Nevada GOP governor nominee Joe Lombardo violated ethics rules, emails show

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Nevada Republican gubernatorial nominee Joe Lombardo sent messages to campaign consultants using his official government email account.

The Republican nominee for governor of Nevada, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, used his government email account for political activity in violation of a Nevada statute on ethics, a legal expert has told the American Independent Foundation.

In August, a Nevada judge ruled in a public records lawsuit that Lombardo, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak in the November election, had "engaged in political activity using his government email account" but ordered that only four of the 40 emails Lombardo sent to his political consultants be released.

In those four emails, which were made public in October, Lombardo directed staff at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to conduct research that his campaign ended up using against Sisolak in the gubernatorial campaign.

Kedric Payne, the general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, said in an interview with the American Independent Foundation, "Taxpayer money is not supposed to be used for political interest in general."

Payne said that Lombardo's use of government employees to conduct opposition research that his campaign then used is a direct violation of Clark County Personnel Policy and Ethical Standards, which state, "No employee will use public property, funds, or discretionary decisions toward personal or political gain."

"Voters have a right to know that their taxpayer dollars are not being spent on campaign activity," Payne said.

What's more, the Nevada statute on ethics says that "a public officer or employee shall not use governmental time, property, equipment or other facility to benefit a significant personal or pecuniary interest of the public officer."

Bradley Schrager, a Nevada lawyer who sued to make Lombardo's emails public, told the American Independent Foundation that it is "absolutely a violation of the ethics code" to have Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department staff conduct opposition research for his political campaign.

"The law says that political gain is the sort of thing that is a pecuniary interest — which you can't use state stuff for. So yes, that appears to be a fairly clear violation," Schrager said.

The emails made public show that Lombardo directed two employees — police department lobbyist Chuck Callaway and the chief of the department's Homeland Security Division, Sasha Larkin — to conduct research about how certain legislation signed by Sisolak had impacted crime. Lombardo then forwarded an email on when that research would be complete to a campaign consultant, Ryan Erwin.

Lombardo and his campaign aides have since pointed to some of the legislation mentioned in the email to make the argument that Sisolak is "soft on crime."

Lombardo also forwarded an email about bills Sisolak had signed to Erwin, calling it "or opp. research," or "opposition research," defined as "the collection of information on the background, activities, etc., of one's opponent or opponents in an effort to uncover damaging details that will undermine them."

It's unclear whether Lombardo will face penalties for using his government email for political purposes.

"I expect that the ethics commission is not enthusiastic about stepping into the last three weeks of a bitter campaign," Schrager said.

However, the Nevada statute says that a determination by the ethics commission of a "willful violation" of the rules could result in violators being fined thousands of dollars in civil penalties.

In a competitive governor's race, polls have shown Lombardo with a narrow 0.8% lead over Sisolak, according to the FiveThirtyEight average, with Inside Elections rating the race a toss-up.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.