing on the afterlife, he founded the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies and gave away nearly $1 million in prizes last year for a contest that shows “the survival of the consciousness after permanent bodily death”.
Bigelow has donated $5.5 million to Lombardo-supporting PACs this cycle — $3.5 million to Better Nevada PAC, which has funded pro-Lombardo ads, and $2 million to Stronger Nevada PAC, which has transferred money to Better Nevada PAC. Through 39 donations of $5,000 each through his businesses, he donated $195,000 directly to the Clark County Sheriff.
Nevada’s contributions provided a talking point for Sisolak, who linked Bigelow’s support for Lombardo to the Nevada housing crisis, referring to Bigelow’s pandemic evictions.
“As the Governor fights for affordable housing, the creation of well-paying jobs and historic investments to support hard-working families, Joe Lombardo is siding with Ultra Wealthy, alongside the largest donor to his campaign – a billionaire who got rich by evicting families during the pandemic,” spokesman Reeves Oyster said in a statement last month.
Lombardo’s campaign did not respond to email requests for comment.
Lombardo was vastly passed by Sisolak in direct contributions, which is common for a challenger against an incumbent. Sisolak has raised the second-highest amount of direct contributions for a Nevada gubernatorial campaign since 2000 and is on course to break his own record from 2018, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks political spending.
“Overall, challengers have to spend to overcome the tenure advantage,” Christina Ladam, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada-Reno, said in an email. “While Joe Lombardo was a household name in the Vegas area, he was lesser known in northern Nevada. Sisolak doesn’t need to spend that much to gain name recognition.”
Still, Lombardo has outspent Sisolak this year — $3.1 million to around $727,000 as of the last filing date — after facing a crowded primary field.
Stern is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Stern on Twitter https://twitter.com/gabestern326
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