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Major campaign finance reform bill clears senate committee hurdle

By ThisIsReno

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A bill seeking major reforms to Nevada’s campaign finance laws won approval from a Senate panel today after controversial provisions requiring a two-year cooling off period from lobbying by former public officials were stripped from the measure.

Assembly Bill 452 was approved by the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee with Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, voting no.

The bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote. The bill has already been passed by the Assembly. If approved by the full Senate, the different versions of the bill will have to be reconciled between the two houses before it could go to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his review.

Sandoval has said he supports the idea of electronic filing of campaign reports.

The vote by the committee came one day before a deadline for action on most bills.

The bill sought by Secretary of State Ross Miller would require on-line filing of campaign contribution and expense reports by most candidates and require earlier reporting of the information so voters could review the data before casting their ballots.

Reports would 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 information would be maintained in a searchable database so the public could review the reports in a simple and comprehensive way.

In testimony before the panel earlier this session, Miller said: “A big part of the transparency we want to provide is letting voters know who is funding the campaigns. The reasons of course are obvious, and the need is equally obvious, even to those outside of Nevada.”

Miller said Nevada consistently receives an “F” grade from the Campaign Disclosure Project by the UCLA School of Law for the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws because of the lack of transparency.

Miller tried to get similar legislation through the 2009 session but a final version of the bill was not approved as time ran out.

The cooling off provisions in the bill, which would have prohibited a former lawmaker from lobbying the Legislature for pay for two years, were removed after concerns were expressed by Crystal Jackson, executive director of the Public Utilities Commission. The proposed cooling off provisions applied to PUC commissioners and others public officers as well.

Jackson said extending the current one-year cooling off period for the PUC to two years could make it difficult to recruit key staff.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, told the Senate panel that his committee could accept the removal of the cooling off provisions. There are so many other important provisions in the bill that the cooling off sections should not hold the measure up, he said.

The provisions, which were not sought by Miller, had already proved an issue for some lawmakers, including Assemblyman Horne, D-Las Vegas, an attorney, who objected to them in Assembly hearings, saying he would be prohibited from representing a client in the Legislature if he left office.

“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.