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Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald speaks outside the state Legislature on Monday, April 1, 2019 (Joey Lovato/The Nevada Independent)

Despite his lack of experience in health care issues or occupational boards, Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald has been hired as the Nevada State Board of Dental Examiners’ lobbyist and legislative liaison as part of a two-year, $72,000 contract.

Although most boards and commissions contract with full-time, professional lobbyists, the dental examiners board elected to hire McDonald in late 2018 to be their sole lobbyist during the state’s 120-day legislative session and during the interim period between legislative sessions. But it remains unclear how McDonald, a rare presence in the legislative building and close ally of President Donald Trump, has represented the board in a session controlled by Democrats where key lawmakers and lobbyists for related entities say they haven’t interacted with him on any issues, even those affecting the dental board.

McDonald did not return a call or text message seeking comment on the contract or his work with the board.

McDonald — who does not list any other clients on the legislative lobbyist registry — was hired by the board during its May 11, 2018 meeting, where board members elected to hire him over lobbying firms run by former Assembly members Richard Perkins and William Horne (who was hired to lobby for the board during the 2017 legislative session).

In his one-page application letter, McDonald wrote that he would be involved in “all facets of the legislative process” including bill tracking, client communications and interim activities between sessions. His application included only a copy of his business's registration with the Secretary of State, while applications submitted by rival applicants Perkins Company and Horne Duarte contained slightly more in-depth information on their lobbying efforts and organizational structure.

According to minutes of the meeting, McDonald was the only applicant to appear in person, and after a short discussion was approved unanimously (with one abstention) by the board, which is the seventh-largest in the state in terms of annual revenues.

In an email, board attorney Melanie Bernstein Chapman said the board was authorized under state law to hire legislative consultants and that the board required the “special skills, expertise and knowledge of an experienced legislative liaison” to ensure it would “achieve optimal results for the citizens it serves.”

“Mr. McDonald was ultimately chosen due to his long history with Nevada and its citizens, as well as the responses to questions he was asked at the time the proposals were considered,” Bernstein Chapman said in an email. “His position as the chairman of the Nevada Republican Party was not discussed or considered as part of this process and was not a factor in the discussion or deliberation resulting in the decision to contract with him.”

Several board members including President Yvonne Bethea did not return calls from The Nevada Independent as to why they selected McDonald for the contract.

The contract runs for nearly two years, and is worth $72,000 in total, or roughly $3,430 per month. It was approved unanimously by members of the Board of Examiners — which consists of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state — in October 2018. All three of those office-holders were members of the Republican Party.

The approved contract states the dental board “requires the availability, expertise and knowledge that can be uniquely performed by the Contractor.”

Despite his status as the sole registered lobbyist for the board, it’s unclear whether McDonald has played any role in debate over bills that would have a major impact on the function and operation of the dental examiners board. Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti said she had not seen or interacted with McDonald on her bill SB366, which as originally drafted would have removed dental hygienists from the oversight and purview of the dental examiners board and licensed them under a different board.

Ratti added that she had primarily worked with the state’s dental association on the bill, adding that she wouldn’t be able to recognize McDonald if she saw him. It also remains uncertain how McDonald — who called legislative Democrats “frauds that have no clue what it takes to run our state” in a February statement — would be able to successfully nurture relationships and work with the Democrat-controlled Legislature on bills affecting the board.

Chris Ferrari, a lobbyist for the state dental association, said he had not interacted with McDonald on Ratti’s bill or any other bill this legislative session, but said it wasn’t atypical for a state board lobbyist to not play an active or advocacy role in pending legislation.

“Some boards tend to be a little more outspoken and get into what might be considered advocacy, while others have just sat back and taken questions,” he said.

Still, Ferrari said he had regularly checked in with the board’s former lobbyist, William Horne, during the 2017 legislative session to share a “collegial perspective on issues” that could affect the dental board and industry.

It’s unclear how much time McDonald has physically spent at the Legislature, outside of a Nevada Republican Party rally against a gun control bill held outside the legislative building in early April. He was scheduled to give a legislative update during the Dental Board’s last meeting on March 22, according to a copy of the meeting agenda.

The board itself has recently faced scrutiny from state lawmakers amid a 2016 audit report that found the board had overcharged almost half of licensees subject to investigation, and allowed some offenders to make charitable donations in lieu of fine which isn’t allowed under state law.

Leading the Republican party has been a way back into the political limelight for McDonald, a former Las Vegas police officer who was elected at age 30 to the Las Vegas City Council in 1995, but saw his momentum stall amid ethics investigations and a federal tax investigation that contributed to his defeat in the 2003 municipal election.

McDonald was elected chair of the Nevada Republican Party in 2012, winning contentious re-election campaigns in 2013 and 2015 against party establishment-backed candidates. He’s cultivated a close relationship with President Donald Trump, including getting the then-candidate to appear at a 2016 fundraiser for the party in Lake Tahoe, and was in turn heartily endorsed by Trump’s campaign ahead of the 2020 election cycle.

In the past, McDonald has worked as a lobbyist but never for an occupational board or health-related organization. According to registration records, he lobbied for the Nevada Republican Party in 2017, and for several clients in 2015 including trial lawyer Glen Lerner, the Laughlin Constable’s office, the Armenian American Cultural Society of Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada Rural Constable's Alliance. He also appeared as a lobbyist for the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in 2012.

His company that received the lobbying contract — Alpha-Omega Strategies — was incorporated in 1998, and has been involved in a multitude of business interests. He told the Las Vegas Sun in 1999 that the business was operating essentially as a “consulting” firm for private investigations (without a license). In 2008, the same company received approval and financial assistance from the Las Vegas City Council to develop senior housing and a retail center in Northwest Las Vegas.

The company was also used by McDonald to cash monthly checks from the law firm of Patti and Sgro during his time on the Las Vegas City Council, highlighted as part of a wide-ranging tax fraud investigation (McDonald was never charged in the case, and later said he had been “wrongfully accused”).

McDonald was also briefly employed in the Nevada State Treasurer’s Office as a senior deputy treasurer, but resigned within three months of taking the position amid criticism that he was hired on given his close relationship with then-state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, previously a finance director for the state Republican Party.

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