“I sure hope the people of Clark County know how hard I’m working,” Las Vegas Metro Sheriff and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Joe Lombardo recently told the Current. But a review of data from LVMPD indicates Lombardo is showing up at the office roughly three times a week as he campaigns for the state’s top job.
Data obtained via an open records request and provided to the Current includes the date, time and location where Lombardo’s security badge was used between Jan. 1, 2021 and March 25, 2022.
According to the data, Lombardo entered a Metro facility 205 out of 308 work days between January 1, 2021 and March 24, 2022. He did not swipe in between June 25, 2021 and July 5, 2021, a period that includes his June 28, 2021 campaign kickoff, or from March 11th, 2022 to March 20th, 2022, which includes the day he officially filed in Carson City to run for governor.
Only three of the 1,235 recorded swipes were into police facilities other than Metro’s Martin Luther King Blvd. headquarters.
Lombardo has not responded to questions about his time off. His campaign referred questions to Metro, which did not respond. The Current has no evidence the sheriff was on the clock as he campaigned.
The sheriff has steadfastly rejected the notion that as the holder of a nonpartisan office, he should step aside while campaigning in a polarizing election.
“My primary goal is to fight crime and create a safe environment within Clark County,” he told the Current earlier this year. “My secondary goal is running for governor.”
Elected officials campaigning for one office while serving in another is far from unusual. Lombardo’s campaign foe, Gov. Steve Sisolak, was on the Clark County payroll as a Democratic county commissioner while campaigning for the governor’s office four years ago.
As governor, Sisolak has spent plenty of workdays appearing at what could be characterized as campaign events. But given the governor’s wide breadth of oversight, a nexus to those events – be it appearing at a Culinary Union rally supporting rent control, or visiting Lake Mead during a water crisis – appears easier to draw for Sisolak than for Lombardo.
“From welcoming students back to school in Washoe earlier this month to taking on the drought crisis at Lake Mead this week, Governor Sisolak meets and speaks with Nevadans in his official capacity every day,” campaign spokeswoman Reeves Oyster said in a statement. “Last month, the governor held 49 scheduled meetings or events in his official capacity, not including daily briefings with his staff, cabinet and sub-cabinets.”
Lombardo said his effort to increase Metro’s budget earlier this year is evidence that he’s acting independently, and possibly contrary to the best interests of his campaign.
“If I was way more concerned with running for governor, I wouldn’t even put that on the radar for people to question,” he said.
He insisted he’s capable of juggling his full time job as sheriff with the equally, if not more intense demands of campaigning for the state’s top spot.
On the trail or on the job?
“I’ve always thought if you’re a public employee you need to probably resign because there’s no there’s not a way to campaign fulltime and do your full time job,” says Sondra Cosgrove of the League of Women Voters of Nevada. But, she adds, such a policy would give an undue advantage to incumbents.
Cosgrove notes that judges, both elected and appointed, are ethically prohibited from seeking elected office while remaining on the bench.
In 1939 Congress determined that “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation” federal employees, District of Columbia employees, and certain state and local government employees would be prohibited from engaging in partisan activity.
The Hatch Act prohibits partisan political activity by individuals principally employed by agencies funded in whole or in part by federal loans or grants, including law enforcement. Governors are exempted from the law.
Federal authorities complained in 2004 that former Henderson police chief Richard Perkins violated the Hatch Act by simultaneously heading up the department and serving in the Nevada Assembly.
The Office of Special Counsel alleged that Perkins violated the Act “by running as the Democratic candidate for re-election to the Nevada Assembly in a partisan election while his principal employment with the Henderson Police Department was in connection with programs that were financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by Federal agencies.”
An administrative law judge eventually dismissed the OSC’s complaint, stating the government failed to meet its burden in proving the law applied to Perkins.
Lombardo’s campaign says he is not violating the Hatch Act.
A day in the life
On Tuesday, June 29, 2021, Lombardo launched his campaign for governor. The following day he kicked off his campaign in Reno. He did not use his security badge at Metro all week.
Lombardo began the Labor Day weekend early with a visit to Elko on Thursday, September 2, 2021. There is no record of the sheriff going to Metro that day.
On Monday, September 13, 2021, the sheriff was in Lincoln County, according to Facebook posts. He did not swipe in at Metro.
On Tuesday, October 5, 2021, Lombardo was in Reno. He did not swipe in at Metro. The following morning he attended a Hispanics in Politics breakfast in Las Vegas and swiped into Metro at 10:15.
On Thursday, Dec. 9, the sheriff visited Winnemucca. He did not swipe in to Metro that day or the following day, Friday, December 10, which he spent at the opening of his campaign office in Reno.
The sheriff spent Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 at Incline Village in Lake Tahoe, an enclave of wealthy residents with a higher concentration of Republicans than surrounding areas in Washoe County. Lombardo did not swipe in at Metro that day.
Lombardo did not swipe in at Metro from Friday, March 11, 2022 through Monday, March 21, 2022. He spent Monday, March 14 in Carson City, where he filed for office. He also attended the Elko County Lincoln Day Dinner on Friday, March 25. He did not swipe in either day.
On a number of occasions, Lombardo swiped in at Metro but attended campaign events as well, according to his social media accounts.
On Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, the sheriff arrived at Metro at 8:39 a.m. He left later in the day to spend the afternoon with the All Commercial Networking Group, according to his social media posts, and did not swipe in again at Metro.
On Feb. 9, 2022, Lombardo attended a candidate’s luncheon in Mesquite. At 3:32 p.m. he swiped into Metro HQ.
Lombardo’s spring and summer have been punctuated by visits to Sparks in May, as well as Douglas, Lyon, Humboldt, Elko, and White Pine counties in June. He visited Washoe County on Wednesday, August 10, Carson City on Friday, August 12, and was back in Fallon on Friday, August 26.
“There is a balance here,” says UNLV Political Science professor Ken Miller. “On the one hand, public officials can’t be engaging in campaign activity on the public’s time or using their office’s resources or staff for campaign purposes. Officials have to be careful to keep these things separate. On the other hand, there is the opposite problem of an official who steps too far away from their current job responsibilities to campaign.”
Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada says the onus is on the sheriff to be transparent about his time off.
“If he fails to do so, it’s pretty jarring that any leader, let alone a public official, would expect their employees to show up physically to work everyday while not doing so themselves, and while bringing in a salary exponentially higher than many ordinary patrol officers,” Haseebullah said.
The sheriff earned total pay of $203,964.92 in 2020, according to Transparent Nevada, a website that tracks government employee salaries. The site is operated by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which declined to comment for this story.
Some suggest Lombardo has focused on campaigning at the expense of constituents.
Crime has increased year-to-date through July by 3% over last year in Metro’s jurisdiction, led by a 15% increase in property crime. Robberies are up 27% year-to-date.
“This reemphasizes why he (Lombardo) should resign now and focus on his political campaign if that’s the reason for the absence, and leave the department in the hands of those who are working full time,” Hasseebullah said.
Some states, such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona, have ‘resign-to-run’ laws, which prohibit an office holder from seeking another office without first resigning. However those laws typically give leeway to officeholders, such as exempting those who are serving the final year of their current term.
Opponents say such laws put individuals in public service positions at a disadvantage, because they often can’t afford to quit their jobs. Additionally, ‘resign-to-run’ laws amplify the power of incumbency, they say.
“On the one hand, public employees should be doing their job, but on the other hand, elected officials are more often than not also technically campaigning while on the job. So, if we say public employees must do their job before campaigning, shouldn’t elected officials also be required to be ‘off the clock’ completely while campaigning?” asks Cosgrove. “I would like to see some regulations that clarify when any public employee or elected official is allowed to campaign to ensure their regular job is being done.”