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September 30, 2014

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Oops! Illegal bucks for Montandon

Sun examination of foreign donations to gubernatorial campaign uncovers one that was against the law

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Excerpts from Mike Montandon’s campaign contributions and expenses report.

Michael Montandon

Michael Montandon

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mike Montandon accepted a $10,000 donation from a foreign company last year, a violation of federal campaign finance law.

The former three-term North Las Vegas mayor said Tuesday that he will return the donation, after the Las Vegas Sun flagged it and others on a recent finance report that appeared to be from foreign sources. The contribution was one of five from Hong Kong-based donors identified in the newspaper’s analysis of gubernatorial campaign finance reports last week.

“The question of whether it can be done has been asked in the past, but there’s a direct ban under federal law,” said Matt Griffin, deputy secretary of state.

Griffin said the secretary of state’s office is investigating the donations.

Federal election law prohibits foreign nationals and foreign corporations from donating to American campaigns — federal, state and local. Enacted in 1966, the law was intended to minimize foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Montandon told the Sun that the source of the illegal $10,000 contribution, Forich Group Ltd., is a British Virgin Islands-based affiliate of Runvee Inc., a development firm with past and present real estate investments in North Las Vegas. The company owns seven parcels of vacant land in North Las Vegas, totaling 102 acres.

The firm’s owners, the Shaw family of Hong Kong, contributed an additional $40,000 to Montandon’s gubernatorial campaign last year, according to his campaign finance report. Montandon said the Shaws are longtime supporters and have permanent resident, or “green card,” status, which, under federal election law, makes their contributions legal.

Indeed, Montandon didn’t shrug when asked about the illegal contribution. He said it was a simple mistake.

“I am grateful for people who support what we are trying to accomplish,” Montandon said, “especially good people like the Shaws.”

Runvee has a history of contributing to candidates for North Las Vegas office. In 2008, it donated $5,000 to then-City Councilwoman Shari Buck’s campaign for mayor.

For Montandon, the illegal contribution is now baggage in the Republican primary, where he faces embattled Gov. Jim Gibbons and former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval, the GOP front-runner.

The issue is politically potent following last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance law. The ruling that corporations may contribute to candidates for office appears to also allow the American subsidiaries of foreign companies to form political action committees and make such donations. Democrats in Congress are looking to craft legislation barring their involvement.

“Do you really want the Chinese or any other country to be able to spend money on our elections?” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, told The Washington Post.

Montandon has struggled to find solid footing since declaring his candidacy early last year, remaining in the single digits in public opinion polling. Of late Montandon has boasted that he raised more than double Gibbons’ 2009 campaign haul and won a recent Clark County straw poll of Republican insiders.

Montandon spent most of the $326,000 he raised in 2008 and 2009, leaving him with $51,000 at the end of the year. His campaign finance report highlights his dependence on the development connections he cultivated as North Las Vegas mayor, including the Shaws. More than a third of his donations came from the real estate and development sectors.

Montandon said he’s moving forward, adding that the Shaws have committed to cutting another $10,000 check to replace the illegal donation.

“The campaign is viable and continuing to raise funds,” he said.

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