Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sam Brown has created a political action committee to “help elect Republicans” but most of its funds are being spent on paying off debt from his failed campaign. The group donated less than 7% of its funds to the candidates it set out to support, according to campaign finance records — a move one campaign finance expert likened to using PACs as ” slush fund.”
Brown formed Duty First PAC in July 2022, saying the organization would help Republicans win Congress. A month earlier, Brown lost the Republican Senate primary to Adam Laxalt after raising an impressive $4.4 million for his upstart campaign, but his campaign was left more than $300,000 in debt.
Now Brown is running again in Nevada as a top recruit for Senate Republicans.
A former Army captain, Brown made tall promises when he launched his PAC, Duty First.
“With your support, we will: defeat socialist Democrats. Help elect Republicans who believe in Constitutional accountability and serving the people. Stand with the #DutyFirst movement, join a grassroots contribution today ,” he said to a tweet informed the PAC.
“We will make sure that the Democrats’ socialist agenda does not win in November, and that Republicans will continue to be held accountable for defending our Constitution and protecting our conservative values. The country is counting on us,” Brown said in a accompanying video for the PAC launch in July 2022.
Since then, the PAC has raised a small amount – just $91,500 – and used most of their money – $55,000 – to pay off debt from Brown’s failed Senate campaign, which Brown moved. Campaign finance experts told CNN it falls into a legal gray area.
Of the $90,000 spent so far, only $6,000 has reached the five Nevadan Republican candidates’ committees. An additional payment for $1,000 was listed as going directly to congressional candidate Mark Robertson as a contribution but listed the amount as paid directly to the candidate at his home — not his committee.
Instead, Duty First PAC made more than a dozen loan payments. A combined $23,000 was spent on website services and software used by Brown’s Senate campaign. Another $11,275 went to pay off a failed credit card campaign, 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 once 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” charges were for a fundraiser “hosted by supporters of Sam’s campaign.”
The most recent FEC filing shows that Brown is now trying to dispute more than $80,000 in outstanding debt from a previous campaign, which the spokesman said will be “resolved in due course.” Most of the disputed debt owed was for direct mail services used by Brown’s previous campaign.
Duty First PAC was also responsible for ultimately paying Brown $70,000 that he personally loaned to his committees.
Brown’s campaign spokesman defended the PAC’s spending.
“The PAC promised to support conservative candidates in Nevada, and it is doing exactly that by donating to every Republican candidate in Nevada’s federal race 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 disbursements, less than 2% of the PAC’s funds went to the 2022 candidates
The money not spent on debt went towards various consulting and digital marketing expenses. The PAC spent $1,090 on a storage unit, more than it donated to the winning campaign of Republican Rep. Mark Amodei.
Despite this, Brown has played up donations to his PAC candidates in interviews and in social media posts.
“I promise to help defeat the Democrats in Nevada,” he added in an email, announcing the launch of the PAC.
Donations to the PAC come from grassroots donors, who typically donate $50 or less.
Just one day before the 2022 midterm elections, Brown announced donations to several candidates running for office in Nevada.
FEC records show that 2022 donations to House candidates were made on October 31, while Laxalt’s Senate campaign donation was made in early September.
“Duty First PAC is proud to support conservatives fighting for Nevada,” he said in a tweet after making donations on November 7, 2022. “This past week, we donated funds to four Republicans working to take back the House. Join us in supporting them today!”
Later, after the 2022 midterms in a late November interview with a local Nevada radio station, Brown played down the PAC’s work and said it would continue to operate between election cycles.
“Duty First is here to kind of work between cycles, to talk and help candidates run,” Brown said. “Actually this cycle, you know, we raised money and supported all of our federal Republican candidates, Adam Laxalt, as well as four Congressmen.”
“And so, this is our way of pushing back against the Democrat agenda and their representation,” Brown said. “But, also, it gives the supporters of Duty First and people who believe in our mission, a kind of 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 get paid. the old campaign debts behind the scenes.
“This creates a situation where contributors to a PAC may think the PAC is doing something, supporting political candidates, when in fact what it’s doing is being used to pay off long-standing debts from in the last campaign,” said Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause’s vice president of policy and a former advisor to an FEC commissioner.
Because the FEC has not issued an advisory opinion that “applies to that candidate and any other candidate in similar circumstances,” Spaulding said the transfer of debts between campaign committees and PACs are a gray area in campaign finance law. In Brown’s case, his candidate’s committee was rolled out by a PAC, Sam Brown PAC, linked to his candidacy, which campaign finance experts agree is a common maneuver for candidates. But what surprised experts was that Brown ended 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 a new committee with its own FEC filings, although it has the same name as his previous committee. This committee, which was formed in July 2023, is not affiliated with Duty First PAC, nor is it obligated to pay the remaining $271,000 in past campaign debt and liabilities.
“Unfortunately, Sam Brown, like many other politicians, has given almost no money to other candidates and, instead, has used his PAC as a slush fund,” said Paul S. Ryan, executive director of the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation. “Many donors would understandably be upset if they found out their money wasn’t being used to help elect other candidates like Brown — the reason they made their contributions,” he added.