Tuesday, May 24, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Nevada’s campaign finance reporting laws have, for years, received poor marks from watchdog groups — and for good reason. The laws provide little transparency for voters.
Campaign finance reports are supposed to give voters confidence in the political system, allowing people to see who is giving money to candidates, but Nevada’s laws don’t do much to help.
Under current law, a candidate for office is required to file a campaign finance report listing donations and expenses at the beginning of the year and then just a week before Election Day in both the primary and general elections. But the report doesn’t have to actually be turned in a week before the election — it just has to be postmarked by that date.
Once they arrive, elections officials post them online, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy for voters. First, voters have to know where to look. Depending on the race, reports may be filed with a city, a county or the state. Once voters find the reports, they have to go through them electronically a page at a time — computerized searches, such as those used in databases, don’t work. And the reports aren’t always easy to read — the law allows them to be handwritten.
In years past, legislation pushed by state election officials to change the laws have failed. This year, Secretary of State Ross Miller is again making his case to the Legislature, and this year, he’s getting a more receptive audience.
Assembly Bill 452, which would make significant changes to the law, passed the Assembly last month on a 27-15 vote, and last week, it received the approval of the Senate’s Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. It now will go to the full Senate.
Overall, AB452 is a good bill, requiring electronic filing of campaign reports. It would also consolidate all of the reports in the secretary of state’s office, making the state a central clearinghouse of campaign information.
The legislation would require candidates to file four days before early voting starts and four days before Election Day in both primary and general elections. Candidates, political action groups, independent campaigns, recall committees and legal defense funds would all be subject to the legislation’s requirements.
In the past, lawmakers have complained about mandating that candidates use technology and worried about the amount of time they would spend putting information into a computer. AB452 allows candidates and groups who don’t have access to proper technology to get a waiver to file paper copies of their reports. And, besides, how hard can it be to take a minute or two and plug that information into a computer? Many candidates already use computers to keep an accounting of their finances and prepare their required reports. This bill wouldn’t be a burden in any way.
The bottom line is that the voters should know who is funding political campaigns, and this legislation would give people much better — and much more timely — information. The electronic reports would also make it easier for people to look through the reports and find out who is funding a political campaign.
This is common-sense legislation that should be approved.