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August 20, 2019

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jon ralston:

A transparent guide to who owns City Hall

Much has been made — and rightly so — of the campaign finance reform passed by the 2011 Legislature.

The most significant change is an electronic database, which will finally allow the public to search for contributions and save curious media types (yes, I’m biased) a lot of time. Schemes such as Rory Reid’s sham PAC network will be easier to spot and other trickery will be harder to hide.

A victory for transparency indeed. But other phenomena remain equally … transparent.

Alas, no legislation can stop influence-purchasing — or at least the attempt — or perhaps they are only contributions for “good government.”

Cases in point are the recently filed final disclosure reports from candidates for the Las Vegas City Council. Rarely do we get a window into just who owns — or tries to own — City Hall and especially the practice of saying “welcome to the council” with financial gifts after the election is over.

Here are some highlights, thanks to the last reports from five out of seven members of the council (Steve Wolfson and Stavros Anthony were the only ones not on the ballot) that cover the period 10 days before the election until June 30:

• Carolyn Goodman: The new mayor raised an impressive $1.6 million for her campaign, $156,803 coming in the last period.

As you might expect, there were lots of late attempts to curry favor and significant numbers of welcome contributions well after she won. Station Casinos, which loaded up on her previously, gave Her Honor $10,000 three weeks after the election. If the council passes that new building wrap ordinance, can Station just get a permanent banner around City Hall?

Speaking of new City Hall owners, three days before the city announced Andrew Donner would save $7 million on his purchase of the government headquarters and a day before Zappos threatened to pull out of the deal, Donner gave $10,000 to the new mayor. Really, I don’t think she needed the encouragement to sign on.

Goodman also took in $8,000 the week before the balloting from the Davari brothers of Houston, who own strip clubs in Texas and here and went through a contentious licensing process during her husband’s reign. They have had run-ins with law enforcement in Texas, and Metro was not thrilled when they arrived 10 years ago, although Oscar Goodman told them, “I see no problem with the type of facility you contemplate.”

Treasures later employed their honors’ son Ross Goodman and then-Councilman Michael Mack, Donner’s brother-in-law. City Hall, where it’s all in the family.

• Steve Ross: The councilman, whose campaign for mayor never really existed, raised $45,500 in the period and $322,753 overall. Ross, facing yet another recall effort, took in $10,000 from ex-Mayor Oscar Goodman’s campaign well after the election — a large thank-you for abandoning his primary campaign against the new mayor and suddenly, inexplicably endorsing her.

Ross also took $15,000 from cab giant Frias, bundled through eight different contributions. Subtle.

• Ricki Barlow: The councilman who didn’t have a race raised $14,550 in the last period and $255,423 overall. This is one of the more transparent reports. Barlow received 15 contributions during the period and 10 were from the same overall entity, bundled through $1,000 checks after the election. Yes, the Frias folks do love their councilfolk. And it’s generally requited.

• Lois Tarkanian: The councilwoman, who did not have a credible opponent, took in $16,700 in the period and $150,031 overall. Almost a third of her money in the last period came from a $5,000 contribution from the omnipresent Station Casinos folks well after the election.

• Bob Coffin: Coffin, who defeated Adriana Martinez in one of the nastiest, mostly sub rosa races of the cycle, took in $50,625 during the period, and $274,447 in all.

Longtime local lobbyist Jay Brown gave Coffin $5,000 under his innocuously and misleadingly named Washington D.C. Investments LLC — unless, of course, Coffin told Brown he wants to run for Congress again. I have found that whatever the venue, Brown’s ROI is pretty high.

Developer/gambler Bill Walters must have had some good polling information in the race because he packaged four $5,000 contributions to Coffin five days before the balloting. He doesn’t do much gambling when it comes to local governments.

Coffin also took $10,000 from cab/strip club mogul Pete Eliades on June 2 and the ubiquitous Kaempfer Crowell folks welcomed him to the council well after the election with a $1,500 contribution. Coffin will be seeing a lot of them.

That’s just a sampling, folks. Judge for yourself. But you won’t see everything for quite some time. Why? Because the money that comes in after June 30 doesn’t have to be reported until next year.

Six months of hidden contributions. Now that’s transparent.

(You can download the reports at http://www.lasvegasnevada.gov/Elections/Election_2011.asp#)

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