Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2017

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memo from carson city:

Lobbyists sit through ethics training in Carson City

Some quick facts about lobbying the Nevada Legislature you might not know, as relayed during lobbyist training last week:

• It’s against the law for lobbyists to make false statements or “misrepresentations of facts” to a lawmaker.

• Lawmakers can’t ask to have a “young sexy assistant” bring up a bill. That could be sexual harassment.

• Lobbyists can’t just waltz into the bill drafting room, where legislative staff write the laws, as they did in past years. They have to get permission from a lawmaker first before helping draft the bill, legislative staff told lobbyists.

Lobbyists have always played an important, perhaps outsized role, in Nevada’s political process.

The justification goes like this: We’re a small state with a necessarily small group of politicos. Lawmakers are part time — they’re teachers and IT professionals and house painters and truck drivers. Meeting once every other year for 120 days, with few or no permanent staff to work on policy, lawmakers lean on the professional lobbyists who represent the state’s largest employers, industries and labor unions.

The mayor of Carson City, after all, is a respected veteran lobbyist.

For the first time, though, training in ethics and policy is mandated for the lobbyists who will descend on Carson City in February for the biennial romp through taxes, spending and state law.

So there the seasoned professionals were — Jim Wadhams, Ray Bacon, John Sande, Mike and Fred Hillerby, George Flint — sitting through a Lobbying 101 course last week in Carson City.

Some of the training by legislative staff was basic human resources, aimed at making the workplace comfortable for everyone working the session, often under high stress late into the night.

“It’s best not to give a massage if a legislator is tired,” explained Risa Lang, chief deputy counsel for the LCB, which staffs the legislative branch.

Also: “Spreading rumors can be hurtful.”

Veteran lobbyist John Pappageorge explained when he first got into lobbying decades ago, “my opinion of lobbyists was very low.”

But years later, he has found them to be “hard workers, dedicated to what we do" and people who "work hard to represent our clients.”

Despite what cynics might think, lying is a no-go in the business — even if you could ignore its illegality.

“You don’t stay around long,” Pappageorge said.

Ethics training aside, lobbyists have made an art of wining and dining lawmakers in a way that skirts many of the reporting requirements.

Lobbyists who buy a lawmaker any food or beverages must report the expense. Those reports are due every month.

But a review of lobbyist reports from 2011 show only a fraction of the actual cost of feting lawmakers at Carson City bars and restaurants.

Former Sen. Mike Schneider was, officially at least, the most expensive lawmaker in 2011. The Democratic businessman from Las Vegas, throughout his career, said he couldn’t be bought for a meal and his constituents didn’t give a darn about it. The lobbying reports reflected that. Lobbyists listed spending $1,078 on him during 2011. That’s three times more than was spent on any other lawmaker in 2011, at least according to the reports.

Most lobbyists, even the most glad-handing, list spending zero dollars on entertaining lawmakers, or a de minimis amount.

So how do lobbyists get around the reporting requirement?

One lobbyist explained the situation this way: A lawmaker and lobbyist go out, get a bottle or two or three of wine, a glass of brandy, a nice steak dinner. When the check comes, the lobbyist asks the lawmaker to chip in $10 or $20.

That keeps the lawmaker’s name off the report.

Another lobbyist confirmed the practice, but noted that often it’s the lawmaker who puts down a $5 or $10 bill after an expensive meal.

The maneuver around state law, of course, was not included in the official lobbyist orientation.

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