Erin Bilbray, the co-founder of a political action group, may have violated the terms of an agreement with the Federal Election Commission by using the resources of the group in her bid for Congress.
Bilbray, the Democratic candidate for Nevada’s third congressional district, had been told by the FEC she could continue to work as a paid consultant for a political organization, if she did not “use Emerge Nevada’s resources for campaign-related activities if she becomes a candidate.”
In a recent video produced and released by Emerge Nevada, Bilbray thanks the group she helped found for its help in every step of her campaign.
Chris Gober, an Austin, Texas-based election law specialist, former counsel to the Republican National Committee and political operative for George W. Bush, said he thinks both Bilbray and Emerge Nevada are violating campaign law.
“This video presents very strong evidence that Bilbray is violating the ‘use of Emerge Nevada’s resources’ condition of her agreement with the FEC,” Gober says.
Bilbray campaign manager Adriana Martinez, also a co-founder of Emerge Nevada, has not returned multiple calls and email requests for comment.
A message left for Emerge Nevada has also not yet been returned.
Bilbray founded Emerge Nevada to change “the face of Nevada politics by identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office, get elected and to seek higher office,” according to its website.
She had served as executive director since 2006.
Bilbray originally registered the group as 501(c)4 non-profit organization with the Internal Revenue Service. In 2011, however, the IRS revoked the group’s tax-exempt status because it found the organization was “set up specifically to cultivate Democratic candidates,” according to the New York Times.
Emerge Nevada reorganized and according to the FEC:
Emerge Nevada is a non-profit Nevada corporation holding tax-exempt stautus as a ‘political organization’ under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. The organization is not registered with the [Federal Elections] Commission, and it raises and spends funds that are not subject to the contribution limits and source restrictions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (‘FECA’)
“Because Emerge is not registered with the FEC,” Gober told me, “the organization is legally constrained to only trying to influence state and local races.”
Because of that constraint, when Bilbray first considered running for a federal office in 2013 she wrote the FEC asking if she could step down as executive director, but continue working at a salary of $5,000 a month as a consultant.
The FEC responded to her request saying, “The Commission concludes that, under the terms described in your request, Ms. Bilbray-Kohn may serve as a paid consultant to Emerge Nevada after becoming a candidate.”
Bilbray, the FEC said, could not call upon Emerge Nevada for campaign resources. And without registration with the FEC, the group is not permitted by law to offer help to a candidate for federal office in excess of one thousand dollars, according to Gober.
“Every time that I need a group for a kick-off, or a fundraiser or political event, it is the Emerge network that comes there ready to battle, ready to be there and ready to support me,” Bilbray says in the Emerge Nevada video. “I could not do this without Emerge.”
“It appears as if Bilbray told the FEC one thing, but then turned around and did the opposite when she thought nobody was looking,” Gober says. “To add insult to injury, her biggest mistake may have been admitting it on video.”