Legislators halt license plate money to wild horse group

CARSON CITY - An organization that rescues abused and injured wild horses won't receive any more money from sales of its Horse Power state license plates until it can prove to legislative auditors that it properly oversees its expenditures.

The Nevada Legislature's Commission on Special License Plates voted unanimously Monday to sequester any money from the sale of the special plates at least until September 2013. In the meantime, the Northern Nevada-based organization must prove to legislative auditors that it has taken steps to make sure its board members follow state law requiring them to approve all expenditures and that money be spent only for assisting wild horses and burros.

A distraught Sally Summers, Horse Power's executive director, said "horses will die" because of the decision. She lashed out at board members and even the press.

"This isn't going to fare well for each and every one of you" in the coming election, added Summers, who also criticized "prejudiced people" in the media. "Without operating funds there are no places for these horses."

Horse Power has been receiving about $90,000 a year from the sale and annual renewal of about 4,700 special license plate.

A legislative audit earlier this year found that the organization had "fabricated" its books to show revenue and expenditures were in balance. Auditors repeated that allegation Monday, adding the organization did not submit required minutes of its meetings in 2010 or evidence showing board members approved all expenditures. More than 100 expenditure that year were through ATMs, including one to a Christian store.

Summers said most of the ATM purchases were for gasoline for rescue operations and called them "electronic checks." A lawyer for the organization also said nothing was fabricated.

She added that 20 animals are now being helped by Horse Power.

"Without Horse Power, they could be headed for slaughter," Summers said.

After hearing critical comments from Summers, legislators said her organization must follow state accounting laws for its expenditures.

Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas, said she didn't want to "destroy any lives," but Horse Power, like the PTA or any group receiving funds from license plate sales, must keep accurate records and show funds are properly spent.

The sale of the license plates will continue, although funds will not be given to Horse Power, based in Washoe Valley, at least until September 2013. Dondero Loop said the group perhaps could go to the Legislature next year or work with auditors to see if funds can be released more quickly.

During the hearing, the commission also approved the manufacture and sale five new state license plates, bringing the total charitable plates in Nevada to 30. The organizations receive a share of the license plate sales and must use any funds they receive for nonprofit purposes. The new plates go to:

■ Air Force Thunderbirds. The demonstration flying group, based in Southern Nevada, has been seeking a special plate since 2007.

■ March of Dimes.

■ Teamsters Local 631. Funds it receives will be used to help people harmed by unexpected emergencies.

■ Susan G. Komen Fund for the Cure, which battles breast cancer.

■ Nevada Airport Managers Association.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.