(Leslie Paige) – Today, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) its June Porker of the Month for using immigration legislation to solidify federal tourism subsidies in his home state. Sen. Heller appears to have held out for what CAGW has dubbed the “Sin City Sweetener,” an alteration to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that will extend matching government funds for “Brand USA” indefinitely. The bill’s revision is worth millions in taxpayer-funded tourism promotion for Nevada.
Brand USA is an independent group that receives matching funds of up to $100 million from the federal government for every dollar it raises from the private sector. Unsurprisingly, Sen. Heller has every reason to believe that its continued existence will reap big benefits for his pals running casinos and hotels in Nevada. According to Breitbart.com, when the law establishing the Corporation for Travel Promotion (since renamed Brand USA) was first created under the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, the blog on Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) website proudly explained that the Travel Promotion Act would “greatly benefit Nevada because we have so many wonderful tourist attractions.” Several hotels and casinos expressed their gratitude by thanking Sen. Reid on their marquees along the Las Vegas strip.
Unlike the floor amendments to the immigration bill, which are currently being considered by Congress, Sen. Heller managed to embed his home state’s kickbacks into the language of the committee’s marked-up bill before it reached the floor. In the original draft of the bill, Brand USA was slated to receive funding “for each of fiscal years 2012 through 2015.” In the bill’s latest go-round, that language had been altered to read “for each fiscal year after 2012.” Sen. Heller was not a co-sponsor of the original immigration bill, but he is now.
Nor is Sen. Heller’s tourism ploy the only lunge he has made for extra federal cash in the run-up to a vote on the immigration bill. In what is plainly an effort to secure additional federal law enforcement money for his state, Sen. Heller introduced amendment #1227 to include a representative from Nevada on the Southern Border Security Commission, despite the fact that Nevada is not a border state. While Sen. Heller is hardly the first lawmaker to stretch geographic truth — Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) once attempted to get research money for Vermont by declaring Lake Champlain a “Great Lake” — his ambitions are no less parochial.
“There is absolutely no reason that private businesses should have their marketing campaigns subsidized by the federal government,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “Worse, there is no transparency in how Brand USA determines which companies are allowed to have their contributions matched under the $100 million cap, although it seems clear that Sen. Heller knows where some of it will go. Las Vegas is the most famous gambling and tourist attraction in the world’s richest nation. The city can pay for its own promotions.”
For attempting to force taxpayers to gamble on Sin City’s advertisements, and for trying to re-draw the border far from Mexico, Sen. Dean Heller is CAGW’s June 2013 Porker of the Month.