Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2019

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In Nevada, strengthening ethics regulations is a worthy pursuit

On March 21, the Reno Gazette-Journal published a story raising questions about Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani’s expenditure of more than $1 million in campaign funds on services provided by her late husband’s political consulting firm.

Five days later, in what was obviously no coincidence, Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak unveiled a package of proposed ethics and transparency reforms that included a prohibition on payment by candidates to family members or their businesses.

He didn’t mention Giunchigliani, but you can be sure he wouldn’t object if Nevadans drew their own conclusions, as both Sisolak and Guinchigliani are seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

Competitive politics aside, however, Sisolak’s ideas deserve consideration in a state where transparency requirements and ethics laws are an unfunny joke. In addition to the ban on payments to family members, Sisolak proposed a requirement for candidates to report donations larger than $1,000 two weeks prior to elections and an upgrade to the Nevada Secretary of State’s campaign funding data and searchability.

All are strong ideas.

The ban on payments to family members would add clarity to a current state law barring candidates from overpaying their relatives or using campaign funds for personal expenses.

That law formed the crux of the Gazette-Journal’s story, which focused on payments made by Giunchigliani to the firm of her late husband, Gary Gray, from 2006 to 2014.

Giunchigliani told the paper she spent the money not for personal uses but mostly for advertising, as well as on consulting services, special events and other expenses. A spokeswoman for her campaign said Gray’s firm worked with several candidates and that Giunchigliani paid “the same rate other campaigns did.”

The RGJ said the situation raised questions among attorneys and political experts.

But given that the payments happened years ago, were apparently reported in full compliance with state law and have not resulted in any type of formal accusation, the point in raising them here isn’t to suggest Giunchigliani did anything wrong.

Rather, it’s to say that the law needs to be clarified and expanded, which Sisolak’s recommendation would do.

The proposal would apply not only to household members, but a candidate’s children living outside of the home, as well as siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

Setting aside the story about Giunchigliani, the state should do what it can to give donors confidence that their contributions are being used for any candidate’s campaign and not for personal expenses.

Sisolak’s proposals offer a step in the right direction on Nevada’s transparency and ethics regulations, areas in which the state is notoriously loose and weak. For proof, look no further than the Center for Public Integrity’s 2015 State Integrity Investigation, in which Nevada received an F. The investigation rated states in 13 categories, including electoral oversight and political financing, and Nevada ranked in the bottom half in all but two.

Since the investigation was conducted, Nevada lawmakers have made little progress in beefing up sunshine laws and ethics regulations.

That being the case, Sisolak’s proposal has merit.