Las Vegas Sun

October 27, 2016

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Lawmakers fined for keeping campaign-fund expenditures secret

Seven Assembly Democrats who did not report all of their campaign expenses have been fined $150 for violating state campaign finance laws, Secretary of State Ross Miller said Wednesday.

Democrats including Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, who is facing a difficult re-election campaign this year, failed to report expenses related to their public office, such as rent in Carson City and travel to professional conferences.

They decided against reporting those expenses after receiving advice from their private lawyer, Bradley Schrager, who told them they only had to report expenses directly related to their election efforts.

Miller, who is in charge of enforcing campaign finance laws, said state law requires the reporting of all money spent from a campaign fund.

“Despite the fact they relied on advice from an attorney, it’s a violation, nonetheless,” Miller said. “So we’re imposing a civil fine of $150.”

The seven lawmakers include Assembly members Marilyn Dondero-Loop, Peggy Pierce and Lucy Flores from Las Vegas; David Bobzien from Reno; and Skip Daly and Debbie Smith from Sparks.

In all, the lawmakers kept secret nearly $45,000 in expenses. While Miller did not dispute the legality of the expenses, he said they should have been reported.

The unreported expenses were for such things as rent in Carson City, electronics, house cleaning and supplies, groceries, lunches and dinners at Carson City restaurants, and even bottled water.

After the Sun reported three lawmakers had failed to report all of their expenses, all seven filed amended reports detailing the money they had originally kept secret.

Miller said the lawmakers’ voluntary disclosure of the expenses after the Sun report mitigated the violation.

“It’s possible we never would have found out the illegalities here” if the lawmakers hadn’t admitted they failed to disclose the expenses, he said.

By statute, Miller’s office can assess up to a $5,000 fine. He said the $150 fine is consistent with similar cases in the past.

In 2011, the recall campaign against Las Vegas Councilman Steve Ross was fined $500 for failing to disclose an in-kind contribution, and in 2010, a Carson City sheriff candidate was fined $250 for the same violation.

In 2006, Republican treasurer candidate Mark DeStefano was not fined after he filed an amended report fixing problems with non-existent addresses listed on his report. State Sen. Steven Horsford also was not fined after he reported accepting $1,000 in anonymous contributions in 2005.

Miller, a Democrat, was elected in 2006.

Of the seven lawmakers, only Smith responded to a request for comment.

“I have received the secretary of state’s letter,” she said. “I respect his ruling and will promptly comply.”

Smith said she and other lawmakers did not include the expenses on their original reports because of an honest disagreement over how to interpret the law. Smith did not report $14,697 in expenses.

Conklin, whose district lost its Democratic majority through redistricting, faces Republican newcomer Wes Duncan, an Iraq War veteran who helped prosecute terrorists during his time in the Air Force.

Conklin is considered next in line to become speaker. He failed to report $2,879 in expenses.

Miller said the seven lawmakers have agreed to pay the fine.

Although lawmakers used campaign funds to buy everything from office snacks to cleaning supplies, Miller said they won’t be able to use them to pay the $150 fine.

“That has to be personal money,” Miller said.

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