61°F
weather icon Clear

GOP legislators zip lips on LVCVA spending investigation

Updated April 5, 2017 - 8:50 pm

Assembly Republicans received instructions Wednesday not to talk to the Las Vegas Review-Journal about its investigation of lavish spending by the publicly funded Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Ross Hemminger, a spokesman for Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, sent an email to the Republicans, telling them “nothing good comes from engaging on this.”

“The investigative reporters from that story are calling and emailing members for reaction,” Hemminger explained in the message obtained by the Review-Journal. “Please do not engage on this issue — this is not in our wheelhouse. We have no authority over this, and it’s not part of our caucus priorities.”

Anderson backed up Hemminger, saying the matter is a “local issue” and the Legislature doesn’t have the authority to oversee the agency.

The investigation, published on Sunday, reported that the convention authority over the past three years spent millions of taxpayer dollars on high-end entertainment, gifts for employees and first-class trips for its board members.

The questionable purchases at times had little or no business purpose and routinely violated the authority’s own vague expense policies, the investigation found.

Both Gov. Brian Sandoval and Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison also issued statements Wednesday saying they have no power over the convention authority’s budget.

“The LVCVA has an active Board of Directors which includes representatives from the Clark County Commission, local municipalities, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and members of the resort corridor that wholly generate the room tax dollars which make up any public funding of the LVCVA,” Sandoval said.

“All LVCVA governance and budgetary issues are exclusively within the jurisdiction and control of the Board and are subject to Board review, decision and comment.”

Hutchison said the authority’s 14-member board has a “great interest in ensuring that our tourists dollars are spent in the most effective manner. I am confident that the board will review all questions and concerns and will act appropriately.”

Nevada Controller Ron Knecht called on Sandoval and the Legislature to immediately review the questionable spending.

“This behavior is offensive and insulting to every hard-working taxpayer in Nevada,” he said in a written statement.

Defending spending

The effort to avoid discussing potential spending abuses by the convention authority followed an email Tuesday from the agency’s audit committee chairman that was sent to lawmakers, Sandoval and Hutchison in Carson City.

In the email, Board member William Noonan, a senior vice president with the Boyd Gaming Corporation, touted the work of the authority in making Las Vegas a top worldwide destination. He said room tax dollars are being “invested effectively.”

“We take our oversight mission very seriously and do not hesitate to request further information or clarification on spending practices when necessary,” he wrote in the email obtained by the Review-Journal.

Noonan, through a spokesman, declined comment.

Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he wasn’t surprised by the lack of desire to take on the convention authority, which has a lot of political clout because of its ties to the gaming industry.

“The Legislature doesn’t want to get involved with anything that potentially puts gaming in a bad light,” Herzik said. “Gaming is the most powerful interest in this state.”

Herzik said the Legislature has “pretty broad powers” over entities such as the convention authority, which are funded with tax dollars approved by lawmakers.

“They have the authority to look into that funding,” he said.

Assemblyman Al Kramer, R-Carson City, agreed.

“The Legislature has authority over everything that happens in the state,” he said.

Records reviewed by the newspaper over the past three fiscal years showed that the authority paid at least $697,000 on alcohol, $85,000 to hire showgirls and hundreds of thousands of dollars more for concert tickets, skyboxes, banquets, exotic car rides and jewelry for employees.

Gifts and trips to board members raise questions about whether they can independently oversee spending.

The board’s chairman, Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, requested $1,000 in concert tickets that he conceded had no business purpose, the records showed.

The Review-Journal examined more than 32,000 pages of receipts from many of the authority’s top executives, finding repeated instances of extravagant expenses. In particular, the receipts detail numerous meals at pricey restaurants that seem to violate the authority’s ambiguous policies of “sensible” menu items and banning “excessive” drinking.

In response to the newspaper’s findings, Rossi Ralenkotter, the authority’s president and CEO, defended the spending as part of the agency’s “relationship building” to attract tourists and stay ahead of its competition.

“We’re No. 1, and we continue to be No. 1 because we continue to do it bigger and better than anyone else, and we have a great destination,” Ralenkotter said.

The authority has a $251 million operating budget, funded mostly by hotel room taxes, to market Las Vegas as a destination. Last year, the Las Vegas area drew 42.9 million visitors.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates the Sands Expo and Convention Center, which competes with the LVCVA-operated Las Vegas Convention Center.

The Review-Journal owns the domain lasvegas.com, which is subleased to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The sublease terminates Aug. 2.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com. Contact Brian Joseph at bjoseph@reviewjournal.com. Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JGermanRJ, @bjoseph1 and @ArthurMKane on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Earthquakes felt in Las Vegas strained major fault, study says

The earthquakes that hammered the Southern California desert near the town of Ridgecrest last summer involved ruptures on a web of interconnected faults and increased strain on a major nearby fault that has begun to slowly move, according to a new study.