HENDERSON, Nev. (KLAS) — When you donate money to a campaign, you expect it to go to expenses to help the candidate get elected. But after the I-Team received a tip which questioned the use of Henderson Mayor Debra March’s campaign dollars, so we started looking at them.
The I-Team tried to talk with Mayor March last week at an event at the Henderson Multigenerational Center.
Reporter Vanessa Murphy: “We’ve been trying to talk to you. How come you won’t answer questions about your campaign expenses?”
Henderson Mayor March: “This is not the time.”
Reporter Vanessa Murphy: “You won’t talk to us?”
Mayor March headed to the restroom after the I-Team tried talking to her. She’s refused the I-Team’s requests to sit down to talk about how she’s spent her campaign dollars to keep her mayoral seat, even though she ran her 2017 campaign on a platform of transparency.
“Well, I think quality of life, public safety, transparency and economic development …,” she said while running for office.
A year after being elected, the Nevada Commission on Ethics found a complaint against her credible. The allegation was for failing to disclose a conflict of interest during city council votes. She agreed to probation and training.
Mayor March wants to keep her seat and plans on running for re-election in 2021. She’s been raising campaign dollars and some of the expenses for 2018 include $600 spent at the outdoor store REI, more than $120 on skincare products from Arbonne International and nearly $260 at Williams Sonoma.
March also lists spending at Whole Foods, Pottery Barn, TJ Maxx, Total Wine, a beauty shop, and other stores.
In an email response from her campaign spokeswoman, she says March purchased Christmas gifts for staff and donors with the campaign money.
On Feb. 1, she said March had paid back three of the expenses after the I-Team asked about them. Those expenses were more than $130 Walgreens, $60 at Fuji Steakhouse and $87 at Thai Kitchen.
More than one month later, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported it had looked into March’s campaign expenses as well. She responded on 8 News Now Good Day when asked about the newspaper’s story.
“Everything was above board and transparent and I did provide the Review Journal with a statement. However, they chose not to use that,” she said.
March is referring to this statement which reads:
“Serving as Mayor of Henderson is a privilege. I take my responsibilities seriously and hold myself to the highest ethical and legal standards. It is paramount that all elected officials keep in contact with those who have given them the honor to serve to ensure we remain in touch with the needs of our communities. The reality of being elected to public office demands that I regularly attend campaign and community events and maintain a professional full-time staff, even on off-cycle years. Recent reports have called into question my campaign expenditures. 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. 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.”
According to the latest amended campaign finance report, March paid back several additional expenses including nearly $1,200 she spent on Copa Airlines, more than $600 on Elite Island Vacations and nearly $300 on a hotel.
And there’s more.
On June 22, March reported spending campaign money in Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, Hawthorne in northern Nevada, and Gilbert, Arizona.
The I-Team found a similar spending patterns on other days. According to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, dates listed should be the day the money was spent. But March’s spokeswoman claims the accountant instead used the dates the transactions were posted on the credit card statement.
The question — is March breaking any laws?
A representative for the secretary of state’s office explained over the phone how campaign spending laws are lenient in Nevada, but no one from the office would do an on-camera or recorded phone interview.
“This is just a tough arcane area of the law,” said Francis Carleton, Professor of Political Science at the College of Southern Nevada.
“I think the media is doing a good job when they ask the candidates some really hard questions. How are you raising your campaign monies? How are you spending your campaign monies? Is that within the four corners of the law? And even if it is, since the law is so vague, is what you’re doing legitimate? Is it a fair way to use your campaign monies?”
It appears March doesn’t want to answer those questions, but in her statement provided to 8 News Now in March, she urged legislators “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.”