Lawmakers move to gut bill, keep corruption gravy train going

On Deadline Day in the capital, lawmakers burned up Twitter congratulating themselves for their bills passing and thanking colleagues for their support.

Strangely, none of them tweeted about a campaign finance transparency bill, watered-down weeks ago in the Senate and shredded Friday in the Assembly with an amendment (agreed to on a voice vote by all) that is designed to accomplish one thing: Keep the lobbyist/special interest favor train chugging along.

It was nothing short of grotesque to hear Legislative Operations and Elections Chairman James Ohrenschall give a brief, innocuous-sounding description (“It eliminates some reporting requirements….”) of the amendment, which teems with self-serving additions (gift carve-outs) and strike-throughs of language in the original bill.

Senate Bill 49 has mutated from a stellar reform package proposed by Secretary of State Ross Miller, which had real-time donation reporting and a gift ban, to a Swiss cheese mess, a guidebook for the corrupt to continue being corrupted. (Just look at all the changes in the amendment linked here that lawmakers have made to the original. It is astonishing.)

I have been one who has argued through the years that the Gang of 63 should be paid more and get additional staff to encourage better people to run and to diminish the influence of special interests. As Slate’s Matt Yglesias put it, state lawmakers often are hampered by “low pay, part-time schedules, nearly non-existent staff budgets, and term limits (that) all tend to conspire to leave politicians dangerously dependent on the expertise of lobbyists.”

Indeed. But when they conspire to construct such an abomination as SB 49 to compensate – literally! – for the universe in which they must serve, my sympathy dissipates.

I can’t wait to hear their spin, too: “We lowered the gift reporting threshold to $50 for sporting events and concerts and we now have to report quarterly in the off years. We are reformers!”


What they won’t say is that they had to put in a special section with 17 exceptions to gift acceptance (Look in section 30 in the linked amendment.) and killed Miller’s attempt to have more frequent campaign money donations every year. Yes, the reporting is better than what Nevada has now, but that’s like saying having breast cancer is better than having cervical cancer.

This is an act bereft of shame by folks who like to be wined and dined, who like to go to fights and car races and shows on the special interest dime. This is a bill that institutionalizes the soft corruption that has always suffused Carson City.

How do they get away with it? Because they know the sad truth – that few people outside of apoplectic pundits care about campaign transparency.

I can only hope that they get their just desserts and that Gov. Brian Sandoval, as one insider suggested in an email, vetoes the bill: “It's amazing how politically tone deaf this Legislature has been. Sandoval will veto (SB)49, point finger at self-serving Legislature and a bill that enables corruption. SOS will take more aggressive stance on existing law. It's like shooting fish in a barrel for the executive branch, and particularly the Gov.”

I would love to read that veto message. Sadly, the Gang of 63 would probably shrug and collectively murmur, “Well, at least we have the status quo back.”

And still, no one would care.

(Graphic from