Updated March 23, 2021 - 9:54 am
Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore, who had reported contributing just $500 to her political action committee Future for Nevadans since 2017, recently disclosed she actually loaned the PAC more than $41,000.
The newly reported financial disclosures — 28 individual loans over the past four years — do not raise any potential issues with state laws because there are no limits to how much a PAC can receive in contributions or loans. Still, it is unclear why Fiore is only now disclosing loans she made to the PAC or why she lent the committee money at all.
Campaign finance experts say it is unusual for people to lend money to PACs unless it runs short on cash or if it needs seed funding to get off the ground. But neither of those circumstances apply to the timing of the loans from Fiore to her PAC, which she established as a fundraising mechanism for community outreach.
“There is very little precedent or obvious rationale for legitimate loans by anyone to a PAC,” said Bradley Schrager, a former attorney for the Nevada Democratic Party.
The newly documented loans from Fiore, totaling $41,150, are found throughout 11 amended reports filed on March 9 and March 11 spanning the years 2017 to 2020, according to a Review-Journal analysis of the documents.
The loans appear personal and not from her campaign account.
In one instance, Fiore says she loaned $1,700 to the committee on Nov. 5. Future for Nevadans originally reported charging $1,700 to a credit card for advertising expenses but amended the state filing this month to disclose that the credit card payment actually reimbursed or forgave a loan made on Nov. 5.
In no other report is there a credit card charge to reimburse or forgive a loan.
Fiore, a former Republican assemblywoman, did not return repeated phone, text or email messages seeking to discuss the amendments, including reasons for the loans or justification for other spending.
No cash shortage, but error possible
While people lending money to their campaign account is common, it “seems a little more unusual” to lend to a PAC unless trying to bridge a temporary cash flow shortage, according to Kenneth Miller, an assistant political science professor at UNLV, who researches campaign finance in the U.S.
Future for Nevadans, however, has not appeared to face issues with cash on hand. Since February 2017, the PAC only spent about $580,000 of the $840,000 it has taken in from donors — including individual amounts less than $1,000 that may not be reflected in reported totals, according to an analysis of the reports.
Amending nearly a dozen reports at once may be done to rectify an error only recently discovered, the experts say.
An official with the secretary of state’s office said it is not unusual for a PAC in amended filings to document previously unreported loans from the person in charge of the committee, although it is “hard to define” what is typical in terms of how many amendments a PAC might file at once.
“It is normal for a PAC to amend a report,” said Mark A. Wlaschin, the Nevada deputy secretary of state for elections, in an email. “Some amend them more frequently than others, but there are no standards for the number of amendments that a PAC will conduct over the course of a year.”
There are no provisions in state statutes for the secretary of state to audit these reports, he said.
Beyond the newly disclosed loans, noticeable differences between original and amended filings include the removal of more than $14,000 in expenses to a consulting firm in the second half of 2020 and the addition of many new contributions, from individuals and businesses, scattered between several reports.
The PAC and Fiore’s candidate campaign account have been the subject of scrutiny in the past. The Review-Journal reported in March 2019 that Fiore’s political spending included six-figure sums on goods and services such as restaurants, travel and her own businesses.
But the councilwoman had said that expenses were simply the product of extensive constituent outreach in Ward 6, the district she represents, where she sponsors more than 30 special events a year for tens of thousands of residents.
Yet Future for Nevadans has also given significant sums of money to Hamlet Events, an event planning company run by Fiore’s daughter, Sheena Siegel, records show.
Since June 2018, the PAC has paid Hamlet Events more than $147,000, about one-quarter of the committee’s total expenses over that time, according to state filings.
In February 2020, Future for Nevadans gave $8,000 to A Bright Present Foundation, a nonprofit headed by the councilwoman, state records show. Fiore is listed as the group’s director and president in a July 2020 filing with the secretary of state’s office. Siegel had been named the secretary in the 2019 filing but was replaced the following year.
According to IRS records, the group was granted nonprofit status in September 2019, but an annual tax-exempt organization form was not found on the IRS website. The nonprofit was formed, state records show, “to raise funds for the Las Vegas Community to provide goods and/or services as needed.”