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Assembly Republican leadership calls for more campaign finance transparency


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: The leader of the Assembly Republican Caucus today used a Tuesday reporting deadline for candidates running for election this year to announce several proposals to require more accountability and transparency in the financing of campaigns in Nevada.

“In order to help reduce the influence of money in Silver State politics and to empower the public with real-time information about campaign expenditures and contributions, I would propose to my fellow state lawmakers, as well as to Gov. Brian Sandoval, Secretary of State Ross Miller and other state officials, that we begin the 2013 Legislature with a serious commitment to put our Nevada election campaign house in order,” said Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno.

Among the proposals presented today at a press briefing at the state Capitol: more “real time” reporting of campaign contributions, particularly in the periods leading up to the primary and general elections; reporting of gifts, including travel, by lawmakers in-between legislative sessions; enhancing auditing capabilities to ensure compliance with campaign finance laws; and establishing a cooling off period before retired lawmakers can return to lobby the Legislature. Another proposal would require ending fund balance reports showing how much money incumbents have on hand after an election.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey discusses his campaign finance reform proposals with Assembly candidate David Espinosa, right, and Assemblyman Randy Kirner. Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“With so many outstanding individuals serving in the Nevada Legislature, I’m asking members of both parties to lead the way in establishing higher standards of public transparency and accountability,” he said.

Hickey was joined by Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, and Republican Assembly candidate David Espinosa, in calling for the Legislature to take up campaign finance reform as a priority in the 2013 session. A similar event was also scheduled for Las Vegas later today.

The proposals were first reported by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston on Sunday.

Hickey acknowledged that some progress was made in campaign finance reporting reforms in the 2011 session.

Bills sought by Miller now require electronic filing of campaign contribution and expense reports, and they will be filed Tuesday, well before the June 12 primary. The reports will be required to be updated before primary election day as well. The filings are also now more easily searched by the public.

But other efforts to make reforms, such as requiring the disclosure of trips paid for by lobbyists for lawmakers for “fact-finding” missions to such locations as London and the Bahamas, failed to see approval in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, Hickey said.

The trips cited by Hickey were paid for by PokerStars, a company that sought online gaming legislation in 2011. Three Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Steven Horsford and Assemblymen William Horne and Kelvin Atkinson, went on the trips. Founders of the company were later indicted by a federal grand jury for illegal gambling, among other charges.

There was also an effort by some Nevada lawmakers to require a two-year cooling off period from lobbying by former public officials, including lawmakers, but the provision was stripped from a campaign finance reform measure.

Kirner said Nevada ranked low in a national report released in March looking at state government transparency and accountability, making Nevada a high risk state for potential corruption. The ideas presented today should get bipartisan support, he said.

“And so these proposals, these new measures, I think, bring a sense of openness to the relationship between lobbyists and the Legislature, and presents a greater sense of accountability, which I think is in the interest of our citizens,” Kirner said.

Former state lawmaker and current lobbyist Jim Spinello, who works for R&R Partners, said anything the Legislature can do to increase transparency would be a positive development. Spinello, who served in the Assembly in from 1987 to 1990, said he tried to deal with the ending fund balances of candidates during his tenure without success.

“People have a right to know and should know how their elected officials are being influenced,” he said. “Anyone who says campaign contributions are not a form of influence would be kidding themselves.”

The technology available today makes such proposals as more frequent reporting of campaign contributions easily accomplished, Spinello said.

But campaign contribution limits to political parties and PACs could be more difficult with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizen United case, he said. The state of Montana is asking the court to reconsider aspects of its ruling, and 22 states, including Nevada, have joined in the request.

Geoffrey Lawrence with the Nevada Policy Research Institute, in a commentary published today, said increased lobbying and campaign finance transparency are badly needed.

The bill sponsored by then-Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, in 2011 that would have required lobbyists to report all spending on lawmakers, not just spending during a legislative session, passed the Senate but died in an Assembly committee without a vote, he said. It would have required reporting of trips like those paid for by PokerStars.

“Given the very recent history of apparent corruption in the legislative process, it’s imperative that lobbyist and campaign-finance reform be enacted to ensure greater transparency. SB 206 would have been a solid first step in that direction,” Lawrence said.

Hickey said he has briefed the Sandoval administration and Miller on his proposals, which he too said should receive bipartisan support. He has not yet discussed the ideas with Democratic lawmakers.

Sandoval said in a statement: “Increased transparency in government is good for the political process and should legislation be proposed, I look forward to working with the Legislature on meaningful reform.”

Hickey said other campaign-related ideas he would like to see discussed include moving the primary from June to a date closer to the November general election to reduce the length of the campaign season, and imposing limits on donations to candidates, political action committees and political parties.

“In shortening the length of the campaign season we might actually create an electorate that is actively engaged rather than being turned off and tuned out by the time November rolls around,” he said.

Audio clips:

Assemblyman Pat Hickey is calling on lawmakers to make campaign finance reform a priority in 2013:

052112Hickey1 :12 transparency and accountability.”

Hickey says a shorter campaign season might make for a more involved electorate:

052112Hickey2 :12 November rolls around.”

Assemblyman Randy Kirner says a recent study ranked Nevada low on transparency and accountability:

Kirner :22 of our citizens.”

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