AG Ford, Speaker Yeager are top Nevada recipients of trips paid for by outside groups

An in-depth analysis of financial disclosures examines which Nevada elected officials received the most benefits from outside organizations.
Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
GovernmentLegislatureState Government

Brazil, India, South Korea — those were just a few of the faraway destinations prominent Nevada leaders visited in 2023 during trips paid for by third-party groups.

Among nearly 70 lawmakers and statewide elected officials, no one was more well-traveled than Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), who recorded trips to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Bayeux, France; Oslo, Norway; Dublin, Ireland; and Mexico City, Mexico, as well as a half dozen other trips and events within the United States — altogether valued at nearly $39,000.

Just one person had a larger amount paid for across such travels: Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat whose reported trips to South Africa, Poland, Israel and South Korea came at a value of $45,000 paid for by the Attorney General Alliance, a nonprofit group of state attorneys general who work together to tackle legal and policy issues.

Those findings come via an analysis of financial disclosure reports conducted by The Nevada Independent. The analysis, covering activity in 2023, surveyed the value of trips, meetings and events sponsored by outside groups and reported by the state’s six constitutional officers and 60 lawmakers (three legislators have not filed a disclosure, including two who resigned last year).

Among the key takeaways: Ford and Yeager reported the highest aggregate value of trips provided to them, followed by Republican Lt. Gov. Stavros Anthony, whose travels to Greece, Germany, Mexico and some U.S. destinations came with $15,000 worth of covered costs. Those three alone accounted for about 35 percent of the value reported by the 66 officials analyzed.

Democrats were much more likely to report trips paid for by third parties. Forty-two Democrats in the analysis reported an aggregate value of $242,000 (nearly $5,800 on average) on provided travel and events, compared with a total value of nearly $39,000 reported by 25 Republicans (nearly $1,600 on average). That included several who reported no such trips, meetings or events, including Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo and outgoing Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno).

The total values for each person were based on information in the annual financial disclosure report public officers are required to file under state law. In the report, officials must list “any educational or informational meetings, events or trips” from the prior year — including the location, purpose, organization conducting the meeting, the identity of each person “providing anything of value to” the official or members of their household and “the aggregate value of everything provided by those interested persons to” the official or members of their household.

In 2023, the groups that contributed the most value for trips and other events to Nevada officials were the attorneys general group ($45,000, all to Ford), the National Conference of State Legislatures (about $33,000) and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (nearly $25,000).

These funds can cover a wide range of costs depending on the trip or event, but most commonly are used to pay for the expenses of registration or tickets, lodging, meals and travel such as airfare.

The analysis also compiled the financial disclosures covering activity from the past eight years for nearly three dozen elected officials, including anyone who served as a statewide constitutional officer or in the upper ranks of Assembly and Senate leadership since 2016, the first year new reporting requirements kicked in.

Prior to then, such reports included a section for reporting any gifts received valued at $200 or more, but not any specific reporting for the types of trips in this analysis. Those reports lacked “openness, transparency and clarity,” according to former Sen. Michael Roberson (R-Henderson), the then-majority leader who, in 2015, pursued a bill to provide “much-needed guidance on how to report matters such as travel expenses and costs associated with education or informational meetings.”

Here’s a look at findings from the analysis.

Who is traveling the most?

As in 2023, the historical analysis similarly found Ford and Yeager at the top of the list for all-time value, boosted in part by their most recent year of travels and by a history of more frequent trips than other officials. 

Ford consistently ranked near the top of the travel list each year, reporting paid-for trips to places such as Morocco and Hawaii while in the Legislature. Before taking his current office in 2019, Ford served as the head of the Senate Democrats in the 2015 and 2017 sessions.

Since then, Ford’s other recent trips include to Ghana, Qatar and Spain, all paid for through the Attorney General Alliance. Last year, Ford served as vice chair of the alliance, and this year, he assumed the role of chairman.

In an interview, Ford said the trips are “dedicated to getting AGs the information that we need to successfully fight crime and other issues.” He added that international trips provide a way to coordinate with international partners because “these crimes, they don't follow borders.”

“At the end of the day, there's a lot of transnational and international crime that — fentanyl has been a prime example of that — very well may originate in an East Asian country and work its way through our southern border up into Nevada. And so we talk about opportunities for coordination and cooperation,” Ford said.

When told he was first on the list in the analysis, Ford described a comparison of his trips to other officials’ travels as “an apples to oranges comparison.”

“I'm the top law enforcement officer in the state. I'm the top customer protector in the state,” he said. “And we have 50 attorneys general that work together as frequently as we can, and sometimes those trips take place internationally because we're also working with democracy projects that we have in Mexico or in Africa or in Asia.”

His total reported value of travel, events and meetings over the eight years was more than $119,000, followed next by Yeager at about $88,000 over that same time span.

Yeager declined an interview, but in a statement described the trips as a way to meet lawmakers from other states and learn about issues affecting Nevada “such as clean energy, affordable healthcare and housing.”

Despite only becoming Assembly speaker in 2023, Yeager reported far more paid-for travel than prior Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), who served in the leadership role from 2017 to 2022 before leaving office to become U.S. attorney for Nevada. Frierson had no activity in 2023, but reported trips and meetings valued at more than $51,000 during the period analyzed.

The highest single-year totals reported by Frierson (who was the fourth highest overall in the historical travel analysis) were about $19,000 in 2018 and $17,000 in 2019, which combined were still less than Yeager’s 2023 total.

In third on the historical list was the only Republican in the top seven, former Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, who served two four-year terms from 2015 to 2022. Cegavske reported a total value of $55,000 over the period covering all but her first year in office, and the 161 trips, meetings and events she reported accounted for nearly a third of all such items reported by the 33 individuals in the historical analysis.

Unlike other officials who generally reported a smaller number of significant trips valued at thousands of dollars, Cegavske reported a vast number of smaller-dollar meals, from a $5 meal at a Nevada Republican Women candidate forum to a nearly $300 dinner at the Aria Resort at a Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance networking event.

Rounding out the top five was former Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (D-North Las Vegas), who served briefly as Senate majority leader in early 2019 before resigning and later being convicted for misappropriating campaign funds for personal use. Atkinson reported nearly $35,000 worth of trips, headlined by a $7,500 trip to India in 2016 through the Council of State Governments.

Who is paying for these trips?

In 2023, no special interest group provided more value through trips than the Attorney General Alliance, all of it to Ford. He has reported trips through the alliance in the past as well, altogether totaling nearly $83,000 since 2020, with costs generally attributed simply to “programmatic logistics.”

These trips have related to specific legal issues relevant to the destination country. His office told The Nevada Independent in 2022 that an alliance-funded trip to Qatar, a small Arab gulf country, in the prior year involved a “comparative analysis” of the legal systems between the U.S. and Qatar as well as discussions about international crime, including trafficking and cybercrime.

In 2023, a trip to South Africa involved artificial intelligence, gender violence and animal trafficking, while another trip that year covering Poland and Israel was to “study antisemitism” and “Palestinian issues,” according to Ford’s disclosure form.

But the attorneys general group is not without controversy. The group has drawn fire for raking in significant donations from corporations and lobbyists, Axios reported in 2022. Campaign staff for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2022 that Reyes’ trip to Qatar to attend a World Cup match was paid for by the Qatari government through the alliance, after Reyes had worked with the country on addressing concerns about human trafficking and cybersecurity.

An alliance document calling for sponsorships, first reported by The Daily Wire, shows that the group has received money from major corporations, such as Amazon, Pfizer and CVS — a list that includes companies that Ford and other state attorneys general have sued. The group’s funding has increased in recent years, according to IRS documents, with revenue rising from less than $4 million in 2017 to nearly $10 million in 2022.

Ford acknowledged that there may be corporate sponsors at these types of events, but said, “there's nothing untoward about that.”

“I'm not persuaded by any of that,” he said. “I make decisions based on what justice requires … and how they impact and affect our citizens. No one can pay me to do anything.”

Other groups paying for informational trips are well-known for providing free travel to elected officials. Trips provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) were a key topic during debate over Roberson’s 2015 bill expanding the reporting requirements.

In 2023, the NCSL was responsible for 25 trips and events reported by lawmakers, totaling more than $33,000 and all for Democrats. That included Yeager’s trip to France valued at more than $4,400 and a trip by Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) to Germany valued at more than $2,300. She is an at-large member of the NCSL executive committee.

The group that provided the next-most reported value was the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) at $25,000, though nearly all of it came from Las Vegas fundraisers hosted by Yeager and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas). The DLCC is a national group dedicated to electing Democrats to state legislatures across the country.

The next biggest funder was the State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF) at more than $20,000, most of it reported by Yeager, who sits on the foundation’s board of directors. That included his trip to Norway and attendance at the “Annual Speakers Conference” in Utah. The 2024 speakers conference will be hosted by Yeager in Las Vegas.

Many expenses came much closer to home.

More than a dozen Democratic Assembly members reported receiving a ticket valued at $1,000 from the Las Vegas Raiders for an event at Allegiant Stadium last year. A representative for Assembly Democrats did not respond to a question about the nature of the event.

And sometimes, the trips are not expressly connected to an official’s work. For example, Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, a Democrat, reported a ticket to the men’s semifinal at the U.S Open in New York valued at nearly $900 provided by ESPN. The trip was listed as a “visit [to] a Nevada ESPN broadcaster.”

Why go on these trips?

By definition, the state law requiring reporting of these trips and events requires them to be “educational or informational” in nature. 

That purpose can vary significantly, such as Yeager attending a “new speaker training” in Washington, D.C., through the SLLF or Aguilar making a day visit to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, to learn about the Burning Man Project — a trip valued at less than $600. 

Yeager’s trip to Norway through the SLLF involved exploring the country’s renewable energy policies, including meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Norway and members of the nation’s parliament, SLLF told The Nevada Independent.

Many of the trips involve conferences in other states. Eight officials reported traveling to the Vegas Chamber’s Washington D.C. Fly-In, with the chamber covering costs for admission and events.

These trips can inform legislation, Yeager said in a statement, citing attendance at a prior event as the “genesis” for AB164, a bill passed last year that commissioned a study into ways to incorporate outdoor recreation into public school curriculum.

In some cases, the trips have an overt political bent. Anthony, for example, made a trip to Chicago last year paid for by the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association for the group’s fall meeting. In another case, Assemblywoman Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas) reported a nearly $2,000 trip to Washington, D.C., covered by EMILYs List, a pro-abortion rights political action committee.

Ultimately, these trips are a way for Nevada officials to inform or educate themselves, Ford said.

“I don't agree with the premise that there's even an effort or an intent or attempt to buy influence,” Ford said. “It's an opportunity to learn about issues that are affecting Nevadans, and … it seems to me that Nevadans particularly appreciate the fact that we are making ourselves more well-versed in issues.”


Featured Videos