The Las Vegas Sun reports Greg Ferraro represented Apple and was an intricate player in putting together meetings between company representatives and state and local officials during negotiations that netted the company $89 million in tax abatements.
A close friend of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, the newspaper reports Ferraro also has a $200-an-hour public relations contract with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the core agency that negotiated the Apple deal.
Although the client roster for Ferraro’s company includes the state and Apple, he said he personally represented only Apple during the secret talks that were approved by the local governments in June.
“There’s no way I saw, or was worried about, a conflict in that intersection,” he told the newspaper. Ferraro spoke on behalf of Apple during the meeting when the Washoe County Commission approved its share of tax breaks for the high tech firm.
Apple pledged a $1 billion investment in the region over 10 years, with plans to build a 350-acre data center east of Sparks to house servers. The company also said it will build a purchasing and business center in a blighted area near downtown Reno. Analysts estimate the projects will bring about $340 million in economic activity to the area over the next decade.
Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said Ferraro represented only Apple, not the state, in the deal that lured the iconic technology company to Nevada.
A state board approved a $200-an-hour contract with the Ferraro Group for public relations and communications in 2009, before Sandoval was elected governor. The contract was extended in 2011 for another two years. The almost four-year contract, in total, is capped at $180,000.
The Ferraro Group contract with the state calls for it to help the state develop its message for the public. The group has sent out press releases — including the one that touted the deal with Apple.
“What they do is public relations and communication,” Hill said. “What they don’t do, ever, is get involved in any way, shape or form in any abatement process we have going on.”
Nevada, in many ways, is a small state, with a small number of influential lobbyists who also often serve as political advisers and campaign managers. Ferraro is one of those lobbyists whose roles often intersect with state government and politics.
But some critics of tax abatements for private companies said Ferraro’s dual role is a confirmation that such deals often are seen as “juice jobs,” requiring businesses to hire connected lobbyists.
“When you provide tax benefits to not everyone, but to select companies, generally the ones that benefit are those companies that are most influential with the government,” said Joe Henchman, a vice president with the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C.
The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, has criticized Sandoval’s push toward greater economic development authority because it could lead to the government “picking winners and losers.”
“If you’re contracting with an agency and lobbying them at the same time, that’s a pretty clear conflict,” said Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy public policy director with the research institute.
Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, has wondered how good the Apple deal is for Nevada after nearly $90 million in tax revenue is forgiven over 10 years. He also criticized the seemingly sudden process under which it became public just hours before the Washoe County Commission considered and approved the deal.
Fulkerson said Ferraro’s role “demonstrates the incestuous nature of Nevada politics and the role that lobbyists play in shaping public policy for the profit of their own clients.”
“Sometimes that’s in conflict with the best interest of the state. Sometimes it isn’t in the best interest of the state.”