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November 26, 2015

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Legislature 2013:

Campaign transparency bill passes, albeit a watered-down version


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Lobbyists stand in the balcony while taking in the Assembly Oath of Office on the first day of the 2013 legislative session Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 in Carson City.

Candidates for public office will face stricter scrutiny when reporting gifts they receive after the Assembly passed a campaign finance reform bill Friday, although some critics say the bill doesn’t go far enough to improve transparency.

Senate Bill 49 lays out more specific definitions about what constitutes a gift, or “item of value” in the bill’s parlance, and whom those gifts can be received from.

It also introduces five new required campaign financial disclosure reports — four in non-election years where previously there had been none and another after the general election — in addition to disclosing how much cash candidates and elected officials have in the bank.

James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, who heads the Assembly committee that took up the bill, called its passage — in a 36-5 vote — a “giant leap” in campaign transparency.

“The current lack of definitions in our statutes for donor gifts has led to inconsistent and spotty reporting,” he said. “The specificity in SB49 will go a long way to standardizing and improving financial disclosure at all levels of government.”

The bill was amended before passage for a second time Friday, drawing criticisms that it has been watered down from the original version proposed by Secretary of State Ross Miller, the state’s chief election officer.

The original bill required candidates to disclose any campaign contributions of greater than $1,000 within 72 hours of receiving the donation.

The version passed Friday raises that limit to $2,000 and requires the 72-hour disclosure only during early voting.

It also includes 17 exemptions for gifts, mostly food, drinks and trips received while acting in an official capacity, that are acceptable for candidates or elected officials to receive from lobbyists and other restricted donors, so long as they report them on their financial disclosure forms.

Although there’s still room to strengthen campaign transparency — including lowering the amount of a contribution that triggers disclosure and increasing the frequency of financial reports — Ohrenschall said the bill balances more stringent disclosure without putting an undue burden on candidates.

“There’s always more that could be done … there’s a lot of compromising that goes on. At some point you might feel, should any contribution be reported in 72 hours?” he said. “There are positives to that … the drawback to something like that is as you get into more and more minute requirements is it does become more difficult for someone who wants to get involved. It’s a trade-off. I think we’ve got a good balance here.”

After Friday’s passage, the bill will go back to the Senate, which previously approved it in April, to OK the amendment made by the Assembly.

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