With notable exceptions, the Nevada State Treasurer’s Office is traditionally a land of happy news and hearts-and-flowers headlines.
Although the constitutional office is responsible for managing state finances, debt and investments, it’s probably best known for promoting the Guinn Millennium Memorial Scholarship, the state’s unclaimed property program, and of late, the “March Matchness” 529 College Savings promotion.
At first blush, you wouldn’t think that the treasurer’s largely apolitical duty would interest erstwhile GOP gubernatorial candidate Michele Fiore. She’s the Las Vegas city councilwoman and self-styled super Trumper who doesn’t mind mixing it up in the far-right corner of the political arena.
Just a few months ago, a pistol-packing Fiore was at her MAGA best declaring her candidacy for governor with an advertisement that featured her driving a pickup, packing a sidearm and promoting her “Three Shot Plan” to ban critical race theory, end vaccine mandates and stop voter fraud. Her pickup even featured a “Trump 2024” bumper sticker.
It wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award, but Fiore’s zany character and unabashed self-confidence surely helped fuel her fundraising. By the end of 2021, her gubernatorial campaign had amassed more than $700,000 and that ad, according to her promoters, had been viewed more than 2.7 million times.
The Trump love didn’t stop there, of course. In addition to promoting the “big lie” about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election — a prerequisite for candidates who desire to remain in the state GOP’s good graces — Fiore in November courted Trump at close range by spending thousands on television spots placed on Fox News in the former president’s Florida backyard in the West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce media market. Talk about targeting an audience of one.
While even most dedicated fan girls probably would have moved on after sending selfies and flowers, it all speaks to Fiore’s undeniable belief in Trump’s political power. The Republican national committeewoman remained breathlessly true to her leader.
What Fiore’s best efforts failed to do was place her near the front of the herd of candidates jockeying for the top spot in the Republican gubernatorial primary. And so, the tough-talking girl from Brooklyn who likes to chatter about never giving up the fight decided to take her campaign bankroll and move into a match that’s closer to her political weight class — the treasurer’s race.
Fiore’s primary opponent, Manny Kess, might wonder aloud whether she raised funds under false pretenses. State political insiders doubted she would remain in the gubernatorial primary even if her polling numbers had placed her in the top three.
What was pretty good fundraising for a governor’s primary, translates into a major score in a treasurer’s race. By comparison, incumbent Zach Conine had $437,750 at the end of the 2021 reporting period, according to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.
By placing an amply funded party firebrand into the treasurer’s contest, the state GOP is effectively weaponizing a job that’s traditionally not been overly partisan or much of a stepping stone to higher office.
It also appears a poor fit for Fiore, whose personal business history is a debris field of tax liens and employer red flags. Her Always There Personal Care of Nevada business had at least $700,000 in tax liens against it. She also had thousands in personal income tax liens, and ran into trouble for failing to pay six figures in employee withholding taxes.
As her defense, she blamed an ex-husband and a former employee for her lien years, telling a Las Vegas radio host in late 2014, “I am 100 percent in compliance with IRS – period. As a small businesswoman, I had a bookkeeper whom I trusted with my tax filings and my tax obligations. Unfortunately, it came to my attention that mistakes were made. Once we learned what was really going on, my accountant, the IRS and I came up with a fair and workable solution and a payment plan.”
Surely her allies will write off her business woes to government overreach and a nuisance press. They’ll scoff at the FBI’s interest in her political affairs at Las Vegas City Hall. They’ll laud her for jumping into the middle of the Bundy Ranch standoff and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. And they won’t mind a bit that her racially charged rhetoric cost her the mayor pro tem position on the Las Vegas City Council.
In the end, I am left to wonder whether Fiore, who wants to hold an office that monitors state finances, believes Trump is really a billionaire and brilliant businessman who pays his taxes. Perhaps she could tell voters the answer in the coming months.
Meanwhile, I’m reminded of one of the few times in recent years that the state treasurer’s office failed to generate positive press. It was in 2015, when then-Treasurer Dan Schwartz saw fit to hire Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald for what was essentially a no in-basket duty as a senior deputy treasurer in charge of “community outreach.” The job paid more than $100,000 a year with salary and benefits. Which, as they say, is nice work if you can get it.
The Schwartz-McDonald hustle was uncovered after the people actually working in the office failed to see the state GOP boss on the job. McDonald resigned, and Schwartz’s one-term tenure was tarred by the exposed political favor.
Should she manage to prevail in November, we know the GOP chairman will have a friend in Michele Fiore.
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