Las Vegas Sun

December 9, 2023

Despite glaring holes in election law, campaign finance slow to change

Ross Miller

Ross Miller

A candidate for governor created 91 political action committees to funnel money to his campaign. An online poker company, now under indictment, flew lawmakers to the Bahamas and London without any of the elected officials feeling the need to disclose the trip. And the same poker company spread around $300,000 in foreign campaign contributions to top state officials before introducing major legislation.

The high-profile cases have exposed glaring holes in the state’s election law, widely considered to be grossly lacking. But proposals in the 2011 Legislature to increase transparency are on uneasy footing, at best. And if lawmakers don’t reform campaign finance law this year, it’s fair to wonder if they ever will.

“Our campaign finance laws aren’t ranked last by every outside group without substantial reason,” Secretary of State Ross Miller said. “We’ve known about these problems for some time.”

Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, has proposed a bill to eliminate foreign campaign contributions, which is a violation of federal law but not specifically prohibited by state statute.

That bill is expected to pass unanimously thanks to the controversy surrounding PokerStars, an online poker company that was trying to get its business legalized in Nevada and attempted to aid that effort with trips and campaign donations.

But swift action on the foreign donations bill is the exception. Other measures to increase transparency are clinging to life.

Assembly Bill 452, sponsored by Miller, would require:

• Campaign contribution reports to be filed electronically, so they could then be searched. Many are handwritten and in unsearchable formats.

• The secretary of state would become the lone repository for all campaign reports. Some reports are filed with county election departments.

• Candidates would be required to file a report of contributions and expenses before early voting begins. About half of voters have cast ballots before the reports are due.

Assembly Democratic leadership added two provisions to the bill. The amendments strengthened the proposals, but also made them more controversial. The first requires a two-year cooling-off period for lawmakers pursuing work as lobbyists. The second mandates reporting of contributions and expenses of less than $100.

AB452 passed out of committee, 8-7.

Miller has two other campaign finance bills. One involves rules governing third-party expenditures, prompted by the creation of 91 political action committees by former gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid’s campaign to channel money to his campaign. But Miller and lawmakers are arguing about the language.

Other election reform bills have not been able to get a hearing.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, sponsored Senate Bill 206, which would require lobbyists to report their wining and dining of lawmakers between legislative sessions. Nevada law only requires lobbyists to disclose expenses during sessions, which occur for 120 days every other year.

Leslie said she had “no idea” if lawmakers are taking trips paid for by lobbyists. “No one knows,” she said. “That’s the point.”

As reported by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston, Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, traveled with Commerce Committee Chairman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, to London last year at PokerStars’ expense. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, also attended a conference in Nassau, Bahamas, paid for by PokerStars.

The company set up a political action committee in September that doled out $300,000 to lawmakers, including Miller, Horne, Atkinson, Horsford, Gov. Brian Sandoval and Reid.

Lawmakers said they planned to return the checks or donate the money to charity, although many said they were waiting on direction from their attorneys.

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