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Ethics commission dismisses complaint against assemblywoman over nonprofit ties

Last year, Michelle Gorelow voted to give $250K to an organization that hired her weeks later. A state panel unanimously found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
GovernmentState Government

The Nevada Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint filed against Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas) over her vote in favor of awarding $250,000 in funds to a nonprofit organization that hired her weeks later, finding no evidence of wrongdoing.

The complaint, filed in August by Republican operative Chuck Muth, asked the ethics commission to determine whether Gorelow used her position as a legislator to seek employment with The Arc of Nevada, a nonprofit that supports people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The organization hired Gorelow as its executive director one month after last year’s legislative session ended. 

One day after the complaint was filed, Gorelow announced that she wouldn’t run for re-election, which she later told The Nevada Independent was because of the time that her new role would take up.

In a unanimous ruling issued Wednesday, a three-member panel found no evidence that Gorelow sought employment through the use of her position as a legislator or used government time, property or equipment to obtain private employment. The panel also found no evidence that Gorelow’s acceptance of a position with the organization “would tend to improperly influence a reasonable person in her position to depart from the faithful and impartial discharge of her public duties.”

In a statement, Gorelow said, “Despite the rhetoric coming from hyper partisan Republicans, the ethics complaint filed against me was always without merit and I am happy to put this in the past.”

Bradley Schrager, Gorelow’s attorney who often represents Democrats and Democratic causes, said in a statement that “the result was what we always knew to be true: Assemblywoman Gorelow did nothing wrong and her reputation is vindicated.”

“A fruitless ethics complaint by a GOP consultant based on political animosity spent taxpayer money but did nothing more than permit the Assemblywoman to underscore her good conduct and character,” the statement said.

Muth did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Muth’s communications firm has been paid by PACs affiliated with Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo. One of the PACs also amplified the complaint against Gorelow on social media.

In his complaint, Muth said, “If Ms. Gorelow’s actions are not a violation of the state’s ethics law, they should be.”

Gorelow was one of several legislators with ties to nonprofits that received funding from a pair of bills passed at the end of the legislative session. The legislation, commonly referred to as “Christmas tree bills,” gave $110 million to more than 70 nonprofits and government organizations, including groups that work to reduce food insecurity and provide programs for Nevada youth.

The Legislature’s legal division said the votes were not a conflict of interest because the wide-ranging legislation affects the average Nevadan just as much as legislators.

The ethics commission has limited jurisdiction over legislative actions. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in a 2007 case that discipline for disorderly conduct involving “core legislative functions” — such as voting, or the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest before voting —  may not be delegated to the ethics commission. Such powers are reserved for the Legislature itself.

However, the commission does have discipline authority over “noncore” legislative actions — such as using government time and property for nongovernmental functions — and the body determined that it has jurisdiction over the case because Gorelow is a public officer.

As part of the investigation, commission Executive Director Ross Armstrong conducted interviews with witnesses and reviewed documents.

Gorelow also provided documentation to The Nevada Independent last year that showed she interviewed for the position with The Arc of Nevada on June 30, which was after the legislative session ended. She also said she had no communication with the organization prior to her vote.

“I regret how the story has been portrayed,” Gorelow said in an interview last year. “But this legislation is going to help so many people.”

This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. on 2/15/24 to include a statement from Gorelow.


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