Indy Fact Check: NRCC ad that states Horsford worked with firm that lobbied for S. Sudan needs more context

With polls and prognosticators giving Democratic candidate Steven Horsford an edge in the race in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, the National Republican Campaign Committee has sought to impugn Horsford by highlighting his career since his 2014 congressional defeat.

In an ad released this week by the NRCC, the campaign arm of House Republicans, the group said that “Horsford’s lobbying firm was paid nearly $1 million from South Sudan, a corrupt regime whose forces raped and murdered civilians."

In a press release accompanying the ad, the NRCC states that Horsford has a “shady past as a lobbyist” and was “bankrolled by South Sudan.”

The claim requires more context.

Business after Congress

After losing to Cresent Hardy in 2014, Horsford started Resources+, which provides business consulting services. In March 2015, Resources+ went into business with R&R Partners, a Las Vegas-based firm that provides public relations, marketing and lobbying services. The company is best known for developing the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” campaign for the city.

Their union was called R&R Resources+, in which Horsford had a 46 percent stake, his partner had 5 percent and R&R Partners had 49 percent, according to the purchase agreement provided by Horsford’s campaign.

When the partnership was announced, the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote that Resources+ and R&R Partners, “will join forces in Washington, D.C. to establish a full-service agency with integrated services, specializing in diversity marketing, media training and corporate communications, workforce and vendor/supplier engagement and international affairs, R&R said in a news release."

FARA filings

R&R Partners did have a contract with South Sudan, which was the subject of a July 2016 article by the Center For Public Integrity (CPI), to lobby for the African nation that needs humanitarian assistance, including for food. “But while the South Sudanese government largely claims it doesn’t have enough money to fix these problems, the struggling government was able to spend $2.1 million on Washington, D.C., lobbying and public relations firms from 2014 through the end of 2015 — $2.1 million to buff up its image, keep U.S. aid flowing and stave off harsher U.S.-backed sanctions in response to its atrocities,” CPI reported.

R&R Partners defended it's work with South Sudan noting they were involved during internationally-led peace talks with rebel forces. But ultimately there was a return to conflict. "We stand behind our work and our intentions, and continue to hope for peace in the Republic of South Sudan,” the firm told AdWeek in 2016.

According to the their filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), R&R Partners received more than $900,000 from South Sudan. The deal ran from January through early December 2015, according to a January 2016 FARA filing,

FARA is a disclosure law that requires people working as agents of foreign governments in a political or similar capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship, as well as related activities, receipts and spending.

The Review-Journal article also states that “R&R said Horsford will be senior vice president of strategic integration and partnerships for the company's nine offices throughout the United States and Mexico City. He will also serve as managing director of the agency's Washington office.”

R&R Partners notified the federal government of Horsford’s role in a FARA filing in July 2015. The company listed him as a senior vice president, a position he assumed in March 2015. But R&R Partners also responded ‘no’ when asked in the filing if Horsford “rendered services directly in furtherance of the interests of any foreign principal.”

Though the ad does not directly call Horsford a lobbyist, it implied it, and the accompanying press release did identify him as a lobbyist. Lobbyist is also sometimes used as a generic term for someone who says he or she is in what is known as government relations.

Horsford has never been a lobbyist, under the legal definition and who are required to register as such with the federal government. Also, as a member of Congress, Horsford was subject to the “cooling-off period,” which, in effect, does not allow former members to lobby for one year after leaving office.

Verdict

The NRCC ad claims that “Horsford’s lobbying firm was paid nearly $1 million from South Sudan, a corrupt regime whose forces raped and murdered civilians."

And in the release touting the ad, the NRCC states that Horsford has a “shady past as a lobbyist” and was “being bankrolled by South Sudan.”

The ad and press release do not provide the proper context. The firm, R&R Partners, did lobby for South Sudan, and Horsford served as a senior vice president of the company.

But Horsford did not lobby South Sudan or any foreign government, and R&R Partners made that clear in federal government disclosures. Also his business with R&R Partners did not lobby, and no evidence has been found that he has worked as a lobbyist. Horsford's business R&R Resources+ provided public relations and consulting on workforce development strategies.

This claim gives a misleading impression, which is why we rate this a Hardly Abe on our Honest Abe scale.

Disclosure: R&R Partners has donated to The Indy. You can view a full list of donors here.

Indy Fact Check: Claims of lower electric rates from energy choice backers need significant context

Reid Gardner Generating Station is removed from the electric grid

With a seemingly unending barrage of days with triple-digit temperatures and the air conditioning running nonstop, it isn’t hard to imagine most Southern Nevadans looking at their monthly power bill and wishing the cost was a bit lower.

That’s part of the sales pitch being made to voters by backers of the Energy Choice Initiative (EIC), the proposed constitutional amendment that would require Nevada change its electric system from a monopoly model (where one company controls the generation, transmission and sale of electricity) to a many-supplier retail model by 2023.

Proponents of the ballot question — which has been largely funded by the Las Vegas Sands and Switch — have made the promise of lower electric bills a hallmark of campaign ads, an affiliated, so-called “news” website and countless social media posts.

“Now NV Energy has to compete for your business — they raise rates, you go to another provider,” one ad’s narrator states of Nevada’s future if the ballot measure passes. “That’s why rates in energy choice states are 14 percent lower.”

Opposition to the ballot measure, which has largely been funded by NV Energy, has taken a counter route and has run ads claiming that “states with deregulated electricity all have rates higher than Nevada.”

Outside the bluster, the question of what will happen to electric rates under a retail choice model is one of the most pressing and important questions for Nevada voters when they head to the ballot in 2018. There are many ways to look at the data on electric rates, and drawing strong conclusions about what they portend for a retail market in Nevada is difficult to do.

 

14 percent

The 14 percent claim in the ad reference above stems from a 2016 opinion story in trade publication Utility Dive, authored by proponents of an effort to further open Michigan’s electric market to retail electric choice.

The report analyzed historical electric rate trends among the 14 fully-open “choice” states (Delaware, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas) and the other 35 states with full or partial “monopoly” control of the electric market.

Between 2008 and 2015, the group estimated that so-called “customer choice” states saw a decrease in electric rates by about 13.9 percent across all sectors, from a 5.5 percent decrease in residential rates to a massive 25.8 percent drop in the industrial sector for those states.

Those decreases are juxtaposed with rate increases in “monopoly” states, which saw an across-the-board rate increase of 4.8 percent for all sectors over the seven-year period.

But there’s other important context that the ad omits.

For one, the same Utility Drive article also includes a comparison of change in electric rates for a longer period of time — between 1999 and 2015. That’s important, because nearly all of the states that transitioned from a monopoly model to a retail electric system did so in the late 1990s and early 2000s, not in the middle of the decade.

Over the longer period of time, rates in “customer choice” states actually rose by an average of 4.2 percent across all sectors, including by 5.9 percent for residential rates (commercial rates dropped by about 5.9 percent over the same period).

Monopoly states also saw an average rate increase of 14 percent over the same time period, including a 10.9 percent increase for residential rates.

Backers of retail choice say that using a period between now and 2008 is a better metric for comparing the effectiveness of retail choice states to monopoly states, as electric demand has stayed largely stagnant over the past ten years nationwide. Because retail states have seen larger drops in electric price than monopoly states during the “flat-load” period, advocates say the market structure is superior.

It’s fair to say that electric rates in “customer choice” states have increased less than those in “monopoly” states, but the 14 percent figure relies on use of an arbitrary cutoff date instead of the full length of time in which states have had a retail electric model.

Additionally, the report notes that Nevada was one of two “monopoly” state to see its average electric price go down between 2008 and 2015, although the majority of states with rate decreases were those with competitive electric markets.

Similarly, a study by the Retail Energy Supply Association — a nonprofit composed of 20 retail electricity and natural gas suppliers — in April 2017 found that the average percentage change in electric rates for the 14 retail choice states between 2008 and 2016 was a roughly 18 percent average decrease, adjusted for inflation. Monopoly-market states saw a 2.55 percent increase in rates over the same time period.

The study noted the price trends weren’t “accidental nor aberrational,” stating that the traditional rate-setting for monopoly-market states is largely reactive (Nevada approves rates every three years) which distorts price signals, encouraging “inefficient behavior.”

To prove its point, the study points out that nearly all states that saw an electric rate decrease between 2008 and 2016 were those with an open and competitive retail model, while those that saw the largest percent increases were those with monopoly models.

That is true.

But, just as in the Utility Dive article, the data shows Nevadans have enjoyed some of the largest decreases in rates over the past seven years — an all-sector price decrease of more than 20 percent, and trailing only Texas and Louisiana for the largest percentage decrease in prices.

Prices

A read of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Nevada’s report on the Energy Choice Initiative can leave one feeling content with the state’s electric prices — the report states, after all, that Nevada’s “average energy prices are currently amongst the best in the country” at 8.39 cents per kilowatt hour (the average home in the U.S. uses 897 kilowatt hours per month).

But the proponent’s response to the PUC report reaches quite the opposite conclusion — Nevada’s residential rates are higher than 31 other states, at 12.5 cents a kilowatt hour.

Technically, both sides are correct, and require a narrow parsing of data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration to understand completely.

The PUC’s numbers come from a 2016 state-by-state report detailing the average retail price of electricity across all sectors — residential, industrial, commercial and transportation combined. A look at the average electric price across all sectors will tend to result in a lower average cost as commercial and industrial customers are more centralized and easier to serve than residential homes.

Although the PUC’s numbers came from 2016, the actual average retail cost of electricity hasn’t changed that much in the preceding two years — it’s currently at 8.46 cents as of May 2018, a shift of 0.07 cents.

But what about residential rates?

According to the most recent monthly EIA data in May 2018, Nevada’s average residential price for electricity is 12.05 cents per kilowatt hour (The above-mentioned proponent’s response used data from February 2018). As a caveat, it should be noted that the May data is a preliminary estimate by the EIA, and could change once the agency certifies the data.

That amount places Nevada below both the national average (13.15 cents per kilowatt hour) and below the average of geographically similar states in the “Mountain” region at 12.28 cents per kilowatt hour. It also places the state right near the median of all states, as the 20th least expensive electric rates of all states and Washington, D.C.

Advocates of the ballot question have been quick to point out individual success stories for certain states that have move to a retail market — studies show that Ohio ratepayers have saved an average of $3 billion a year since moving to a retail market in 2011, and Pennsylvania's rates have decreased since moving to a retail market (though residential rates have stayed above "average annual retail electricity rates")

Not every state has seen a success story after switching market types. Most recently, opponents of the ballot measure highlighted a report by the Massachusets attorney general's office showing customers of competitive suppliers paid $176.8 million more than if they had stayed with their incumbent utility.

A misleading metric?

Energy experts say a narrow focus on electric rates and swings in prices over time misses the larger picture given the numerous factors that affect prices beyond just how the market is structured.

A report by the nonpartisan Guinn Center on the ballot measure found that claims on both sides about the effect on rates from a restructured electric market both relied on a “problematic” data source — information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency itself recommends against using the data for comparison between restructured states as its data does not “capture the statewide variation in price determinants,” which leads to an “apples-to-oranges” comparison.

The five “key” factors that go into determining electricity prices include fuel costs, construction and maintenance of existing power plants, transmission system maintenance, weather conditions and regulations, the report states.

Essentially, states — regardless of market structure — add riders or other charges to electric bills that don’t reflect the pure cost of generation, transmission and distribution of electricity, adding variants to state-level pricing that aren’t necessarily reflected in the EIA data.

“Electric rates and/or prices are not one-to-one corollaries of generation, transmission, and distribution costs but are indicators of the multiplicity of inputs that shape cost drivers,” the report stated. “These can vary widely within states and across states, and because the EIA data is but a proxy for annual averages, an attempt to draw a conclusion regarding rate behavior in the context of restructuring versus the retention of a vertically integrated utility is likely to produce biased results.”

Proponents of the ballot measure have, outside of advertising, largely conceded this point.

In testimony before the Public Utilities Commission in January 2018, RESA lobbyist Ned Ross said passage of the ballot question didn’t fundamentally guarantee lower electric prices.

“If natural gas prices and other underlying fuel components increase in price, the price of power must increase or it will destabilize,” he said. “So we cannot guarantee an absolute lower price for energy if the underlying components all go up in price. So I want to be careful that we're realistic about what can happen. What I can tell you is that the competitive market will make prices as low as they can be, the service as high as it can be, and all of the options and technology and all of those other things will be as good as they can possibly be. That's not true in a regulatory regime.”

In New England, the region with the largest contingent of retail market states and some of the highest electric rates, the expenses are blamed on non-market factors — geography and distance from natural gas producing areas, fuel mixes, infrastructure decisions including the closure of old plants and a lack of “pipeline capacity” to bring in additional natural gas.

A strongly-worded motion to intervene in the PUC’s report by backers of the initiative claimed that a “discussion of national averages is not helpful” as states vary in average temperature, fuel mixes and other non-replicable factors that make them difficult to prepare.

“The fact that Nevada has lower electricity prices than New York, California, Massachusetts and other high-cost states where utilities are saddled with difficult to maintain systems and costs of outdated or shut down nuclear plants - among a multiplicity of factors - should come as no surprise to anyone, and trumpeting it as an accomplishment is misleading,” it stated.

Conclusion

Proponents of the Energy Choice Initiative say that approving the ballot measure will result in lower electric bills, and claim that electric rates in retail choice states are “14 percent” lower than other states.

It’s not that simple. While it is true that states with retail markets have seen a smaller percent increase in rates than monopoly-market states since the turn of the century, the 14 percent figure uses an arbitrary cutoff date that isn’t indicative of how retail states have performed since making the transition from a monopoly state.

More broadly, the use of electric rates to make a point about what will or won’t happen to Nevada power bills under the Energy Choice Initiative is inherently misleading. Because the source for all of this price data — the EIA — doesn’t discern each state’s individual “cost drivers” such as weather conditions or power plant maintenance, using the price points to try and draw a conclusion on the merits of a vertically-integrated electric monopoly versus a retail market is, as the Guinn Center study states, “likely to produce biased results.”

The shred of truth in the ads is that electric rates in retail choice states have gone down in price over the last decade when compared to monopoly states. But again, that omits the structural issue of relying on EIA data and only measures a portion of the time that retail markets have been in existence.

For those reasons, we rate the ad Hardly Abe.

Disclosure: Switch and NV Energy have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

Indy Fact Check: Rooftop solar would change, but likely not be eliminated, if energy choice ballot question passes

The end of rooftop solar?

Hinting at such apocalyptic questions has become a mainstay in campaign ads run by opponents of the Energy Choice Initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Nevada to drop its current electric monopoly model and move to a competitive retail market by 2023.

The Coalition to Defeat Question 3 (which has been almost entirely funded by the state’s incumbent utility, NV Energy) has seized the politically popular issue of rooftop solar as a possible casualty if the ballot measure were to pass in 2018.

“Question 3 would also eliminate Nevada’s current rooftop solar program, which serves thousands of homes,” a narrator for a recent digital ad with more than 145,000 views said.

The claim, which has been repeated on social media by the campaign, has elicited a staunch response from proponents of the ballot question, who have called such an assertion “patently false,” an “absurdity” and “insulting.”

The issue of net metering — a billing mechanism where rooftop solar owners are credited for adding surplus energy generated back onto the electric grid — has simmered recently but as recently as 2016 was such a contentious issue that even presidential candidates mentioned it during campaign stops in Nevada.

The Yes on 3 campaign — which is being largely funded by the Las Vegas Sands and Switch — has also been quick to point out that NV Energy funded a PAC that sought to prevent a referendum on a state law criticized as limiting the rooftop solar industry.

Campaign rhetoric aside, the potential massive changes for Nevada’s electric market and huge regulatory and legal undertakings required if Question 3 becomes part of the constitution promise to affect just about every aspect of the state’s electric system, including rooftop solar.

Solar Wars

The battlefield scars from Nevada’s last fervor over rooftop solar are only recently healed. The troubles began after the 2015 Legislature approved a bill that would cap net metering rates once the market reached a certain size, at which point the state’s Public Utilities Commission would be required to set new rates that didn’t shift any costs required by net metering customers to regular customers of the utility.

Once the cap was hit in December, the Commission “corrected” course and slashed reimbursement rates for net metering customers, including those who had already signed up for the program. Although the decision was made so that net metering and other customers would be treated “equally” without cost sharing, in real terms it meant that the up-front cost of installing a rooftop solar system couldn’t be made up through favorable reimbursement rates — leaving thousands high and dry without any way to make up the substantial investment. That in turn left hundreds of people without a job, as major solar companies decided to leave the state.

A rancorous battle between solar homeowners and installers against NV Energy and the PUC ensued — including an attempt to reverse the decision via a ballot measure, mentions by presidential candidates including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and huge protests with celebrity appearances at the nominally quiet PUC meetings.

The anger subsided somewhat when the PUC in September 2016 agreed to “grandfather” in existing solar customers to a more favorable rate. But many state lawmakers — some of whom campaigned for office on the promise to “bring back solar” — entered the 2017 legislative session with a clear goal in mind to revitalize the industry.

After numerous amendments and legislative to-and-fro, the final compromise bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval. The new bill allows for the full-value reimbursement of any “net” electricity produced by a rooftop solar system and back to the grid credited against a power bill and a decreasing reimbursement scale for any excess electricity generated over the total consumed.

Initial indications are that the industry has recovered — a utility executive testified last month that it had received more than 9,400 net metering applications since the new rules took effect, and about 36 megawatts of capacity have been installed as of July 31 (one megawatt of solar can power about 150 homes).

Studies & Reports

Numerous studies that have attempted to grapple with the hefty task of determining how best to implement a retail energy market in Nevada have largely concluded that the immediate future of the current net metering program is uncertain if the initiative passes in 2018.

A lengthy report by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission released in April found that passage of the ballot measure would “likely re-open the (net metering) debate,” given unanswered questions about whether such a system could thrive in an open market. Other states, such as California and Texas, left certain areas untouched by retail markets, meaning there was “reasonable uncertainty” about how the program would function in a truly competitive market.

“The constitutional amendment appears sweeping in its scope and, therefore, reasonable uncertainty about the future of NEM (net metering) must be acknowledged,” it stated.

The report also underlined a “legal reality” that the new constitutional change would override any existing legislation, and predicted that passage of the measure “very likely invalidates” the bill passed by the 2017 Legislature cementing more favorable rates for net metering customers.

Similarly, the nonpartisan think tank Guinn Center for Policy Priorities’ report found that the state’s net metering program faced an uncertain future if the ballot measure were to pass. Although it may not formally invalidate existing law allowing for the program to exist, the report stated that the predicted requirement that NV Energy stop providing power entirely would in effect block the current law as written.

“If NV does not supply generation, then, by definition, it is not a supplier than can provide retail rates,” the report stated. “Therefore, there would be no entity in the market with the ability to provide the net metering service. In the absence of further clarification, the right to energy choice seems incompatible with the rights guaranteed to net metering customers.”

A report issued by the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice — a 25-member advisory board composed of lawmakers, energy experts and supporters and opponents of the ballot question — recommended that the 2019 Legislature take up the issue, but didn’t elaborate further.

The report, though, recommended that if Nevada joins an out-of-state Independent System Operator as part of a wholesale electric market, it maintain the ability to control “popular demand-side” programs such as net metering.

Implementation

Backers of the ballot measure who have called the advertisement misleading have largely relied upon a provision of the net metering legislation passed by 2017 Legislature that sought to place an anticipatory provision that would protect rooftop solar customers if the constitutional amendment were to pass.

The amendment, which was adopted four days before the end of the 120-day legislative session, stipulates that if the Legislature creates a retail electric market (which it would be required to do under the ballot question), it would then:

  • Define any seller of electricity as a “utility” required to fill out the requirements of the new net metering law
  • Require the PUC to prohibit any new electric sellers from “impeding or interrupting the operation or performance or otherwise restrict the output of an existing net metering system”
  • Require net metering customers to pay “any costs” charged to other customers by new sellers of electricity that they otherwise would be required to pay if they weren’t already rooftop solar customers

Finding a solution that would allow further growth of rooftop solar without being forced to start over if the ballot measure were to pass was brought up as a concern by some legislators at the time. In a May 24 meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy, Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert said she was concerned about how the provisions of the bill — without the later amendment — would work in a future retail market.

“If we have open, competitive markets and different providers of energy in the state, I am not sure how this bill would work,” she said at the time.

But supporters claim the enacted provision of the bill should jibe with language in the proposed constitutional amendment designed to give state lawmakers leeway in keeping strong renewable energy policies in place even in a retail market.

The portion in question reads as follows: “Nothing herein shall be construed to invalidate Nevada’s public policies on renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental protection or limit the Legislature’s ability to impose such policies on participants in a competitive electric market.”

But skeptics question whether the constitutional provision cited by supporters could conflict with other parts of the proposed amendment. Democratic Assemblyman Chris Brooks, a vocal critic of the ballot measure and the sponsor of the 2017 net metering bill, said he was concerned that net metering requirements imposed by the state would conflict with newly created unfettered constitutional right for participants in a new market to “sell, trade or otherwise dispose of electricity.”

“The language is vague and open to interpretation, and my concern is that anything we do at the state level to encourage renewable energy or to protect rooftop solar can be challenged and will be challenged,” he said in an interview.

Although the initiative states that the Legislature may enact legislation “consistent with this act” prior to the planned 2023 implementation, Brooks said the core tenets of his 2017 legislation — including reimbursing customers at the retail rate for produced energy returned to the grid — would need to be revisited if the ballot measure were to pass.

“The current solar scenario envisions one thing, and that one thing is a vertically integrated utility that we currently have keeping all rooftop solar customers in same rate class as all other customers, and guaranteeing them a certain rate of returned energy based on what other customers pay,” he said. “That is most certainly going away.”

But what exactly could be going away isn’t necessarily net metering — it’s the existing structure of the program. Rather, as energy experts point out, many of the 22 states with a retail electric market do in fact have net metering programs, just with variances in how the programs are managed between utilities and new energy suppliers in the market.

“There’s no fundamental obstacle to a market that has both net metering and retail choice,” said Justin Barnes, a clean energy analyst with EQ Research.

Barnes, who laid out future net metering possibilities for the state in a January presentation to the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice, recommended that policy makers keep as much of the current net metering system in place as possible, to cut down on any potential confusion or miscommunications that could happen between suppliers and utility companies.

Barnes said that the state could require new retail suppliers to offer net metering programs, or make it optional. Nevada could also require NV Energy to continue serving as a utility and serve net metering customers, although the company’s leadership has made it clear it has no interest in operating as a supplier in a retail electric state. Operating a net metering program and calculating the “netting” of electricity sent back to the grid could fall either to new suppliers, the existing utility company providing transmission services, or could be carried out by both.

“It’s not necessarily impossible to make net metering look more or less the same for the customer as it looks under a regulated regime,” he said. “In some cases, or depending on how retail structure looks like, it's certainly possible there would need to be some adjustment.”

Although most states with net metering programs adopted them before or concurrently with switching from a monopoly structure to a retail structure, Barnes said Nevada could avoid growing pains or mistakes made by other states and immediately adopt their best practices.

Overall, Barnes said it was difficult to predict what changes the state might need to make for a net metering program to work if the state adopts a retail choice market, given that many of the decisions would come after larger choices are made on the actual scope and boundaries of the new retail market.

“It’s totally a matter of terminology and clarification of responsibilities,” he said.

Conclusion

Recent campaign ads from the Coalition to Defeat Question 3 say that passing the Energy Choice Initiative in 2018 would “eliminate Nevada’s current rooftop solar program.”

The word “current” is doing quite a bit of heavy lifting in these advertisements. There is an abundantly high likelihood that state lawmakers will need to revisit the current net metering system for rooftop solar customers if the ballot measure passes, if only to further define certain aspects — such as how to define the “retail rate” when there are multiple sellers of electricity as opposed to one vertically integrated monopoly — of the existing legislation. But that shouldn’t be taken to mean that net metering itself would go away if the ballot measure passes.

Advocates and opponents obviously differ in how much tweaking would need to be done if the measure passes, but there is no evidence that a net metering program would be incompatible with Nevada under a retail electric market. There are substantial questions as to how state-driven policies would work given newly created constitutional rights to buy and sell electricity unfettered, and it’s easy to imagine the ultimate answer will come via a court decision if the measure were to pass.

All that said, the ad is technically correct to say the current net metering program for Nevada rooftop solar customers would likely be changed if the ballot measure passes. But if the preceding 2,200 words aren’t enough of an indication, there’s substantial context needed to parse what exactly would happen to rooftop solar owners if the measure passes.

For those reasons, we rate the ad Almost Abe.

Disclosure: Switch and NV Energy have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

Indy Fact Check: Ads claiming Giunchigliani paid husband hundreds of thousands of dollars require significant clarification

Accusations of putting a family member on her campaign payroll have dogged Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Chris Giunchigliani during the last few months of the primary campaign.

At least two ads — one from the Clark County Education Association and one from her primary opponent, Steve Sisolak — have hounded Giunchigliani over details from a March article in the Reno Gazette-Journal reporting that she paid her late husband’s political consulting firm nearly $1 million between 1996 and 2014.

The story detailed Giunchigliani’s payments — for her Assembly, Clark County Commission and mayoral race — to Gary Gray, her husband and a prominent Democratic political consultant who worked on dozens of legislative and local government races. Gray died in a car crash in 2015.  

The newspaper found the largest chunk of expenditures, around $472,000, were paid to Gray’s firm during Giunchigliani’s 2006 bid to unseat incumbent County Commissioner Myrna Williams. It also disclosed that the Clark County commissioner and her husband bought a $435,000 home in downtown Las Vegas in March 2006.

The ads have almost entirely cited the newspaper story in their attacks on Giunchigliani, with Sisolak’s ad stating she “put her husband on her campaign payroll, collecting hundreds of thousands in campaign cash.”

The accusations have also come up during debates between the two candidates — Sisolak brought the issue forward during a debate on May 24.

“I did not know she was paying her husband that type of salary, absolutely not,” he said. “I donated to her campaign and didn’t know that she was using it to buy a house. Absolutely not. Nobody who donated to me thought I was paying my children or my family, because I wasn’t. If your family works on your campaign, they should volunteer for your campaign.”

Giunchigliani has pushed back forcefully on the claim, calling it “absolutely false” in one interview, constantly pointing out that Sisolak hired Gray to run his 2008 County Commission campaign and setting up a lengthy response to the claims on her website.

It isn’t unusual, even now, for Nevada candidates to pay close family members for work through their campaign accounts. State law then and now prohibits candidates from using campaign funds for “personal use,” but nothing prevents campaign expenses being paid to family members, spouses or businesses run by family members. “Personal use” isn’t defined in state law, but the Nevada secretary of state’s 2018 candidate guide states the prohibition is focused on “typical personal and household expenses such as food, clothing, rent, utilities, and the like.”

The essentials of the ads and the RGJ story aren’t disputed by either side — Giunchigliani did report cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of campaign checks to her husband’s political consulting firm during her 2006 race. But the insinuations in both ads require some significant context for clarity.

Campaign Payments

Giunchigliani’s campaign provided copies of invoices from Gray and Associates kept from her 2006 County Commission race, as well as those from Sisolak’s 2008 County Commission race. The campaign asked that the invoices, which show detailed levels of spending typically not required by state campaign finance laws, not be published because they contained salary details and other personal information. The provided invoices covered the majority but not the entirety of the election cycle, and did not include copies of checks paid to or spent by the firm.

The invoices from Giunchigliani’s campaign indicated she paid Gray’s firm a little more than $430,000 total between August 2005 and November 2006, with about 11 percent of that total being paid to Gray as a consulting fee. The remaining funds went toward a variety of campaign expenses, including campaign research, polling, website hosting, fundraising consultants, printing costs and more, with Gray himself being paid a monthly “professional services fee” that increased as the campaign neared Election Day.

In total, the “professional services” fee collected by Gray personally for his wife’s 2006 campaign totaled $51,000, including $6,000 for additional “campaign staffing” between June 30 and August 16 of 2006.

The invoices show about $254,700 being paid to Gray and Associates ahead of the state’s August 15 Democratic primary in 2006. She paid Gray’s firm another $175,000 after the primary and through the general election, on Nov. 7, 2006, where she cruised to victory against Republican Joe Thibodeau.

Consulting fees for Gray made up about 11 percent of the total amount received by Gray and Associates from Giunchigliani’s campaign, but it’s important to note that the invoices don’t cover the entirety of the election or reporting cycle, which is why the $430,000 figure totaled through the invoices is different than the $470,000 she spent during the entire campaign. Her campaign website’s response to the attack states that Gray earned around $61,000 from the campaign.

Although Giunchigliani said during a May debate that she signed the same contract with Gray that all of his other clients did, her campaign didn’t produce her 12-year-old contract from that election.

To see if that pay structure was overly beneficial to Gray, one can compare it to the invoices Gray charged to Sisolak for his 2008 campaign for County Commission against Republican Brian Scoggins (Sisolak narrowly defeated Scoggins by a 48 to 46 percent margin in the district, or just over 1,500 votes.)

According to the invoices, Sisolak paid Gray and Associates slightly more than $408,000 between June and December 2008, for expenses including yard and road signs, volunteers, mail pieces and website registration.

Gray reported collecting $21,000 in “professional service fees” on the invoices, or less than half of what he collected from Giunchigliani’s campaign coffers — though Gray spent a smaller period of time working on the campaign, just over six months compared to nearly a year and three months for Giunchigliani. He also collected a different monthly fee from Sisolak than he did from his wife’s 2006 commission race.

Ethics reform

Five days after the publication of the Gazette-Journal story, Sisolak’s campaign released a set of proposed “ethics reforms” that included prohibiting payments from candidates to family members or their businesses for “political work.”

“Politicians should not be enriching their own households or family members’ households, directly or indirectly, through campaign disbursements,” his campaign wrote in a statement outlining the proposed policy.

Speaking to reporters after the May 21 debate, Giunchigliani said she would support a similar policy as long as family members who were already working as political consultants were excluded from the policy.

“My husband was in business, and that was his business license,” she said. “I don’t have a problem with that part of it, as long as you fence that off. But otherwise, we shouldn’t be paying. But I do think you should not force people out of their small business that they’ve been in for 25 years, that other people have hired for 25 years.”

House

Property records show that Gray and Giunchigliani purchased a home on March 9, 2006 for $435,000. She told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2017 that they spent around $100,000 upgrading the historical downtown home after purchasing it.

Giunchiligaini’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, said in an interview that the couple paid for the home out of a joint “housing account” that they both equally paid into. He said both the commissioner and her husband had separate checking accounts, and Gray kept a separate business account for money he made through his consulting firm.

During the May 24 debate, Giunchigliani said the couple decided to purchase the new home because it was larger and they needed to make room for her mother, who moved in with the couple.

Additionally, the home was purchased in the midst of her 2006 campaign, and before Gray had collected the bulk of his consulting fees for that specific campaign.

Verdict

Sisolak and others have attacked Giunchigliani for putting her late husband on her “campaign payroll” and “collecting hundreds of thousands in campaign cash.”

Again, the basic facts of the ad are correct and undisputed by either campaign — Giunchigliani hired her husband, a longtime political consultant for Democratic candidates, to run her 2006 race for County Commission against an incumbent Democratic commissioner, and reported paying his firm around $472,000.

There’s a clear insinuation in the ads that Giunchigliani used her campaign account to either financially benefit her husband or as a thinly-veiled reference that the payments helped the couple purchase a new home. It’s fair to criticize Giunchigliani’s payments toward Gray as a symptom of the state’s modest campaign finance rules and disclosures, as well as the lack of any sort of robust system to prevent candidates from paying their family members for campaign “expenses.”

But Gray — a respected political consultant who was called “one of the great political minds in Nevada history” by former Sen. Harry Reid upon his passing — kept detailed financial records showing he made a roughly 11 percent commission off of his wife’s 2006 race, with the rest of the “hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash” going toward actual campaign expenses.

There’s a significant amount of background needed to understand the full context of how Giunchigliani was paying her husband’s firm. But the ads themselves insinuate but never outright accuse the gubernatorial hopeful of wrongdoing through payments toward her husband, remaining technically accurate.

For those reasons, we rate this ad Almost Abe.

Disclosure: Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

Indy Fact Check: Ad blurs facts behind Chris G.'s vote to increase her salary as a legislator

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani’s votes from 17 years ago to increase state legislators’ pay is coming back to haunt her in the form of attack ads from her primary opponent, Steve Sisolak.

Voiced over a digital triptych of Giunchigliani a man states, “It's the pattern of a career politician. Chris Giunchigliani voted three times to raise her own pay. Supported letting lobbyists to giving secret gifts to legislators like her and even put her husband on her political payroll.”

This fact check will focus solely on Giunchigliani’s vote to increase her legislative salary.

The ad, which has been copied in mailers and from outside groups supporting Sisolak, says Giunchigliani voted to raise her pay in 2001, 2003 and 2005 during her time as a state Assemblywoman.

Sisolak’s campaign has attempted to characterize Giunchigliani as a “career politician,” including highlighting a Reno Gazette-Journal story on campaign payments made to her late husband, Gary Gray, and by featuring her votes on pay increases during her nearly 20 years in the state Legislature.

After more than 30 years in Nevada politics, Giunchigliani has amassed a lengthy voting record. But her votes on legislative pay increases aren’t as simple as they appear in the campaign material.

Legislative Pay

An important point of context for this claim is that Nevada has a part-time Legislature that only officially meets for 120 days in odd-numbered years.

Although legislative sessions run for 120 days, lawmakers — because of a provision in the state Constitution — are only paid for the first 60 days of the session. State law sets a salary floor for lawmakers at $130 per day, but that number has been indexed to any subsequent raises for state workers, so the number has slowly trickled up to $150.71 per day for legislators elected before the 2017 Legislature.

So legislators can collect a “salary” of just over $9,000, not including a per diem allowance of $142 per day intended to cover “lodging, meals, and incidental expenses” for moving and living in the state capital of Carson City.

Many current and former lawmakers have criticized how the state compensates lawmakers, saying the meager salary doesn’t begin to cover the expenses of moving and living in Carson City and all of the interim committees and commitments that legislators are supposed to participate in between sessions.

2001 Vote

The first vote cited was a bill presented in the 2001 session of the Legislature, which was introduced by the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means and came via a gubernatorial task force studying salary and compensation for various public offices, including county officials, judges and lawmakers.

The bill, AB 606, was amended by Giunchigliani to include state Supreme Court justices, sheriffs, district judges and attorneys who had not been awarded an increase in pay in four years.

Consequently, a legislator’s daily pay would increase from $130 to $175. Supreme Court and district court judges annual salary would increase to $150,000 and $130,000 respectively.

The bill itself wouldn’t have immediately raised legislative pay — the measure would have kicked in during the next legislative session, and would allow legislators to exempt themselves from the salary increase.

Giunchigliani did vote for the bill in committee and on the floor of the Assembly, where it passed on a 36 to 4 tally. But the measure failed to advance out of a state Senate committee and was never signed into law.

2003 Vote

The second pay increase referenced in the ad wasn’t really a traditional pay boost — it refers to a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would result in annual legislative sessions.

The proposed amendment sought to change several sections of the Constitution, including limits of postage for lawmakers and allowing them to call themselves into a special session of the Legislature in “extraordinary” circumstances. It also would have allowed for shorter legislative sessions in annual years, as a way to approve any modifications to the state’s two-year budget and to tackle any outstanding policy issues.

Giunchigliani, who said versions of the amendment had been introduced (and rejected) since the 1970s, directly addressed whether the change would result in a salary increase.

“It’s not a salary increase, but it is an increase because it’s more days,” Giunchigliani said during a meeting of the Assembly Committee on Constitutional Amendments in 2003. “The public totally supports legislators being paid for days they work. This would make it very clear. Therefore, if this passed, you’re not doing an increase. It’s the people saying, ‘Yes. That makes sense. I support annual sessions, and I support the notion that you’re actually going to get paid for days of work.’ I don’t think anybody should hide or be concerned about that part of it, because it’s not increasing the $130 a day that you receive.”

The measure passed out of the state Assembly on a 23 to 14 vote, with Giunchigliani voting in favor. It failed to advance out of a state Senate committee and never became part of the Constitution.

2005 Vote

The only pay raise mentioned in the ad that actually became law was AB462 in the 2005 Legislature.

Although it originally only covered salary increases for the state’s constitutional officers — such as governor or attorney general — the bill was amended to not only increase salaries but to increase them in tandem with any percentage increase in the pay of the state’s classified employees. That automatic increase was also expanded to cover members of the Legislature.

The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 30-12 vote, with Giunchigliani voting in favor, and was signed into law by Gov. Kenny Guinn in June 2005.

But by the time the billed was signed into law, Giunchigliani had spoken publicly about her aspirations to run for a seat on the Clark County Commission. She left the Assembly to challenge and eventually knock off incumbent commissioner, Myrna Williams, in 2006 and never benefited from the pay increase.

Verdict

The ad claims that Giunchigliani voted to increase her pay three separate times as an assemblywoman. We can confirm that Giunchigliani backed and voted for the bills, but the claims are oversimplified and exaggerated. The charge against Giunchigliani does not give proper context to the votes nor the bills.

The three bills included in the ad affected more than just increasing compensation for legislators. The measures were largely bipartisan. Giunchigliani would not have immediately benefited from the increases, but presumably could have benefited from them down the line.

Although two of the proposed measures were straight pay raises, the proposed constitutional amendment for annual legislative sessions was not. Lawmakers would technically be paid more than they would have otherwise if the measure was adopted, but that’s because they would be doing more work — their pay would remain static.

This cherry-picked voting history results in misleading impressions, which is why we rate this a Hardly Abe on our Honest Abe scale.

Disclosure: Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

 

Indy Fact Check: Giunchigliani ad on Red Rock development, donations to Sisolak needs significant context

A contentious vote on a planned development near Red Rock National Conservation Area has become the latest attack point in the intense Democratic gubernatorial primary.

A recent television ad from Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani’s gubernatorial campaign features the former assemblywoman riding in a helicopter above the canyon, meeting a school bus filled with children at a conspicuously located table inside the park while she criticizes her primary opponent, fellow Commissioner Steve Sisolak.

“I led the fight against building thousands of houses at Red Rock,” she says in the ad. “Steve Sisolak took $10,000 from the Red Rock developer, then voted for the development, robbing the next generation of open space.”

On the surface, land-use issues aren’t what one would expect in a gubernatorial campaign ad. But a proposed residential development within eyeshot of the conservation area — located on the site of a still-active gypsum mine — became a flash point of contention last year, culminating in an hours-long public meeting and vote over a six-year old concept plan for the development.

Media outlets, including The Nevada Independent, wrote extensively about the vote and the history of the proposed development, which activists panned as a “shady mess” and “typical pay-to-play” politics.

So it’s not surprising that Giunchigliani — who was one of two votes against the proposal in February — is bringing the issue back up as a cudgel against Sisolak, who joined four other commissioners in voting to proceed with a 2011 concept plan for the site.

But like most issues with the proposed development near Red Rock, there’s a lot more context needed than can be explained in a 30-second sound bite.

Prolonged development

Gypsum Resources and its trust manager, Jim Rhodes, purchased the Blue Diamond Hill property in question in 2002 after another company had proposed a master-planned community at the site.

Rhodes and Gypsum won a court case against Clark County in 2009 over a previous county ordinance that restricted changes to zoning density within the 46,000-acre Red Rock Overlay District, which includes both the conservation area itself and 288 square miles of surrounding land.

The county agreed to settle with the developer in 2010 by creating an “exemption zone” within the overlay district that, according to a 2011 concept plan, would allow for roughly 5,025 homes within the 2,000-acre parcel. Without the exemption, rural zoning designations would require one home per every 2 acres.

Rhodes and Gypsum did not move forward with the development for several years, instead engaging in a prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful land-swap negotiation with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They approached the county again in 2016, and submitted another concept plan that included requirements laid out by county commissioners on limiting the number of homes and changing the planned access road to the site.

Advocates, including a group called Save Red Rock, began pushing to block the higher density development, but the situation became even more convoluted when county staff essentially admitted that they had mistakenly required the developers to submit an amended concept plan, and discovered that Rhodes and Gypsum had already paid the fees necessary to file the original 2011 plan.

All of those issues came to a head during the Clark County Commission meeting in February 2017, where commissioners presided over a 7-hour hearing with more than 130 speakers mostly opposed to the county moving forward with any development on the site.

Ultimately, the commission voted 5-2 to withdraw the 2016 plan and go forward with the 2011 plan, with Giunchigliani and Commissioner Lawrence Weekly casting the dissenting votes. Commissioners who voted in favor, including Sisolak, said they were concerned about potential litigation against the county if it rejected the plan again, and stressed that any development still needs to go through a multi-step process including a “more-detailed specific plan, public facilities needs assessment, a development agreement and zoning designation changes.”

“We did not vote to put one house, one street light, one road, one store on Blue Diamond Hill,” Sisolak said at the time. “We did not allow him, by our vote, to put anything up there.”

Future development

Since the vote, little action has been taken on the proposed development. Save Red Rock, a group vocally opposed to development near the canyon, filed a lawsuit over the 2011 concept plan in December of 2016, and a jury trial over the issue is scheduled for September 2018.

A Gypsum Resources representative, Ron Krater, told a county advisory council in February that Rhodes was planning to move forward with the development project based on the 2011 concept plan, but with several key differences including a “significant” reduction in the number of planned houses and density and that non-residential land use had been taken out of the plan.

Regardless, it will still take several years and more votes of the County Commission to move forward with any proposed development. Providing water alone for the site would require 6.5 miles of pipeline, three reservoirs and three pumping stations just to get water up the 1,200 feet to the property, a Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesman told The Nevada Independent last year.

Sisolak also told reporters after the vote that he doubted the full commission would approve 5,025 homes on the property, as the 2011 concept plan calls for.

“Open Space”

Giunchigliani’s ad also posits a geographical question — just how far outside the conservation area itself can be referred to as “Red Rock.”

While her ad features the stunning rock formations and scenic vistas that make Red Rock Canyon one of the biggest non-casino draws in Las Vegas, the proposed development itself isn’t technically inside the conservation area.

Also, the proposed development site is currently the site of an active gypsum mine (also owned by Rhodes), and isn’t pristine wilderness. In a rejection letter for a proposed land swap, the BLM wrote that the site had multiple issues including “hazardous mining features such as adits, shafts, pits filled with water, and surface debris.”

That said, advocates against the development say that creation of a large master-planned community in such close proximity would have a significant impact on the park itself, given the increases in traffic congestion, needed services and other issues that would come from building thousands of homes near the conservation area.

Campaign contributions

Sisolak did indeed take $10,000 from Harmony Homes Inc. — one of Rhodes’ companies — in 2015, according to campaign finance reports. Giunchigliani also took $5,000 from a Rhodes-related firm in 2006.

He also reported receiving $10,000 each from Jay and Sharyn Brown. Jay Brown, a powerful lobbyist and figure in Southern Nevada local government, represented Gypsum and Rhodes during the February hearing over Red Rock.

Although her ad points out the Sisolak donation, Giunchigliani herself downplayed any impact the campaign contributions had on influencing her fellow commissioners’ votes. “I just don’t think that’s the case,” she said at the time.

Verdict:

Giunchigliani’s ad claims Sisolak took $10,000 from the “Red Rock developer,” and then voted for the development of thousands of homes which robbed the next generation of “open space.”

Few things in politics are black and white, and land use and zoning issues aren’t one of them. Nothing in the ad is blatantly inaccurate — Sisolak did take $10,000 in campaign contributions from Rhodes, and did cast a vote over the concept plan that complied with the wishes of the developer, despite loud protests from conservationists.

But those facts alone are devoid of context needed to understand the vote — and the project. The ad uses the past tense to refer to the development plan, whereas many more steps and commission votes will be required before anything is approved to be built on the site. Using camera shots of the conservation area itself is misleading, as the development is actually planned for an area near the area that contains an active gypsum mine.

Because the ad requires substantial context to understand correctly, we rate the ad Hardly Abe.

Disclosure: Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

Indy Fact Check: Sisolak was silent on gun background check ballot question, but supported concept in 2013

The recent mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, FL, has again thrust the issue of gun control into the political sphere — and become a campaign issue in Nevada’s gubernatorial race.

Though tensions in the Democratic gubernatorial primary race between Clark County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak have largely stayed out of the spotlight since both candidates announced their bids in 2017, hints of a potentially nasty primary battle have begun to emerge, specifically over the issue of support for expanded gun control measures.

In a recent Twitter back-and-forth with his counterpart on the Sisolak campaign, Giunchigliani’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, took aim at Sisolak’s record on firearms, accusing him of “not publicly supporting” a ballot initiative expanding background checks on private party firearm sales “until he found himself in a Democratic primary.”

“The facts are clear: 1) He did nothing to support Q1 until after he was in a Democratic primary,” Hyers tweeted last month.

Although online spats between campaign managers are typical in any campaign, we thought this particular claim warranted fact-checking, given that it will likely come up again in ads or other campaign material before the June 12 primary.

Question 1 basics

Nevada voters narrowly approved Question 1 — The Background Checks Initiative — by a little more than 10,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast in the 2016 election. The initiative amends state law to require any person who sells or transfers a firearm (with some limited exemptions) to first undergo a federal background check on the recipient of the sale or transfer.

Two well-funded national organizations — the National Rifle Association and Everytown for Gun Safety — largely funded the two sides of the ballot measure, pouring millions of dollars into the campaign.

But implementation of the initiative has been stalled since 2016, after Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office issued an advisory calling the initiative “unenforceable,” given that the ballot directed the FBI to perform the checks, and communications with the federal agency revealed it wouldn’t be compelled by the state to begin doing the checks. Retail gun sellers in Nevada use a state-run database (referred to as a “point-of-contact” system) to complete the background check, which state officials say is preferable to the FBI’s system as it captures a broader scope of records.

Attorneys for the ballot initiative filed a lawsuit against Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval late last year, seeking to compel him to change Nevada from a full to partial “point of contact” state as a way to force implementation of the ballot question. Both sides argued their case in District Court last week.

Who, what and when

It’s hard to find any record of Sisolak commenting one way or another about the ballot question prior to late 2017 — though he expressed support for the general concept of gun background checks in a 2013 interview.

Hyers said in an email that the Guinchigliani campaign had done an exhaustive online search of “Google, Pro Quest, NewsBank, LexusNexus, IQ Media, TV Eyes, and Steve Sisolak's Facebook and Twitter” and hadn’t found any other reference made by Sisolak regarding the ballot initiative until November 2017, in a Nevada Independent story detailing his positions on issues.

The only prior on-the-record comments Sisolak made about background checks came in a 2013 interview with the Las Vegas Sun, expressing support for a concept similar to what would later become Question 1.

“Something needs to be done in terms of some type of a background check,” he said at the time. “We’ve got people who are convicted felons or have mental health issues who are capable of buying firearms at a gun show or in a private sale, and that’s a problem. I think that a reasonable person would believe that some sort of background check that is not too invasive or not too onerous is, in my opinion, reasonable.”

Still, it’s hard to find any public support Sisolak specifically gave the recent ballot question in the period of time leading up to the 2016 election, though his campaign said he voted for the initiative and would work to implement it and other gun control measures as governor.

“Las Vegas knows all too well the damage that bump stocks can do,” he said in a Feb. 20 statement. “There is much more to do to prevent gun violence, including implementing background checks - which Adam Laxalt has refused to do - as well as banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”

Giunchigliani’s campaign also said she voted for the initiative, and the Democrat donated $2,000 to the primary group supporting the ballot question in 2015 (the group received no donations from Sisolak or his campaign account). She told The Nevada Independent last month that if elected, she would sign a bill mandating background checks for private party sales, adjusting the state’s “point of contact” status and support bans on “assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks.”

But like Sisolak, it’s hard to find a record of Giunchigliani publicly supporting the initiative outside of her financial contribution. In fact, the only elected office-holders who publicly endorsed the initiative were Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen and Rep. Dina Titus, who told KNPR prior to the election that she supported the measure.

Giunchigliani also includes gun safety and implementation of the ballot question on the Issues page on her campaign website, while Sisolak does not.

It’s not that surprising to see a scant record for both candidates on gun issues, given the little interaction that county commissions have with firearms policy in Nevada. State lawmakers approved a bill in 2015 that put control of rules on firearms, accessories and ammunition in “exclusive domain of the Legislature,” preventing local governments from passing their own rules or ordinances on firearm policy.

Verdict

Chris Giunchigliani’s campaign manager accused gubernatorial rival Steve Sisolak of doing nothing to support Question 1 “until after he was in a Democratic primary.”

All of Hyers’ tweets are careful to include a caveat about Sisolak “publicly” supporting the ballot measure, which is an important distinction to make. There’s no evidence that Sisolak opposed the ballot measure, and has never said anything that disputes his 2013 interview supporting a similar concept for expanded background checks. But like most state Democrats, he did not officially endorse or publicly show support for the ballot question prior to its passage.

It would be inaccurate to say that Sisolak opposed background checks, or switched his position on the ballot question. Even though the campaign uses careful caveats in how it describes Sisolak, ignoring his 2013 statement on background checks leaves out an important part of the story. We rate this claim Almost Abe.

Disclosure: Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

Updated at 2:25 p.m. to include Rep. Dina Titus as one of the backers of Question 1 prior to the 2016 election. Titus was not listed on the Nevadans For Background Checks website as endorsing the measure, but she told KNPR that she supported it.

Indy Fact Check: Did Danny Tarkanian take $700,000 from a children's charity?

Danny Tarkanian’s past financial woes have served as tasty campaign fodder for opponents in several of his unsuccessful bids for office, and the attacks are continuing in his effort to knock off Sen. Dean Heller in the 2018 Republican primary.

Heller’s campaign immediately seized on a report by KLAS political reporter Steve Sebelius outlining several questionably timed transactions between a children’s basketball charity founded by Tarkanian, one of his companies, his congressional campaign and a large mortgage payment all made within a short period in 2012.

The story prompted the campaign’s first serious television ad against Tarkanian, releasing a 60-second homage to the 1993 Bill Murray classic, “Groundhog Day,” last week outlining the Republican candidate’s various legal issues, financial problems and losses at the ballot box during his five previous runs for office.

“Wake up Nevada!” the ad says. “Danny Tarkanian is running for the U.S. Senate again, facing new questions over $700,000 he’s taken from a children’s charity.”

Tarkanian’s financial issues have been well documented, as a failed development and a subsequent $17 million judgement came during runs for political office (U.S. Senate in 2010 and Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in 2012). His unsuccessful 2016 primary opponent, state Sen. Michael Roberson, used the $17 million judgment against Tarkanian and various allegations published by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in attack ads (Tarkanian vigorously denied the allegations and settled the FDIC case in 2015).

But the newest detail — allegations of taking $700,000 from Tarkanian Basketball Academy, a children’s charity founded by Tarkanian in the early 2000s — hasn’t been reported on before this year, and seemed salacious enough to warrant another look.

Money problems

Like many people during the economic slowdown in 2007 and 2008, Tarkanian’s finances took a hit during the downturn.

The troubles began when Tarkanian and his family made a guaranteed $14.5 million loan on development for an “equestrian destination resort” called Dignitary Downs in Southern California in late 2007.

The developer, Robert Dyson, defaulted on the first interest payment within a month, and within six months told Tarkanian that he had run out of money.

Tarkanian, his brother George and his parents were then ordered to pay a nearly $17 million judgement in 2012 to the FDIC, which took over the bank that made the initial loan for the development deal.

After fighting in court, the two parties reached an agreement in 2015, agreeing to a half-million dollar settlement. In the midst of the legal battle with the FDIC, Tarkanian filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in December 2013, which was settled in May 2016.

“Children’s charity”

According to a decade of IRS filings and his 2016-2017 personal finance disclosure (that Heller’s campaign posted on its website), Tarkanian has received just more than $662,000 in salary from the charity since 2005.

The biggest chunk of that income is $237,000 in salary income from the nonprofit that he reported on his 2017 financial disclosure form for his current U.S. Senate run, by far his highest per-year income reported out of the decade spent working at the charity. While he reported taking in $162,000 in salary in 2015 and $127,000 in 2014, Tarkanian listed zero income from salary between 2011 and 2013 (His average salary between 2005 and 2010 averaged out to a little less than $22,800 a year.)

In an interview, Tarkanian said the salary amounts were approved by the charity’s board of directors, and the varying salary amounts were tied to the charity’s fiscal performance over the years.

“In a generality term, I got paid a salary when the revenues were coming in, and when more revenue was coming in, I was able to receive a salary,” he said. “When there wasn’t, I wasn’t.”

Tarkanian, who is listed as president of the charity, said that the higher salary over the last three years was meant to make up for the three years of no salary, and that his yearly average salary over the decade was closer to $56,000 a year. Tarkanian said that he loaned the charity $2 million to start it up, and had made several loans in subsequent years for various purposes, including a recent $40,000 loan to refurbish the basketball courts used by the charity.

Tarkanian Basketball Academy charges a flat $125 per month fee for children between kindergarten and the 12th grade for training, and Tarkanian said the facility had helped thousands of kids over the past decade.

“We have had thousands and thousands of kids come through that facility, and we’ve helped teach them life lessons through sports,” he said. “For them to question the fact that I made $56,000 a year in salary shows how desperate and deceitful Dean Heller and Mitch McConnell’s Super PAC are.”

$40,000

The other $40,000 that the Heller campaign includes as part of the $700,000 figure mentioned in the ad is a little harder to suss out.

Instead, it refers to a series of financial transactions made by Tarkanian after the FDIC entered its judgment and just days before the 2012 Republican primary in the state’s 4th Congressional District (Tarkanian defeated former state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, but lost the general to Democrat Steven Horsford).

It’s a bit convoluted, but here’s essentially what happened:

  • On June 28, 2012, Tarkanian Basketball Academy loaned JAMD LLC (a property business owned by Tarkanian) $40,000.
  • The same day, JAMD LLC paid Tarkanian himself $40,000, who then loaned his 2012 congressional campaign $40,000 the next day.
  • 12 days later, on July 11, 2012, Tarkanian’s congressional campaign paid Tarkanian himself $53,755 as part of a loan repayment.
  • On July 12, 2012, Tarkanian made a $300,000 mortgage payment on his Las Vegas home.

Tarkanian doesn’t dispute the timeline, but said he made the transactions in order to secure the funds needed to make a principal reduction payment toward his mortgage, given that the home was under water at the time and at risk of being foreclosed.

He said in an interview that his house was backed up against his parent’s home, and that his parents had purchased a walkway between the two so that he and his wife would be able to regularly check in on his father — legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian — who suffered a heart attack in 2012 and was in poor health.

“Twice my wife and I were able to get to my father and call an ambulance before he died. I would think that was worth every penny to pay down the mortgage,” he said. “I’d do it again a thousand times over. There would be no time I would even hesitate.”

Tarkanian, who said that all loans made by the charity have been paid back with interest, said he moved the money to the congressional campaign in order to help pay off debts incurred with his primary campaign, and that the loan repayment of $53,755 came from funds for the general election. He said that JAMD — which operates a commercial center in southwest Las Vegas — owed him several hundred thousand dollars in loans at the time, and that he took all steps necessary to avoid violating campaign finance laws.

“I’m entitled to have that company to pay me back money, and I used that money to make sure I followed the FEC rules and only used primary money in the primary,” he said.

According to a transcript of his bankruptcy hearing in May 2014, Tarkanian also lent a separate $50,000 check from the charity to JAMD LLC, which he then deposited and used as another payment on his mortgage on August 3, 2012. According to the transcript, Tarkanian said he wasn’t working for JAMD due to the congressional campaign, and felt it wouldn’t be “appropriate” for him to take a salary from the business, so he loaned the money from the charity to the business before transferring it to his personal account and using it for the mortgage payment.

“(The charity) had the cash available, so it lent JAMD the money because JAMD needed it at that time, and the Tarkanian Basketball Academy did not,” he said, according to the transcript.

Conclusion

Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s campaign claims in a TV ad that Tarkanian took more than $700,000 from a children’s charity.

Heller’s campaign has seized on Tarkanian’s financial woes with vigor, sending out multiple press releases dinging the candidate for using the charity like a “piggy bank” and “personal slush fund.” But our intent is to focus on the television ad, which by its nature will be seen and heard by more people than a standard press release.

No matter how admirable Tarkanian’s actions were in trying to keep his home above water to be near his ailing father, it’s hard to argue with the relatively bare-bones claim that the ad makes regarding his salary and financial transactions related to the charity. Our only quibble would be with the verb “took,” as it is clear that the charity has been a major source of income for Tarkanian over the past decade, and there has been no evidence produced that he hasn’t earned that salary.

Still, it’s hard to argue with the number — especially given the additional $50,000 check that the ad didn’t mention. We rate this ad Honest as Abe.

Tarkanian bankruptcy hearing transcript by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Indy Fact Check: Conflicting comments make it hard to pin down how Heller would vote on DACA fix

Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s position on immigration has again drawn national and local attention as the timeline for Congress to renew a major deportation protection program is slowly ticking down.

Heller, who is facing a tough primary battle from businessman Danny Tarkanian and a well-funded likely general election opponent in freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen, has fended off attacks from all sides over his position on immigration, including the cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over the past few months.

The Republican, who represents a state that is 28 percent Hispanic and where Hispanics have made up close to a fifth of the vote in recent elections, has attempted to walk a fine line on immigration policy, balancing his previous, more moderate positions on granting earned pathways to citizenship for those brought to the country illegally as children while hewing to the party line on increased border security and implementing e-Verify checks to ensure U.S. businesses are employing legal citizens.

Heller is not an immigration hardliner like Iowa Rep. Steve King or Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, but the attacks from Rosen have come nonetheless. Back in September, we gave Rosen a Hardly Abe rating for claiming that Heller was essentially opposed to the DREAM Act because of the lack of clarity in his position.

We arrived at that rating because Heller has never out-and-out said he would vote against the DREAM Act or a similar concept. Despite never directly addressing how he’d vote on a hypothetical bill to that point, he had been generally supportive of people who would benefit under the DREAM Act.

We promised to update and revisit our rating if and when Heller either voted on a bill or took a firmer stance on the DREAM Act or a similar concept. Although no bill has come up yet — despite efforts by Senate Democrats that contributed to the three-day government shutdown — Heller has made several new comments on immigration that offer more clues as to how he might vote on a major immigration bill.

DREAMers and DACA

Before getting into what Heller has and hasn’t said, it’s important to lay out some definitions given that DACA and the DREAM Act, though sometimes used interchangeably, refer to two different programs and populations.

DACA is a program created through executive order by former President Barack Obama in 2012 that gives undocumented people brought to the U.S. the opportunity to obtain work permits and temporary legal status. Recipients must have been under 16 when they entered the U.S., and must have been younger than 31 in June 2012 to apply for the program.

The program has limitations — recipients must renew their status every two years, it doesn’t lead to a permanent lawful residence and is only open to people with a high school degree or an honorably discharged veteran. More than 800,000 people have registered through the program, including approximately 13,000 Nevadans.

President Donald Trump in September decided to end the program, while giving Congress a six-month window to reach a solution before the program’s legal protections end in March.

The DREAM Act, on the other hand, refers to several different legislative proposals that have been introduced since 2001 that aim to offer legal status and a multi-step process to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants.

Similar to DACA, the DREAM Act would only apply to children who entered the U.S. before they turned 16, lived in the U.S. for at least four years, are between the ages of 12 and 35 and graduated from high school or obtained a GED.

Unlike DACA, the DREAM Act would allow qualified people to obtain a 6-year “conditional” status, during which they would need to complete two years of college, graduate from a two-year community college or spend two years in the US Military. If they complete all those requirements, they will be able to apply for permanent residence status and eventually citizenship.

Heller and immigration

In our previous fact check, we documented Heller’s statements and positions on immigration throughout his career in Congress.

To briefly recap, Heller took a much harder stance on immigration during his time as a congressman in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, voting against the 2010 version of the DREAM Act and opposing “amnesty” and “benefits for illegals.”

But Heller’s stance softened after being appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2011 and after winning election in 2012, backing the concept of an earned pathway to citizenship and becoming one of only 13 Republican senators to vote for a compromise immigration bill in 2013.

Heller has also distanced himself from the administration on DACA as recently as August 2017, telling NBC News that he liked the “current law the way that it is” and wanted to keep a pathway for citizenship on the table. He’s also co-sponsored a bill called the BRIDGE Act which would essentially codify DACA for three years and allow Congress more time to come to a solution.

Since we published our fact check in September, Heller has slightly shifted his position on a solution for DACA recipients, moving away from mentions of a pathway to citizenship while emphasizing the need for border security in any immigration bill.

Heller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in November that he would support a DACA fix, but wanted to see additional measures, including funding for border security and expansion of e-verify employment checks included in any bill. Still, if push came to shove, Heller said he would vote for a “clean” DACA bill.

“It will be very difficult to have a clean DACA vote (i.e. a measure with only DACA and nothing else), but if that’s what we end up with at the end of the day, I certainly am going to support it,” he said.

Those comments were the clearest Heller has been on a solution to the expiring DACA program, but he’s also made several other comments on immigration that are worth mentioning.

In an interview with conservative talk show host Kevin Wall, Heller said he didn’t know when Congress would take up a solution to DACA, but emphasized that any solution would require funding for border security.

“I would also argue that it will include border security and will include some of the issues that are important to our movement,” he said of a hypothetical DACA bill. “And that is to make sure those that are in this country and that they are committing crimes are removed from this country and I think that's the direction you're going to see this DACA bill move. We need to address it. We need to take care of this situation but it's not going to happen without, without some border security and extra security inside the country.”

Heller continued emphasizing border security in a telephone town hall with constituents earlier in January, saying he was adamant that it must be included in any immigration legislation.

“And so that’s why I’m going to continue to support these DACA individuals and give them the help and support they need, but I also believe at the same time that there has to be border security, must be border security, in the legislation,” he said.

Heller was also measured in his reaction to the White House’s outline of an immigration measure sent to lawmakers Thursday. It would provide legal status and a pathway to citizenship for up to 1.8 million undocumented people, but would end the existing visa lottery system and would limit family-based immigration to only include spouses and minor children.

In the statement, Heller said he welcomed the administration’s “framework” and said he looked forward to a solution that “prioritizes” border security while providing “certainty” to individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

“Sen. Heller welcomes the White House’s proposed framework and strong leadership to fix our broken immigration system,” his office said in the statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Heller’s campaign didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment on his position on the DREAM Act from The Nevada Independent.

Verdict:

We wanted to revisit our earlier “Hardly Abe” rating of a claim by Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen that Sen. Dean Heller is opposed, or at least “hiding and sitting on the sidelines,” in regards to the DREAM Act.

Heller has shifted his tone on the immigration debate over the last few months. He’s said he would support a “clean” bill protecting DACA recipients, but he’s also recently doubled down on a stated desire to include increased funding for border security. Rosen’s campaign has seized on those comments as evidence that Heller had “apparently been hiding the truth about his opposition to the DREAM Act.”

All that said, it’s hard to know what Heller will do on any given immigration proposal. Although he’s never said he wouldn’t vote for the DREAM Act or similar legislation, his newly stated requirement that border security be included in any bill makes it appear that he wouldn’t support a “clean” version of a measure granting relief to former DACA recipients.

Although it’s highly unlikely that a “clean” DREAM Act or other bill addressing DACA recipients will come to the floor of the Senate without funding for border security or other changes to immigration, the shifting sands of immigration policy proposals make that difficult to predict. And while Heller has said immigration legislation “must” include border security funding, that doesn’t necessarily translate to an automatic “no” vote on any hypothetical bill addressing DACA recipients.

Heller has clarified his position a little while changing his rhetoric around immigration, but it’s still not entirely clear how he would vote. Rosen’s claim that Heller opposes such a measure remains Hardly Abe.

Indy Fact Check: Araujo misses mark claiming Cegavske gave 'private' info to Trump voter fraud panel

Donald Trump’s decision to shutter a contentious voter fraud panel has turned into campaign fodder for the Democratic lawmaker hoping to replace Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, running to take on Cegavske in the 2018 election, aimed a broadside at the Republican earlier this week after President Donald Trump announced he would dissolve the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity formed earlier in 2017.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Araujo took aim at Cegavske and said she should “never have agreed to participate in this sham commission.”

“Even the Republican secretary of state of Mississippi opposed this obvious attempt at voter disenfranchisement and told the Trump administration to 'go jump in the Gulf,' yet Secretary Cegavske willingly agreed to give away voters' private, personal data for the sake of partisan political gain,” he said in the statement.

Trump announced that he would dissolve the commission on Wednesday, saying that despite “substantial evidence” of voter fraud, many states had refused to provide the requested voter information.

“Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission,” he said in a statement.

To be clear, despite Trump’s claims there is no legitimate evidence of widespread voter fraud in any state occurring during the 2016 election. But Araujo’s claim that Cegavske “gave away” the personal data of Nevadans to the president is misleading and ignores the office’s requirements under Nevada’s public records laws.

Election integrity

Trump created the election integrity commission in May 2017, and appointed Vice President Mike Pence as chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a staunch proponent of stricter voting identification laws, as the commission’s vice chair.

In a form letter sent to all 50 states by Kobach, the commission requested from each state publicly-available voter information including: “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party, last four digits of social security number if available, voter history from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”

That’s quite a bit of information to request, and many states pushed back against the commission’s ask — all states that responded to the commission considered partial Social Security numbers to be private, and many considered other information such as birth dates and party affiliation to be private information.

According to a CNN tally, only three states — Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee — supported Kobach’s request, while 19 others openly criticized the request and four — New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia — said they wouldn’t provide any information to the commission.

Despite the uproar, few states fully blocked Kobach or the commission from viewing publicly available voter data, which typically includes information such as name, address, date of birth and whether the person voted in the last campaign.

That’s essentially what Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske decided to do — her office released a statement in June stating that while the request “understandably” raised privacy concerns, her office is prohibited by law from withholding voter registration information from the public, including the commission.

However, her office stated that it would not be giving out personal data, including Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, DMV identification numbers and email addresses.

Email exchanges supplied by Wayne Thorley, the deputy secretary of state for elections, to The Nevada Independent back up what Cegavske’s office has previously stated. Throley declined the commission’s request for the office to send them the voter information and instead outlined instructions as to how the information could be accessed.

“The Nevada public voter list is available for free; however, our office will not be sending the voter list to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” Thorley wrote in the July email. “Instead, the Commission can download the list from our website just as any other member of the public can do.”

Though it took several months, the commission did eventually register with the secretary of state’s office in September and requested permission to download the data set. (We’ve attached copies of the email and the commission’s registration with the secretary of state's office below.)

In response to a follow up statement by The Nevada Independent, Araujo’s campaign pointed out several other secretaries of state that declined to submit information to the commission, and said Cegavske should have had the “backbone” to question the motives of the commission and Trump.

“The majority of Secretaries of State, Republicans and Democrats alike, spoke out to reject President Donald Trump’s political overreach and many refused to hand over their constituents' personal information,” he said in a follow up statement to The Nevada Independent.

However, all states either offer statewide data on registered voters to interested parties, although several place restrictions on who can request the data or how much it can cost. A 2015 analysis by the U.S. Elections Project found that a politically oriented nonprofit could purchase publicly available voter data in every state excluding Maine and Maryland, though the cost would be more than $135,000.

More roadblocks exist for citizens, who can purchase or obtain publicly available voter info in every state minus Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as long as the stated reason is political or related to a campaign. Additionally, only residents of Minnesota or New Jersey can obtain their respective state’s voter roll, and Minnesota and South Carolina require an individual to be a registered voter before obtaining voting information.

Nevada, on the other hand, makes it straightforward for anyone to obtain publicly available voting information. All a person or organization has to do is register for a free online account on the secretary of state’s website, then submit a request to access the statewide voter registration list.

Nevada law allows individuals to request their personal information be taken off the registration list, but Thorley said less than 1 percent of voters request to have that information removed.

Thorley said the office couldn’t have stopped the commission from accessing the information, even if it tried, and that an attempt would likely violate the state public records law.

“There’s no way we could have, or even would have, tried to stop them from accessing the data file,” he said. “It’s a public record, we don’t look at the motives of people requesting public records.”

Thorley also disagreed with the assertion that Cegavske participated in the commission, given that she wasn’t one of the 15 members of the entity, and didn’t directly hand over any data to the commission.

Verdict:

Democratic secretary of state candidate Nelson Araujo attacked Cegavske for participating in the Trump administration’s election integrity commission and having “willingly agreed to give away voters' private, personal data for the sake of partisan political gain.”

Regardless of how one feels about the shuttered election integrity commission, it’s not accurate to blame Cegavske for following Nevada law and providing publicly available information to the commission. Anyone — political parties, candidates, regular people — can request this data, and it’s unclear just how the secretary of state could have stopped the commission from accessing it without raising questions about violating the public records law.

Araujo’s statement just isn’t true. It earns our first-ever All Hat, No Abe rating.

Nevada Request for Statewide Voter Registration List_9.21.2017 by Riley Snyder on Scribd


Nevada_7.23.2017 by Riley Snyder on Scribd