Henderson Mayor Debra March announced Monday she’d reimbursed her campaign for a trip to Panama detailed in a Review-Journal investigation of her spending published last week.
In a statement released through her campaign spokeswoman, Elizabeth Trosper, March denied wrongdoing but said she repaid the money “out of an abundance of caution.”
“Recent reports have called into question my campaign expenditures,” March said in the statement. “While I believe my actions were lawful and I reported every contribution and expenditure in compliance with the law, out of an abundance of caution I have reimbursed my campaign for all expenses related to a trip that included visitation to Panama.”
The statement adds: “This issue has been an unfortunate distraction and I regret any misunderstandings, but those who know me best know my intentions are always driven by serving my constituents. I would urge the Legislature to strengthen and clarify Nevada’s campaign finance laws to provide the public with greater transparency and clear guidance for those who seek to hold public office.”
March spent more than $1,800 on airfare and a vacation package for a trip to Panama with Sallie Doebler, vice president of corporate partnerships for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. March spent an additional $285 at a Panama City hotel, campaign finance records show.
March said Doebler planned the trip, but she paid for it, saying it related to campaigning because it was an opportunity to build a strong relationship with someone she described as an “influencer” who could help her network in the future. March said she also met with another mayor, who was visiting from Texas.
Doebler did not respond to the Review-Journal’s requests for comment earlier this month.
The explanations for the Panama trip changed as the Review-Journal investigated March’s finances.
Trosper said in a Feb. 1 email that charges related to the trip were for outreach efforts with the chamber, but Cara Clarke, the chamber’s vice president for communications, rejected that explanation, saying it had nothing to with chamber business.
“She was not representing the chamber in any way, shape or form on the trip, and it was not a part of any of our official business,” Clarke said.
Trosper later acknowledged the trip was not for chamber business.
“If the perception was given that this was a Metro Chamber trip, it was incorrect,” she said.
Clarke said Doebler used personal vacation time to take the trip, which, according to March’s city calendar, happened in September.
“Sallie and Mayor March, as we understand it, have been friends for several years,” Clarke said. “So we have no reason to believe that their trip would be anything other than personal friendship.”
Doebler posted photos of the Panama trip with March on her Twitter account but has since deleted them.
Clarke said the chamber’s government affairs team does build relationships with candidates and follows all government guidelines for doing so. Doebler is not on that team, however.
All told, the Review-Journal found March had spent more than $60,000 in 2018 on expenses including gasoline, restaurant meals, trips and “building relationships” with donors. She also said she’d spent money while helping other candidates with their campaigns, though several candidates said the mayor had not provided assistance.
Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Blake Apgar contributed to this story.