Las Vegas Sun

November 25, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Lawmakers are transparent in their opposition to transparency

It’s been a month since I suggested it might be a good idea to get state lawmakers on the record supporting Assemblyman Pat Hickey’s long-overdue transparency reforms.

The relative silence has been telling and depressing. Most lawmakers have not even responded to my Transparency Test, and those who have offered up “sounds good in concept” or “devil in the details” pabulum so they would not have to commit to something that might actually reduce the number of people who think they are a bunch of corrupt boobs.

This is the definition of insanity. I should not be surprised, but I am.

Surprised that their instincts would not be to embrace the visionary package Hickey has presented. Surprised that removing the cloak from an incestuous, corrupt system is not preferable to maintaining the incestuous, corrupt system. Surprised that partisanship and pettiness trumps progressive policy (you know, just like a regular legislative session).

For those of you whose eyes are glazing over, whose cynicism about the Legislature is only matched by your indifference to systemic reform, bear with me. Really, this time it will be different. Hope is alive. Trust me. Believe.

And if that doesn’t sway you, maybe this will: Every single lawmaker who blocks a package that could transform the system must be marked with a scarlet “I” for incest, displaying tacit support of a system that encourages incumbents to become too cozy with special interests and lobbyists and allows a perverse “Animal Farm”-like atmosphere where you can’t tell the pigs from the ... pigs.

I last wrote about the issue May 23, and in the ensuing four weeks, I have received responses from about a fourth of the Gang of 63. You can see the results here.

I was stunned by how many of them — and those I consider committed, smart lawmakers — were so noncommittal or so tepid. (Next phase: getting all the primary winners for legislative races on the record.) In case you’ve forgotten, here are the core concepts Hickey, the Assembly GOP leader, has proposed:

• Real-time reporting of campaign contributions;

• Require candidates to report how much they have on hand after the election;

• Reporting during the interim of lobbyists and donors giving gifts to lawmakers;

• Giving the secretary of state more power to audit the reports; and

• A cooling-off period for legislators before they can become lobbyists.

A few wondered about the funding for the auditing function, being the fiscal conservatives they all are. But almost none — Assemblyman Tick Segerblom was the exception — offered full-throated, “whatever it takes to get it done” answers when I asked. The overwhelming majority did not even acknowledge the solicitation to respond to the concepts.

I get it. It’s campaign season. Busy time. Need to get money from lobbyists and special interests, who might not like the idea of transparency as much as a do-gooder such as Hickey or the salivating jackals of the Fourth Estate. So why rock the boat, especially when it is sailing them to re-election or through stormy seas in a competitive district?

Fine. But I don’t relent that easily — and I hope Hickey, who has promised to introduce his package early in the Legislature so it is not caught up in late-session maelstrom, does not, either.

Amid all the equivocating and whining is a simple fact that I shall keep repeating: There is not one good reason to oppose any of these ideas. Putting contributions on the web in real (or close to real) time, ensuring we always know how much a candidate has on hand, illuminating just what lobbyists do during the off-season, giving the secretary of state authority and staff to proactively check out suspicious reports and not allowing lawmakers to cash in on their service — these are all notions that would receive overwhelming majorities if the public had a vote. (Please, Gang of 63, do not take that as a threat.)

These ideas are not window dressing. Once they are enacted, they would have an immediate impact, which is what so many of these folks fear.

The amount of money, the amount of lobbyist inducements, the number of ex-lawmaker/lobbyists would all be reduced, and that would make the process better.

You can’t fix all that ails the primitive Nevada system with what Hickey has proposed. Some of the incest, as my colleague J, Patrick Coolican reminded us this week will remain. (Hello, full-time Legislature. I know, I know — topic for another day.)

But opening up the system and disinfecting it will result in better people running, better people serving and better laws passing. I know: You think I am insane.

So let me ask you a question: If you remain skeptical that Hickey’s reforms could work and that The Transparency Test is a good idea, how could it be worse?

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