Ethics panel to review Lombardo campaign’s use of uniform, badge in 2023
Those anticipating a pre-election decision from the state ethics panel surrounding Republican gubernatorial hopeful and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo’s use of his uniform and badge in his campaign for governor will have to wait a little longer.
The Nevada Commission on Ethics scheduled an adjudicatory hearing on the topic for May 2023, more than a year and a half after the complaint against the sheriff was filed with the Ethics Commission in mid-October 2021, and almost six months after the Nov. 4 general election.
Under state law, public officials and employees cannot use government time, property, equipment or other resources to benefit themselves or their campaigns. But the law is mum on whether an elected sheriff using their uniform or badge (typically referred to as accouterments) while campaigning presents an actual conflict of interest.
Since launching his gubernatorial bid, Lombardo has made his position as sheriff a prominent facet of his campaign. A campaign advertisement features clips of a sheriff’s badge, gun and Lombardo walking in a full sheriff’s uniform. A photo on his website displays him smiling broadly in full uniform. Photos of guns and badges feature prominently in a Flickr account linked to his campaign website.
Much of the criticism lobbed against Lombardo for his use of these accouterments has come from Democrats who maintain that Lombardo is disregarding state law and abusing his privileges as a current officeholder.
Campaign strategist Ryan Erwin told The Nevada Independent last year that Nevada voters are entitled to know and see what he does for a living. “Judges regularly appear in robes, teachers in classrooms, and prosecutors in courtrooms as part of their campaign materials - all are public employees in positions of trust,” Erwin said. “Singling out law enforcement from other positions of public trust makes no sense.”
Reached via email on Monday, Lombardo’s campaign said they stand by Erwin’s comment.
This isn’t the first time that the issue of using accouterments of the sheriff’s office to campaign has come before the commission, which is appointed by the governor and state legislative leadership. The group has penned at least three orders over the last seven years relating to sheriffs’ abilities to use official uniforms, badges and “other physical accouterments” of the office to support their re-election campaigns.
One order even prompted the commission to reach out to the state sheriffs’ association in an attempt to prevent the issue from arising again.
Reviews by the commission occur on a case-by-case basis to account for nuance and situational differences. Commission decisions can result in a letter of caution or a fine, but the consequences of any given review are case-dependent.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Indy 2022, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2022 election. Sign up for the newsletter here.