Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2017

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Sun Editorial:

Good government

Legislature should support law that would increase transparency

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Senate Bill 49 was intended to provide more transparency in state politics; it is legislation that should be widely supported.

A key feature of the original bill, which was offered by Secretary of State Ross Miller, required candidates to report campaign donations of $1,000 or more within 72 hours. It also would also tighten other reporting requirements and clarify the law regarding gifts given to state elected officials.

Such a bill would provide more transparency in government and help citizens understand who is influencing public policy. That is important because for years, Nevada has been ranked among the worst in the nation for its lax campaign-finance laws, and voters have seen numerous abuses of the system by elected officials.

But as political commentator Jon Ralston has reported on, Miller’s proposal hasn’t been embraced in the Legislature. Last week, the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee narrowly approved a revised version of the bill only after significant consternation and wrangling.

Ralston reported that, after a series of complaints from lawmakers, SB49 was amended to undercut key provisions. The changes include limiting the 72-hour reporting to early voting, a period of just a few weeks. Also, lawmakers doubled the amount of donations that would trigger reporting within 72 hours. The new version of the bill also would require reporting only after the donation has been deposited in a bank.

The amended bill gives candidates great leeway to game the system. For example, a candidate could take dozens of $1,999 donations or wait to deposit big donations to delay public disclosure until after an election.

So much for transparency.

Lawmakers complained that Miller’s original bill would burden people running for office and perhaps even keep good candidates from getting in a race. Others have dismissed this as a bill that people don’t care about.

They can’t be serious, can they?

If people don’t want to run for office because they have to report campaign donations, good. They shouldn’t run.

Given the abuses of public office in Nevada, it should be clear that more transparency is desperately needed. Voters want elected officials, i.e., public servants, to work for the benefit of their constituents, not just the donors. One way to make that happen is by letting the public see who’s giving to candidates.

And, how, exactly is more transparency, in the form of disclosing donations in a timely manner, a burden? If a candidate gets a check from a donor, either she, a volunteer or campaign manager will put it in the bank. And our guess is that if they’re reasonably smart, they do it within a day or two — especially if it’s $1,000 or more. And they surely document it, most likely on a computer, for their own records and the eventual campaign finance report.

So how hard would it be to take a few more minutes and upload the information to the secretary of state’s website?

Oh, right, not very hard at all. But there are lawmakers who complain that some candidates, especially third-party candidates and those in rural Nevada, might not be able to do this.

Well, maybe they don’t have a home or business computer. Or a laptop. Or an iPad. Or a smartphone. Or they can’t get to a public library that offers Internet access. Or they don’t have a friend or relative who could help. Or a campaign supporter or consultant who could do the job.

Our guess is those types of candidates, if they truly exist, probably won’t have much to report anyway.

The lack of trust in elected leaders and government isn’t abating, and the initial reaction to SB49 will only add to it because the arguments against transparency and good-government bills don’t pass the smell test.

The Legislature should do the right thing, restore the original provisions of the bill and pass SB49. It’s the right thing to do — maybe not for politicians with something to hide, but for the rest of us.

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