Las Vegas Sun

May 30, 2024

Jon Ralston:

Assembly leader to propose political reform package

Pat Hickey is about to become a pariah.

And unless you are a member of the Carson City club, you should applaud what the Reno Republican Assembly leader is preparing to do. This week, as campaign contribution reports are due, Hickey, sources confirm, will propose the most sweeping and potentially effective reform package this state has seen.

Before your eyes glaze over at the topic, hold on: What Hickey is suggesting would change the nature of the state’s political system, resulting in the kind of transparency that everyone would desire except for two groups — those who receive and those who give.

Sources tell me Hickey’s package has several prongs:

• Real-time reporting of campaign contributions;

• Require candidates to report how much they have on hand after the election;

• Reporting during the interim of lobbyists and donors giving gifts to lawmakers;

• Giving the secretary of state more power to audit the reports;

• A cooling-off period for legislators before they can become lobbyists.

I know what you’re thinking: What? Those aren’t in the law already?


Before delving into each point, let me mull substantive arguments against any of what Hickey will proffer. Give me a minute. Didn’t even take that long.

There are no good reasons to oppose these reforms, unless you are a lawmaker who loves taking undisclosed money for as long as you can, a donor who benefits from the distance between disclosures or a lobbyist who would rather operate in the darkness.

I have long suggested that real-time reporting — within a day or two on the Internet in almost all cases — would be the most salutary law that could be passed to improve the political system. Indeed, even if campaign limits didn’t exist, forcing elected officials (and candidates) to report donations immediately on the Internet would discourage them from taking as much and donors from giving as much.

This would be even truer for local government officials, who, unlike the 120-day lawmakers, aren’t prohibited from taking contributions while they vote. (And lawmakers are allowed to take money when they are setting the agendas for the next session on constitutionally questionable interim committees.)

Do you think a county commissioner would take huge sums from developers when they have to vote on a project the next week, or month, or even six months hence? I doubt it. Nor would the developer be so eager to lavish money and gifts if they would immediately be reported.

Now, there are only three reporting periods a year and candidates go for many months without having to disclose anything. What good reason would there be not to make it real-time, or as close as possible? I’m waiting.

Hickey also reportedly will seize on what has long frustrated reporters — it’s no coincidence the assemblyman is a former newsman — that the reporting requirements do not mandate that those running for office have to report their cash on hand. (They do in federal races.) Combine that reform with more auditing powers (and the requisite personnel) for the secretary of state, and a lot more donations and expenses would be disclosed — or disappear.

Any good arguments against this from anyone without an elected title, a large bankroll or lobbying clients? I thought not.

As for the lobbying reform ideas Hickey will propose, they, too, should be obvious. When he introduced a cooling-off period last session, Secretary of State Ross Miller was set upon by some in the Gang of 63 like a pack of dogs that had their kibble threatened. Assemblyman William Horne all but said during a legislative hearing that he planned to come back and lobby his friends after he had finished his legislative career — the would-be speaker made the comments soon after he returned from a junket to London paid for by PokerStars.

What argument is there against such a provision, except from those who want to cash in on their legislative tenure? Or against letting the public know what inducements lobbyists may be giving lawmakers before, during and after the 120 days?

I’m listening.

I hope Hickey resists the temptation this week for the easy partisan shots, pointing out that the recent PokerStars scandal and the expense-reporting kerfuffle were Democratic problems. Republicans have had their share in the past, and if you look at the list of former lawmakers turned lobbyists, there are plenty of elephants with the donkeys.

If this is more than just campaign-season talk and he plans to follow through and strongly advocate for this package, Hickey will make a lot of enemies by the time he returns to Carson City in 2013. Maybe he’s even putting his leadership slot in jeopardy.

I hope not because this is the first real leadership we have seen in Carson City in a long, long time.

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