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Major campaign finance reform bills pass Senate, move closer to final approval

By ThisIsReno

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau:  Two major bills seeking reforms to and transparency in Nevada’s campaign finance laws won approval in the Senate today and now must await review in the Assembly before they can go to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his consideration.

The Senate approved amended versions of Assembly Bills 81 and 452 on the final day for action on policy bills in the Legislature. Lawmakers have a week remaining to finish their business.

The third major reform measure sought by Secretary of State Ross Miller, Assembly Bill 82, has already passed both houses of the Legislature but also awaits final legislative action.

The Assembly must still act on amendments to all three of the measures added by the Senate before the bills can go to the governor.

The vote on AB81 could spell trouble for its future, however. It passed on a party-line, 11-10 vote with Republicans opposed.

The vote on AB452 was 14-7, but was brought back for reconsideration on a second vote where it picked up unanimous support in the Senate.

There was no debate on the measures before the votes, which occurred during two different floor sessions during a long day at the Legislature.

Miller said he was pleased with the progress of the legislation, and that chances are good for major campaign finance reform this session.

“All three bills that deal with campaign finance transparency and election reform have passed both houses, so we just need to have them reconciled in the Assembly and then eventually have the governor sign them, so, very, very promising,” he said. “We won’t count our chickens before they are hatched, but a very good sign.

“I think collectively taken together together this will take a substantial step forward in terms of campaign finance and election reform,” Miller said. “It has been clear for a long time that Nevadans deserve better. This will dramatically improve Nevada’s elections statutes.”

AB81 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 failed race for Nevada governor. Reid has said the use of the multiple PACs was legal.

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.

AB452 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.”

A provision in the bill requiring a two-year cooling-off period for former lawmakers to lobby the Legislature was deleted by the Senate Operations and Elections Committee. The provision, which also applied to other public officers, was seen as problematic for the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.

The prohibition had been sought by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Assembly Legislative Affairs and Operations Committee, supported the deletion in the Senate committee hearing, saying other sections of the measure were too important to lose.

AB82, which would allow a county to establish an electronic voter registration system, was amended to include a provision prohibiting candidates from accepting campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

The amendment was sought by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in response to a controversy over a separate bill seeking to legalize Internet poker in Nevada. Several lawmakers received contributions from PokerStars, the foreign-based company seeking the measure. Most lawmakers receiving the contributions said they were unaware the company, based in the Isle of Man, was foreign.

Federal law prohibits contributions from foreign nationals, but Nevada’s law was not clear on the issue.

Audio clips:

Ross Miller says opportunity for campaign finance reform looks good in 2011 legislative session:

053011Miller1 :24 very good sign.”

Miller says three measures are a major step forward for transparency in Nevada’s election processes:

053011Miller2 :16 Nevada’s elections statutes.”