A year and a half later, Reid and the Nevada delegation tried again, inserting language moving the power corridor to the west side of the highway into a public land bill for Lincoln County. This time, Whittemore had to compensate the government on the basis of “fair market value,” but that was defined in such a way that would have required him to pay only about $160,000.
Drawing criticism, Reid and the delegation changed the cost provision to say government appraisers should figure what Whittemore had to pay, $10.4 million as it turned out. The bill became law in November 2004.
Jus’ before that bill was passed, Whittemore announced a deal with Westwood-based Pardee Homes to become Coyote Springs’ main residential developer. He also announced that Jack Nicklaus would design a set of golf courses to be known as the Bear Trail.
As the effort to clear a path for Coyote Springs moved forward, Whittemore showed his appreciation for the help Nevada politicians in Washington were giving him, especially Reid. Senator John Ensign and others got contributions, but much less than those given to Reid.
By the spring of 2005, only one step remained: securing a permit to deal with the stream beds and washes. That process, handled by the Army Corps of Engineers, seemed routine, but in late July trouble struck.
Alexis Strauss, an official in the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office that oversees Nevada, notified the Corps of Engineers that her office had concerns.
“We respectfully object to the issuance of a permit for the proposed project,” Strauss wrote, “because the authorization may result in substantial and unacceptable impacts to aquatic resources of national importance.”
The phrase, “aquatic resources of national importance,” was a designation that gave regional EPA officials leverage to press for environmental concessions.
As it happened, by the time Reid and Ensign had their conversation with the head of the EPA, Whittemore’s permit problem was all but over. On Sept. 16, Whittemore, Leif Reid and others had met with EPA and other federal officials at the site and the atmosphere became conciliatory.
Coyote Springs agreed to leave several washes untouched, reduced the number of acres of waterways to be filled in and pledged to make environmental improvements on 19 acres of other wash land. And Whittemore promised not to disturb the Pahranagat Wash, which runs through the site.
Since Pahranagat is subject to flash flooding, development there was impractical, but Whittemore made its protected status official.
“They took our concerns seriously,” Vendlinski said.
For their part, the regional officials were not looking for a fight. Whittemore had demonstrated that he could bring Reid and Ensign into the game. Privately, some regional EPA officials said they knew their superiors in Washington would not support a hard-line on aquatic resources.
The regional officials not only withdrew their objections, but in April 2006 they also gave Whittemore’s project an award for “environmentally sensitive improvements” in its plans. A smiling Leif Reid accepted the award.
“One year and $1 million in consulting fees later, we got our permit,” Whittemore said ruefully in an interview in May. “It is the right thing to do,” he said, “and there is an economic incentive in making the project proceed.”
As Coyote Springs grows onto the Lincoln County part of the site, more permits will be needed. But Whittemore’s dream is on its way to coming true.
Looking back, he expresses pride in the achievement, and in how far he went to meet environmental and other concerns.
“The final product is the most environmentally friendly development ever proposed in Nevada,” Whittemore said. “I want people to understand that I am the platinum standard.”
Since 2000, Whittemore, his wife and the Coyote Springs company have given Reid’s senatorial campaign and political action committees at least $45,000. That included $35,000 for Reid’s leadership PAC, the Searchlight Leadership Fund, which helped him advance as a Senate leader.
Most of that money was contributed in 2002 shortly after Reid introduced the Clark County land bill.
In 2000, Whittemore gave an additional $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Reid promoted as a party leader. Prior to 2000, the Whittemores had given Reid and his Senate campaign committee a total of $6,500, plus $5,000 for his leadership PAC.
Whittemore also helped Reid’s sons, all of whom at various times have worked for the law firm in which he is a senior partner, Lionel, Sawyer and Collins. Rory Reid is a partner in the firm.
When he ran successfully for the Clark County Board of Commissioners, Whittemore contributed $5,000. He also gave Josh Reid $5,000 for an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the city council in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Rory and Josh Reid have been active in Democratic politics.
Jon Summers, an aide to Reid, said, “Harvey Whittemore has a history of giving money to political candidates far and wide — and to both political parties. However, as a registered Democrat, it is only logical that he would give a larger percentage to Democratic candidates and committees.”
In 2001, the senator’s office established a rule that family members could lobby his office but could not get special treatment. In 2002, responding to questions by The Times, the rule was changed to prohibit any lobbying of Reid’s office by his family.
“For the last four years, our office has had a policy that Reid family members are not to lobby the office on business matters, even if those matters benefit Nevada,” Susan McCue, Reid’s chief of stated. “Leif is not a lobbyist, but he should not have called our office. I have reminded Leif of this policy to prevent future calls.”
Leif Reid did not respond to questions. The contacts by Leif Reid and others “were not an attempt to have Reid’s office direct the outcome of the federal permitting process,” Whittemore said.
Reid owns a great deal of land near Bullhead City, Arizona. In 2006, he sponsored an earmark to provide $18 million in funding to build a bridge to connect Laughlin, Nevada and Bullhead City, Arizona. This bridge is near the property he owns and will undoubtedly increase the value of that land.
More than 20 years ago Reid purchased 100 acres of land roughly 3-5 miles from Bullhead City, Arizona for a price of $150,000. His longtime friend, Clair Haycock bought the remaining 60 acres for $90,000.
In the early 1990’s Californians bought the property from the two for $1.3-million. Those investors defaulted and the land was returned to Senator Reid.
In early 2002, Haycock sold out to Reid for $10,000, or about $166 an acre. At the time, the Mohave County assessor valued the entire parcel at $339,620, or more than $2,000 an acre.
In 2006, after the announcement of the bridge, a businessman bought land near Reid’s at a rate of $6,396 an acre. From 2001 to 2005, Reid disclosed that the property was worth $500,000 to 1,000,000.
Then, in 2006, after the earmark for the bridge went into effect, he indicated that the entire 160-acre property was worth only $150,000. In 2007 and 2008, Reid valued the asset at $250,000 to 500,000.
The proposed bridge between Laughlin and Bullhead City was not on the priority list sent to local members of Congress by either the Nevada or Arizona transportation agencies. But beginning in 2003, local supporters of the bridge, which would be the second span connecting the two towns, found a receptive audience when they approached some members of the Nevada and Arizona congressional delegations.
Civic leaders argued that an additional bridge was needed because traffic on the existing connector bridge, on the northern edge of Bullhead City, had become overwhelming Laughlin consists mainly of casinos and hotels, and has little housing or shopping.
Most of the casino workers live across the river in Bullhead City, which also has shopping and a hospital. Elected officials say both communities would benefit from a second bridge. Acting on a request from the town of Laughlin, Reid, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s transportation subcommittee, in 2003 secured $500,000 for preliminary studies.
Initially, Rep. Jon Porter, supported by Rep. Trent Franks, got $2 million for the bridge inserted into the House version of the transportation bill. By the time Congress approved the $286-billion transportation bill, $18 million more in bridge funding had been added.
Reid took credit in a news release for securing money that would kick the project into high gear. The bridge, still in the planning stages, is projected to cost $30 million to $40 million.
Arizona’s two Republican senators voted against the entire transportation bill as pure pork. Meanwhile, city and county officials say that land values have risen in Bullhead City as developers and speculators discover the area.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog that tracks congressional spending said, “Unwittingly, the taxpayer may have helped inflate the value” of Reid’s property.
Finally, in March 2014, a sign promoting a future Interstate 11 from Las Vegas to Phoenix was unveiled at the stateliness of Nevada and Arizona at the Hoover Dam. The proposed roadway plan currently runs jus’ east of Bullhead City.
For several years, Reid donated funds from his re-election campaign to an employee holiday fund for the employees of the building where he resides. Although this appears to be in violation of federal election law and Senator Reid has reimbursed his campaign fund with his own money, Reid insists the use of the money was legal.
Federal election law permits campaigns to provide “gifts of nominal value” but prohibits candidates from using political donations for personal expenses, such as mortgage, rent or utilities for “any part of any personal residence.” The law specifically defines prohibited personal use expenses as any “obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or duties as a federal officeholder.”
Reid and his wife live at Ritz-Carlton in Washington where they purchased a condo at the hotel for $750,000 in March of 2001. The residents of the hotel can give money for the holiday bonuses of the employees there through the Residents Executive Committee Holiday Fund.
The fund has been in existence for many years.
Reid gave the following donations to the holiday fund: $600 in 2002, $1200 in 2004 and $1500 in 2005 For two of those years, the donations are listed as campaign “salary” and one year, they are listed as a contribution.
When asked about the donations, Senator Reid stated: “These donations were made to thank the men and women who work in the building for the extra work they do as a result of my political activities, and for helping the security officers assigned to me because of my Senate position.:
Larry Noble, the Federal Election Commission’s former chief enforcement lawyer, said Reid’s explanation is aimed at a “gray area” in the law by suggesting the donations were tied to his official Senate and political work.
“What makes this harder for the senator is that this is his personal residence,” adds Noble, “and this looks like an event that everybody else at the residence is taking out of their personal money as they’re living there.”