by Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
Last month, Republican candidate for state treasurer Michele Fiore accused the Democratic incumbent treasurer Zach Conine of profiting from a “shady” private company run out of the “same office that manages Nevadans’ public funds.”
The business in question was the Nevada Capital Investment Corporation—a public nonprofit corporation under the Office of the Treasurer charged with increasing returns to the state’s Permanent School Fund while investing in Nevada small businesses. When the Legislature established the corporation more than a dozen years ago, the statute also specified that it would be administered by the state treasurer.
If Fiore defeats Conine, she too would be statutorily required to administer the corporation.
“She accused me of running a state agency,” Conine said. “This is a line of attack that is so hilarious, if not for the fact that person could end up managing $50 billion dollars of other people’s money. It would be funny if it wasn’t so terrifying.”
Conine, who called Fiore “holistically unqualified,” said “she couldn’t be bothered to Google it or has surrounded herself with people, who she trusts, who couldn’t be bothered to Google it.”
Fiore said the blunder was the result of an “overzealous” staff.
“No matter what my momma tells me: I am not perfect. My team got a little overzealous in our efforts to prove that Conine was wrong for the job, and I take responsibility for that,” said Fiori in an email.
For voters who don’t have much interest in down-ballot races, here are a few things to consider:
The state treasurer is responsible for maintaining and investing every tax dollar that comes into state coffers. Their choices impact the state’s ability to borrow money at favorable interest rates, getting state employees paid, and can influence overall costs of public projects.
The office manages a portfolio of about $50 billion in state money and investments that affect everything from unemployment benefits to the state’s education fund. The treasurer is also in charge of managing the state’s multimillion dollar annual budget.
In other words, the treasurer — who’s paid $112,462 annually — has a wide-ranging and critical job.
Democrat Zach Conine
Conine said he believes the race for state treasurer will come down to one factor: competence.
“We are objectively good at the things a treasury is supposed to be good at,” Conine said. “We are good at investing. We invest with purpose and clarity. Then we look for ways the treasury can help people directly and how we can get more money back into people’s pockets.”
Under Conine, Nevada has received and maintained its highest credit rating in history. Conine boasts his office has returned more unclaimed property to more Nevadans than in any two-year period in Nevada history. He more than doubled investment returns for the Permanent School Fund since becoming Chair.
A major benefit from Nevada’s favorable credit rating is that the state was able to borrow money at lower interest rates, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
During the height of the pandemic, Conine oversaw the Pandemic Emergency Technical Support (PETS) Grant Program, which provided $102 million to 9,400 small businesses, the largest small business aid program in Nevada’s history.
He also helped develop the state’s Coronavirus Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), providing more than $368 million in emergency rental assistance to over 70,000 households as of June.
Conine said he worked with banks, mortgage servicers, and credit unions to offer homeowners protection for missed payments during the pandemic.
“In the treasury, we’re able to come at problems with a different mindset. We’re not coming at them with a political mindset, we’re coming at them with a financial and economic mindset,” Conine said.
If elected to a second-term, Conine said he plans to further improve Nevada’s financial footing, from child care to health care.
The state treasurer’s office is allowed to propose legislation via a bill draft request or “BDR.” One bill proposed by Conine’s office would improve the state’s ability to proactively return nearly $1 billion in unclaimed property to Nevadans.
Conine’s office is also proposing the creation of a Nevada Baby Bonds Program, a program that would set aside $3,200 in investment funds for babies whose birth is covered by Medicaid. The investment, and interest earned on it, would then be turned over to the child once they reach 18 to be used for eligible expenses, including higher education, purchasing a home, or starting a business.
If approved by the legislature, Conine said the program would give children the chance to “break out of the generational poverty cycle.”
Conine said his campaign has received bipartisan support – he’s been endorsed by former Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller – because his office has “done the job well and we don’t discriminate as to what political party an idea is coming from.”
Republican Michele Fiore
“Here are the facts; Conine divested Nevada’s portfolio from firearm manufacturers simply because of politics,” said Fiore in an email. “Does this sound like someone who operates without a political compass?”
In June, Conine announced he would divest from companies that manufacture or sell assault-style weapons, a move that could potentially affect roughly $89 million in assets, according to the Treasurer’s Office.
“That action saved the state millions of dollars in investment losses,” said Conine. “If the biggest reason someone would vote or not vote for a treasurer is because they made an investment choice that saved the state millions of dollars, that is certainly a choice they can make.”
Fiore, who is being term-limited out of the Las Vegas City Council, was not available for a real-time interview, but agreed to answer a list of questions over email.
If elected, Fiore said her priorities would be to “improve our economy and cut taxes and unnecessary regulations,” ensure “investments are transparent, profitable, and not driven by any political agenda,” and to proactively locate the owners of unclaimed property.
In Fiore’s view, the treasurer’s election will come down to who has the most fiscally conservative economic policies. Fiore argued that her advantage is that most Nevadans favor fiscally conservative economic policies, like lower taxes and less regulation.
“Nevada Policy Research Institute rated me as one of the most fiscally conservative legislators in Nevada. That’s because I consistently voted and passed legislation contributing to Nevada’s economic prosperity when I was in the legislature,” Fiore said.
If elected, Fiore said she would use the office’s ability to propose legislation to “seize every opportunity to lower taxes, cut unnecessary regulations and red tape, or lower costs for everyday Nevadans.”
Fiore vowed to be transparent about how money is spent and invest “in the best interest of Nevadans and not follow politically driven, financially irresponsible investment fads.”
Fiore has a history of failing to report tax debt to the IRS, which is a requirement for candidates and elected officials. In 2021, the FBI raided Fiore’s home as part of its investigation into possible campaign finance violations. As of July, Fiore and previous businesses had $361,300.57 in active federal and state tax liens against them.
She is also facing allegations of violating campaign finance law by allegedly accepting donations exceeding the state’s $10,000 maximum contribution limit from a single source, a claim Conine’s campaign filed with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.
However, Fiore said her work in public and private finance has prepared her for the role of treasurer. In her role as a businesswoman, Fiore said she has decades of experience investing, making payrolls, and caring for other people’s money.
“As a business owner and CEO, I’ve employed thousands of Nevadans. As a city councilwoman and legislator, I’ve balanced budgets and cut taxes and regulations,” Fiore said. “Our current treasurer has put politics before doing what’s right for Nevadans, so he needs to go.”
Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.