The Nevada State Democratic Party filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request this week, following a recent report from the Washington Post that Sen. Dean Heller lobbied the Treasury Department to change its rules for awarding special tax status to certain communities in order to benefit a specific GOP donor in Storey County. That donor gave $5,000 to Heller’s campaign right in the midst of the process. In the FOIA, the State Party requested copies of any correspondence between Sen. Heller and Secretary Mnuchin, between Sen. Heller and Treasury staff, or between Heller’s office and Treasury staff regarding Storey County’s new designation as an “Opportunity Zone.”
The Treasury Department last week reversed itself after lobbying by Nevada Republicans and agreed to let a previously ineligible county reap huge benefits from the new tax law.
The effort was led by Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval (R), and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who separately spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and pushed for Storey County to win designation as an “Opportunity Zone,” which was established in the law to help distressed areas attract money.
Working behind the scenes to help the effort was a Storey County brothel owner and real estate investor, Lance Gilman, who told local officials that the designation could lead to a surge of investments within the next few years. Gilman is also a major GOP donor and made a $5,000 campaign contribution to Heller in the midst of the process, the biggest contribution he had ever given to a candidate for federal office.
Treasury officials had initially deemed that Storey County’s income levels were too high to qualify, based on the metrics they had used to judge every other nomination for the special tax status. But after weeks of prodding from Nevada officials, Treasury relented and gave the designation to Storey County using new data.
But several other Nevada business owners are furious at the designation. To push Storey County for the Opportunity Zone designation, Sandoval had to withdraw the April 20 nomination of Dayton, Nev., an economically depressed neighboring community that lacks Storey County’s huge industrial center.
Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Sarah Abel released the following statement:
“Sen. Heller will always put himself and his campaign donors first in Washington, but this story shows Nevadans just how far he’s willing to go. Nevadans deserve to know more about how Sen. Heller pressured the Treasury Department on this issue, and our public records request will hopefully shine a light on this activity.”