Nevada Secretary of State closes investigation into Incline Village candidates | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Nevada Secretary of State closes investigation into Incline Village candidates

Billing statements for Tribune ads raise questions about expenditure reports

Kendra Wong and Bruce Simonian
Provided photos

The Nevada Secretary of State’s Office has closed a series of complaints levied against the current Incline Village General Improvement District board chair, a fellow candidate and the organization known as True Blue Facts.

Those accused of misdoing say the closing of the cases, all of which were raised by continuous critics of the current IVGID leadership and board majority, prove that the complaints were nothing more than a politically-motivated fishing expedition.

However, a review of financial documents, including billing statements for political advertisements in the Tribune, raise questions about the accuracy of the campaign contribution and expenditure reports filed by the candidates and True Blue Facts.

The confusion stems from a series of ads placed in the Tribune during election season.

Some of the ads were for True Blue Facts, originally a DBA formed by the nonprofit Get Out the Vote, while other ads were for candidates Kendra Wong, the current board chair, and Bruce Simonian.

The two candidates ran together — often appearing in the same advertisements — opposite incumbent Tim Callicrate, who was re-elected, and candidate Sara Schmitz.

All of the ads were initially paid for by Jim Clark, an Incline Village resident, Tribune columnist and active player in local politics. Clark attributes that fact to the Tribune’s requirement of having payment prior to publishing a political advertisement.

Clark formed Get Out the Vote two decades ago as an educational nonprofit. Get Out the Vote formed True Blue Facts earlier this year as a DBA also intended for educational purposes.

As Election Day drew near frequent IVGID critic Aaron Katz filed a complaint with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office about the activity of True Blue Facts in the election, the Tribune previously reported.

Nonprofits are barred from acting politically, which is broadly defined as supporting a candidate, or candidates, for office.

Rather than rebut the complaint — Clark said they could have successfully fought the charge — True Blue Facts opted to register as a political action committee. In doing so, True Blue Facts was forced to file campaign contribution and expenditure reports for the year. It also had to pay a total of $400 in fines for filing late.

Around that time, a separate complaint alleging inaccuracies in Wong’s and Simonian’s campaign reports was filed with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office, public information office Jennifer Russell confirmed to the Tribune.

The complaint, according to Russell, concerned payments listed to “Visa” in Wong’s and Simonian’s reports. The complaint asked for an itemization of the payment, which is not required, Russell added. Despite that, the candidates provided additional documentation and the case was closed.

The payments called into question were to Clark’s Visa as reimbursement for the ads placed in the Tribune.

According to Clark, because the Tribune requires payment prior to running political ads and the same public relations professional was handling both the Get Out the Vote ads and the ads for Wong and Simonian, his Visa card was charged for all the advertising.

Clark said this was an “inadvertent error” by Sierra Nevada Media Group, the company that owns the Tribune and other local publications in the region.

However, Tribune Publisher Rob Galloway said he could not recall any of the people behind the ads requesting a separate account be created for the candidates. In fact, Galloway added, Clark specifically requested in one instance that the required pre-payment be billed to Get Out the Vote.

Clark, who said he was mostly hands off when it came to placing the advertisements, said the point is moot now because the group has registered as a PAC.

However, a review of the candidate’s reports and bills for the Tribune advertisements shows that the entire amount charged to Clark’s Visa card for the Wong and Simonian advertisements has not been fully repaid.

According to the billing statements, which Katz obtained through a records request fulfilled by the Tribune, Get Out the Vote was billed a total of $2,173.50 for Wong and Simonian ads during the third and fourth campaign reporting period.

During that same time, Wong paid a total of $908.25 to Visa, while Simonian paid $672. That adds up to $1,580.25 — $593.25 less than what was charged to Get Out the Vote.

Both Wong and Simonian, who gave differing explanations of how their advertising campaign functioned, said they are confident their reports are accurate.

“There’s no issue,” Wong told the Tribune. “Everything is closed.”

Simonian, who narrowly finished fourth in the recent race, said the finance question was a “non-issue” and that is was being inflamed by a group of people who want to harm the community.

“Everything has been legit,” Simonian said. “I’m just disturbed that people keep showing up to a wildfire with a can gas.”