Friday, April 10, 2009 | 2:01 a.m.
Let me warn you upfront: Most of you will not immediately be interested in this topic, and that’s just the way the elected officials want it.
But you should be interested, so don’t go away just yet. Here’s why:
Money is not the mother’s milk of politics; it is a noxious potion that turns corrupt politicians into more corrupt politicians, that induces susceptible politicians to become unduly influenced politicians. It is like a polluting virus introduced into the stream, with the effect of the infection concomitant with the tolerance levels of those swimming in the body politic.
After decades of watching all of the attempts at campaign finance reform — strictures of all kinds from McCain-Feingold to caps of varying sizes — I have concluded that the only cure for the contribution virus is transparency. I have long advocated that disclosing contributions within a reasonable period — 48 hours, a few days? — and preferably on the Internet would do more than any single reform in healing a political system afflicted less by corruption than by subtle venality.
Secretary of State Ross Miller, like other chief elections officers before him, wants to fix — or at least begin to fix — a system that regularly lands Nevada in the cellar of transparency reporting groups. So he has proposed reforms that, while suffused with common sense and wisdom, are meeting resistance in the political cesspool known as the Legislative Building.
It is on these issues that even the most diligent and admirable members of the Gang of 63 lose any respect because their self-perpetuation gland seems to secrete an enzyme that turns them into an incumbent-protection cabal. And they are at it again.
Let me give you a couple of examples of what lawmakers seem to think is kosher behavior during campaigns:
Without disclosure until after it is too late to do anything, an incumbent can receive tens of thousands of dollars from those who stand to benefit the most from the election’s result. Don’t you think you should know if a labor organization or business entity is funneling tons of cash to a politician in the last week to pay for propaganda disseminated in mailboxes or on television?
Miller’s measure, Assembly Bill 82, would change that. It would force candidates to file within 48 hours contributions of $1,000 or more received close to an election. Frankly, I see no reason why that 48-hour rule should not be applied all year long. Can you imagine how behavior of contributors and recipients alike would change if such a law were in effect? Would local government officials take contributions in proximity to votes? Of course I am not naive. Crooks will always find a way — refusing to report contributions, for example. But there could be no better deterrent to bad behavior than this provision.
If candidates are not required to file their campaign reports electronically, it makes it much more difficult for the Fourth Estate or others to search the documents and report on what is there. And that’s just how the incumbents like it.
Miller’s legislation would force candidates to file electronically, which met with shrieks from lawmakers who spoke up for the Luddites out there and wailed that good people would not run.
“I don’t like to deter people from running,” said GOP Assemblyman James Settelmeyer of Gardnerville, where apparently there are no computers or Internet connections available.
And, yes, we should not deter good people from running by forcing candidates to adapt to reasonable transparency requirements. After all, if we can’t keep the quality level up to that of the current Mensa crew in the capital, what would happen to our fair state?
Ultimately, the Assembly panel agreed to the electronic filing recruitment, but not until 2011. By then, perhaps, rural Nevada will have discovered Wi-Fi.
Alas, the committee gutted the bill, removing the supposedly onerous disclosure provisions. And what Miller has proposed, among the reforms in AB82, doesn’t even address the pathetic campaign reporting requirements that allow candidates eight months of collecting donations before they have to file their first report. If you want to know the primary reason special interests hold sway and destructive laws are passed, this is it.
What lawmakers and other politicians are counting on is that you just don’t care about this abstruse stuff and that you haven’t even made it this far in the column. If you haven’t, and if you do nothing to pressure lawmakers to pass Miller’s reforms, they will win and you will lose.