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July 22, 2014

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memo from carson city:

Lobbyists sit through ethics training in Carson City

Some quick facts about lobbying the Nevada Legislature you might not know, as relayed during lobbyist training last week:

• It’s against the law for lobbyists to make false statements or “misrepresentations of facts” to a lawmaker.

• Lawmakers can’t ask to have a “young sexy assistant” bring up a bill. That could be sexual harassment.

• Lobbyists can’t just waltz into the bill drafting room, where legislative staff write the laws, as they did in past years. They have to get permission from a lawmaker first before helping draft the bill, legislative staff told lobbyists.

Lobbyists have always played an important, perhaps outsized role, in Nevada’s political process.

The justification goes like this: We’re a small state with a necessarily small group of politicos. Lawmakers are part time — they’re teachers and IT professionals and house painters and truck drivers. Meeting once every other year for 120 days, with few or no permanent staff to work on policy, lawmakers lean on the professional lobbyists who represent the state’s largest employers, industries and labor unions.

The mayor of Carson City, after all, is a respected veteran lobbyist.

For the first time, though, training in ethics and policy is mandated for the lobbyists who will descend on Carson City in February for the biennial romp through taxes, spending and state law.

So there the seasoned professionals were — Jim Wadhams, Ray Bacon, John Sande, Mike and Fred Hillerby, George Flint — sitting through a Lobbying 101 course last week in Carson City.

Some of the training by legislative staff was basic human resources, aimed at making the workplace comfortable for everyone working the session, often under high stress late into the night.

“It’s best not to give a massage if a legislator is tired,” explained Risa Lang, chief deputy counsel for the LCB, which staffs the legislative branch.

Also: “Spreading rumors can be hurtful.”

Veteran lobbyist John Pappageorge explained when he first got into lobbying decades ago, “my opinion of lobbyists was very low.”

But years later, he has found them to be “hard workers, dedicated to what we do" and people who "work hard to represent our clients.”

Despite what cynics might think, lying is a no-go in the business — even if you could ignore its illegality.

“You don’t stay around long,” Pappageorge said.

Ethics training aside, lobbyists have made an art of wining and dining lawmakers in a way that skirts many of the reporting requirements.

Lobbyists who buy a lawmaker any food or beverages must report the expense. Those reports are due every month.

But a review of lobbyist reports from 2011 show only a fraction of the actual cost of feting lawmakers at Carson City bars and restaurants.

Former Sen. Mike Schneider was, officially at least, the most expensive lawmaker in 2011. The Democratic businessman from Las Vegas, throughout his career, said he couldn’t be bought for a meal and his constituents didn’t give a darn about it. The lobbying reports reflected that. Lobbyists listed spending $1,078 on him during 2011. That’s three times more than was spent on any other lawmaker in 2011, at least according to the reports.

Most lobbyists, even the most glad-handing, list spending zero dollars on entertaining lawmakers, or a de minimis amount.

So how do lobbyists get around the reporting requirement?

One lobbyist explained the situation this way: A lawmaker and lobbyist go out, get a bottle or two or three of wine, a glass of brandy, a nice steak dinner. When the check comes, the lobbyist asks the lawmaker to chip in $10 or $20.

That keeps the lawmaker’s name off the report.

Another lobbyist confirmed the practice, but noted that often it’s the lawmaker who puts down a $5 or $10 bill after an expensive meal.

The maneuver around state law, of course, was not included in the official lobbyist orientation.

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  1. It's a shame the elected officials do not have to live by real ethics, only criminal ethics.

  2. No one actually enforces these rules. NPRI has been "making false statements or "misrepresentations of facts" to a lawmakers" for years with absolutely no repercussions.

  3. NPRI...No Practical Right Information on just about everything. The legislators need to listen to the opposite side of what they are talking about and there is where the right information is.

  4. I'm picturing the lobbyists giving this class a dismissive wanking motion. What a waste of time.

  5. I doubt these clown-shoes will learn anything. Until they are held morally, and legally, accountable for their disservice and abuse of public office, they'll just laugh this thing off.

  6. Not a clue on ethics..... How can they clue in? State agencies think it's OK and actually ask for references--from the sex partners of applicants. Happens all the time in State agencies. Neither applicants nor agency administrators have a clue that this is WRONG. Do you really think they'll say something negative about the current or former roomie--especially since some of the administrators are trying to work out divorce / separation agreements and would prefer the former roomie had lots of income so the administrator doesn't have to pay "spousal" maintenance or share his/her retirement benefits. And then there are the "political" appointments that so often are the close personal friends of influential Nevadans such as friends of politicians.

  7. I guess someone has to stand up for these guys...and a few gals. If you seek to influence public policy and legislation they you are a lobbyist...so you have a wide range from professionals with respected firms and clients to students to OWS and Tea Party types. The professionals are fine, they know that misinformation, bribery, hookers, whatever damage their and their clients' credibility. Professional lobbying is a purchased service and the good ones stay bought. In my experience in legislatures in three western states it is the amateurs and ideologues who are the most troublesome. They bring their biases to the table, they believe in only themselves and their cause not understanding that politics involves compromise and they have no regard for simple good manners.