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Campaign finance and election reform bills win approval in assembly by deadline

By ThisIsReno

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Two bills that would close loopholes and increase transparency in Nevada’s election and campaign finance laws won approval in the Assembly today with no time to spare.

Secretary of State Ross Miller is seeking the bills restricting the use of multiple political action committees to bypass campaign contribution limits and requiring electronic filing of campaign contribution and expense reports by most candidates.

Today was the deadline for the bills to win Assembly approval or see no further consideration in the 2011 legislative session. They will now be considered by the Senate.

Assembly Bill 452 contains the provisions requiring most candidates for public office to file their campaign reports electronically so the data can be entered into a searchable database. The bill also requires the reports to be filed before early voting so voters can see who gave money to candidates and where they spent their funds.

Assembly Bill 81 contains a provision restricting the creation of political action committees to circumvent limits on how much money can be contributed to a campaign as is now being reviewed in Rory Reid’s failed gubernatorial bid.

Miller’s office is investigating Reid’s use of 90 shell political action committees his campaign established to funnel $750,000 into his race for Nevada governor. Reid has said the use of the multiple PACs was legal. The use of the PACs was first reported by political commentator Jon Ralston.

The section of the bill had been deleted by the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee after some lawmakers expressed concern that the language in the bill could be improperly applied to their caucus and leadership PACs as well.

New language that was acceptable to a majority of the Assembly membership was amended into the bill on the Assembly floor before the final vote sending the measure to the Senate.

Another section of the bill would allow for bigger financial penalties if a third-party group spends money in a Nevada campaign without filing the required disclosure information.

The proposed language is intended to clarify state law and allow Miller to count each activity, such as multiple ad buys, as separate violations that could bring civil penalties. The clarification would help ensure compliance with the reporting requirements.

“It’s always been our position that every TV buy was an actionable violation of the statute,” Miller said after the committee vote earlier this month. “We recognize that it could certainly be argued that, in the aggregate, all of those violations only constituted one violation.

“Obviously it is a poor policy because it would allow a significant out-of-state buy and somebody to say, ‘here is your $5,000 fine and that’s an acceptable cost of doing business for us,’ ” he said.

The bill passed on a 32-10 vote with the “no” votes from Republicans. Six Republicans voted for the measure.

AB452, which also contains a controversial provision requiring a two-year cooling off period before a former lawmaker could be paid to work as a lobbyist in the Legislature, passed on a 27-15 vote with a mix of Democrats and Republicans in support.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, an attorney, objected to the provision, saying it would prohibit him from representing a client in the Legislature if he left office.

Assemblyman William Horne confers with colleagues on the Assembly floor today/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

“I have a fundamental disagreement with some of my colleagues that you should prohibit someone from doing what they’re gainfully employed to do,” Horne said after the vote.

He said “it’s a fiction” to imagine that two years spent away from the Legislature would erase the relationships he has built as an Assemblyman.

But Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, said that the cooling-off period is all about public perception.

“We want to promote good governance and a process that is free from influence, even if it’s sometimes not,” she said.

Assemblyman Skip Daly, D-Sparks, was a lobbyist before he became a legislator. He also voted against the bill because he said it would restrict a citizen from doing part of a job if that job required lobbying at the Legislature.

He said it would have been better to establish a two-year cooling-off period for a “hired gun” who lobbies at the Legislature as a contract lobbyist.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, commented on the unusual votes: “I think people are just voting their conscience. … I really don’t think there’s a problem, but the public perceives a problem … For me, it was a matter of principle and earning the public’s trust.”

AB452 would require campaign contribution and expense reports to be filed four days before early voting and would be updated to reflect any additional contributions and expenses four days prior to the primary and general elections.

It would also make the Secretary of State’s office the central repository for the campaign reports for all elections, as well as for financial disclosure statements required of candidates and elected officials. These reports would also be filed electronically.

The provisions for electronic filing and earlier filing dates for the reports are being sought  by Miller who has said Nevada’s current reporting laws result in the state getting a failing grade on campaign transparency.

Nevada has consistently received poor grades for its transparency on election reform efforts, including an “F” in 2008 from the Campaign Disclosure Project.

Nevada News Bureau intern Andrew Doughman contributed to this report.