U.S. senator refuses to say if he was comped to NASCAR; speedway offered to comp most every elected

During the 2013 Legislature, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway presented a 60-page document to lawmakers.

The goal was simple: Maintain an exemption from a Live Entertainment Tax as Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick sought to close loopholes.  The message was dire: The tax will hit the fans, who will be upset, and the race will be jeopardized.

The humanity!

The bill died. The race was saved. The fans came back last weekend.

I thought of all this as lawmakers and Sen. Dean Heller began tweeting pictures of themselves cavorting at this weekend’s festivities. I wondered, as Kirkpatrick has vowed to pass the broader admissions tax in her final session next year, including closing a loophole for the speedway that she says could cost it $10 million annually,  if any of these elected officials who might be deciding on the tax had paid for their tickets. And I also marveled at how these car racing enthusaists with the honorifics were treated as the special people they are -- just as they are in other venues -- and how disclosure laws, in these cases, just don't cut it.

Turns out the speedway folks offer comps to lawmakers every year for NASCAR. It’s all perfectly legal, and if they called it a fact-finding mission, they wouldn't even have to report it. Maybe North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee could say he was there looking for opinions on how to save his city.

But have any of these folks ever considered that they are not being invited because of their scintillating personalities but because of the titles? Or that it’s quite unseemly to be strutting around the speedway with their super-access  passes while the hoi polloi has to scrape for tickets and actually buy their own food?

Not sure if a helicopter ride to beat the traffic was part of the deal.

As you can see on the invite attached here, the speedway provided the statutory disclosure guidelines when inviting elected officials and a guest. And, conveniently, the price of the speedway excursion is less than the $200 threshold for reporting. (If you bring a spouse or a date or a kid or a friend, you are over, though.) Not a bad deal to be in owner Bruton Smith's suite.

Secretary of State Ross Miller repeatedly has tried to change these laws, only to be thwarted by....the elected folks invited to events such as NASCAR. Or as potential future Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske likes to say, no one cares about these laws except the media and her political opponents.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell informed me that he invited  "both U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, state controller, all state Assembly and Senate, all county commissioners, all planning commission, Las Vegas mayor, North Las Vegas mayor, City of Las Vegas council, Clark County sheriff."

Why? Because they are a lot of fun in a suite.

Powell told me those who attended either Saturday or Sunday were: Heller, state Sens. Mark Hutchison, Michael Roberson and Ben Kieckhefer; Assemblymen Richard Carrillo, John Hambrick and James Oscarson; Las Vegas Councilmen Bob Coffin and Stavros Anthony; and Lee.

I saw that Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins also was there. Collins told me he has been a guest of Smith's in the past, but was in the convention authority booth because he chairs that board.

Heller’s office did not return inquiries about whether he paid his way. He tweeted about it, though, and his three amigos are those state senators.

They obtained their tickets from consultant Mike Slanker, who does some work for the speedway and also happens to be overseeing Hutchison’s lieutenant governor campaign and Brian Sandoval’s non-race for re-election. I’m told all three state senators have decided to reimburse for the cost of the tickets. Now, that is.

Oscarson told me he paid in advance, as did Hambrick. And Sue Lowden, Hutchison’s foe in the primary, also was hosted by Smith. Nevada is nothing if not cozy.

We can argue whether $150 is a fair estimate of the value. But the fact that these elected officials see no problem getting special treatment from the speedway is, while not shocking, still revolting. Think about it – and I know this is not an isolated example: If you knew a corporate entity had a pending tax issue, or might have one in the future, would you accept a gift, even if you reported it?

If you answered yes, I have good news for you: There are four days left to file; you’ll fit right in.

(Image from thefinaser.com.)