Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sam Brown has created a political action committee to “help elect Republicans,” but most of its funds have been used to pay off debt from his failed previous campaign. The group has donated less than 7% of its funds to the candidates it was created to support, according to campaign finance records — a move one campaign finance expert likened to using the PAC as a “slush fund “.
Brown formed Duty First PAC in July 2022, saying the organization would help Republicans take back Congress. A month earlier, Brown lost the Republican Senate primary to Adam Laxalt after raising an impressive $4.4 million for his campaign, but left his campaign more than $300,000 in debt.
Now Brown is running again in Nevada as the top Republican Senate recruit.
A former Army captain, Brown made tall promises when he launched his PAC, Duty First.
“With your support we will: Defeat the Socialist Democrats. Help elect Republicans who believe in accountability to the constitution and service to the people. Stand with the #DutyFirst movement, get involved with people’s input today,” he said in a tweet PAC announcement.
“We will ensure that the Democrats’ socialist agenda does not win in November and that Republicans will continue to be held accountable for protecting our Constitution and our conservative principles.” The country is counting on us,” Brown said in an accompanying video for the July 2022 launch of the PAC.
Since then, the PAC has raised a small amount — just $91,500 — and used most of its money — $55,000 — to pay off debt from Brown’s failed Senate campaign that Brown had transferred. Campaign finance experts told CNN that this falls into a gray area of the law.
Of the $90,000 spent so far, only $6,000 has reached five Nevada Republican committees. An additional $1,000 payment is listed as going directly to congressional candidate Mark Robertson as a contribution, but lists the amount as being paid directly to the candidate at his home — not to his committee.
Instead, Duty First PAC made over a dozen debt payments. A total of $23,000 was spent on a website and software services used by Brown’s Senate campaign. Another $11,275 went to pay off the failed campaign’s credit card, with an additional $3,000 spent on credit card interest charges.
Duty First paid off more than $1,200 in credit card debt accrued at a country club near where Brown previously lived in Dallas, Texas, and ran for the state House in 2014, a Brown campaign spokesman said in an email to CNN the “facility fee” fees were for a fundraiser “organized by supporters of Sam’s campaign.”
The latest FEC filing shows Brown is now trying to dispute more than $80,000 in remaining debt from the previous campaign, which the spokesman said “will be resolved in due course.” Most of the disputed debt is for direct mail services used by Brown’s previous campaign.
Duty First PAC is also responsible for eventually paying back $70,000 to Brown that he personally loaned to his committees.
Brown’s campaign spokesman defended the PAC’s spending.
“The PAC pledged to support conservative candidates in Nevada and has done just that by donating to every Republican candidate in federal races in Nevada during the 2022 general election,” they said.
According to a CNN analysis of Duty First PAC’s FEC filings, of all the money raised, less than 7% went to candidates. When taking into account Brown’s personal loans, the debt the PAC took on from Brown’s campaign, and expenses, less than 2% of the PAC’s funds went to candidates in 2022.
The money not spent on debt went to various consulting and digital marketing expenses. The PAC spent $1,090 on storage, more than it donated to Republican Rep. Mark Amodei’s winning campaign.
However, Brown has touted his PAC’s donations to candidates in interviews and social media posts.
“I pledged to help defeat Democrats in Nevada,” he added in an email announcing the PAC’s launch.
Donations to the PAC were from regular donors who typically gave $50 or less.
Just a day before the 2022 midterm elections, Brown announced donations to several candidates running for office in Nevada.
FEC records show the 2022 donations to the House candidates were made on Oct. 31, while the donation to Laxalt’s Senate campaign was made in early September.
“PAC Duty First is proud to support conservatives fighting for Nevada,” he said in a tweet after making the donation on November 7, 2022. “Last week we donated to the four Republicans working to take back the House. Join us in supporting them right now!”
Later, after the 2022 midterm elections, in a late November interview with a local Nevada radio station, Brown revealed the PAC’s work and said it would continue to operate between election cycles.
“Duty First is here to work between the cycles, so to speak, and help the applicants who are applying,” Brown said. “In fact this cycle, you know, we had raised money and supported all of our Republican federal candidates, Adam Laxalt, as well as all four members of Congress.”
“So this is our way of opposing the Democratic agenda and their representation,” Brown said. “But it also gives Duty First supporters and people who believe in our mission something of a platform to remind Republicans what we’re about.”
Campaign finance experts CNN spoke to said Brown’s marketing of Duty First PAC as a way for people to financially support conservative candidates was a “creative way” for Brown to pay off old campaign debts behind the scenes.
“This creates a situation where PAC contributors may think the PAC is doing one thing, which is supporting political candidates, when in fact what it’s doing is being used to pay off long-standing debts from a previous campaign,” said Stephen Spaulding, vice president of policy at Common Cause and former advisor to an FEC commissioner.
Because the FEC has not issued an advisory opinion that “applies to this candidate and any other candidate who has a very similar situation,” Spaulding said debt transfers between campaign committees and PACs are a gray area in campaign finance law . In Brown’s case, his campaign committee was merged into a PAC, the Sam Brown PAC, that was associated with his candidacy, which campaign finance experts agree is a common maneuver for candidates. But what struck experts as odd was that Brown terminated the Sam Brown PAC and transferred his outstanding loans and debts to the Duty First PAC.
Brown’s 2024 candidate committee, Sam Brown for Nevada, is an entirely new committee with its own FEC filings, although it has the same name as his previous committee. This committee, formed in July 2023, is not affiliated with Duty First PAC, nor is it obligated to repay the remaining $271,000 in debt and loans from a previous campaign.
“Unfortunately, Sam Brown, like too many other politicians, has given almost no money to other candidates and has instead used his PAC as a slush fund,” said Paul S. Ryan, executive director of the Funders’ Committee for Civic Engagement . “Many donors would understandably be upset to learn that their money was not used to help elect other candidates like Brown — the reason they made their contribution,” he added.