SOS tries (again) to bring transparency to Nevada's laws

Courtesy AZ Capitol Times

Mention the phrase “campaign finance reform,” and the NyQuil lobby gets nervous.

Nothing puts folks to sleep faster than this concept, which is exactly what the elected elite wants and exactly why you should pry your eyes open. And Tuesday in the Legislative Building, where such notions go to die a quiet (usually) death, Secretary of State Ross Miller (again) will try to deliver a wake-up call to the Gang of 63.

Miller, like secretaries of state before him (Dean Heller was noteworthy), have tried to fix laws that make Nevada one of the least transparent and potentially (I’m in a generous mood) corrupt states in the U.S. Nevada has terrible disclosure requirements, allowing candidates and elected officials to hoard donations or months without disclosure. So Miller wants to fix that and other weaknesses with SB 49, which will have a hearing Tuesday in the upper house’s Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.

The bill has some provisions that no one would oppose unless:

A. You are an incumbent who cares mostly about re-election.                                        

B. A donor/lobbyist who cares mostly about keeping your contributions secret for as long as possible.

So, you see the problem as that universe encompasses pretty much the elected and un-elected folks who populate the Legislative Building in odd-numbered years.

I was heartened last year when Assembly Republican Leader Pat Hickey embraced a raft of reforms. Now, thanks to Miller, we’ll see about his follow-through and how much support he can garner.

To his credit, Hickey announced Monday he will introduce a bill to impose a one-year cooling-off period for lawmakers who want to become lobbyists. We’ll see how far that goes where lawmakers, including Majority Leader William Horne, have privately or publicly expressed opposition to postponing a future income stream.

But a cooling-off period is at least arguable – even some folks without a vested interest might assert you should not impair anyone’s ability to make a living. But what Miller is proposing Tuesday has provisions that have no other side unless you are part of the corrupt system and don’t want to tear it down for fear of losing your influence, elected or otherwise.

I continue to believe the most important reform is real-time campaign contribution reporting, which would eventually slow down the flow of money by making donors and recipients more wary of when they take money and how much. Miller’s bill says any contribution of $1,000 or more must be reported to the secretary of state within 72 hours.

Whatever arguments you hear from legislators – how onerous that is, the great imposition – are smoke screens. How can they argue with a straight face that the public should not know as soon as possible when a contribution is made and for how much?

They can’t, so they will create diversions. Mark my words. Other parts of Miller’s bill also should sail through the committee and the Legislature because they would make the system more transparent:

►Reporting how much a candidate has on hand, a glaring omission on current reports

►Stricter reporting and policing of gifts from lobbyists

►Defines what personal uses of campaign contributions are prohibited

One reason most readers might not take any of this seriously is because unless you are a political insider, you might find it hard to believe these loopholes exist. But they do, and their closure is long overdue.

So stay awake folks. Anyone who tries to kill this bill is interested only in perpetuating a corrupt system and is guilty of the kind of insidious, subtle corruption that is often invisible to the naked eye.

It’s time, to paraphrase Milton (unlike lawmakers, I disclose in a timely way), to make the darkness visible.