Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thanks, Pat Hickey... But Where Were You Last Year?

How many times have we talked about the endless culture of corruption in Carson City? And how many times have we suffered in agony as politicians and media pundits played petty blame games while ignoring the real solution to this problem? Nevada has endured an ongoing merry-go-round of corruption in state government since... Well, really since we first became a state!

So are we now ready for real change? And will this change be led by a conservative Republican who's next in line to lead the Assembly Republican Caucus next year? This just seems too good to be true.

Assembly Republican leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, made swings in Carson City and Las Vegas on Monday, touting his ideas to beef up campaign finance reporting requirements.

Flanked by Assembly Republicans and candidates for office, he pitched five bullet points that he said should be a top priority when the Legislature next meets in 2013, including reporting contributions in real time, requiring candidates to report ending fund balances, and reporting trips and gifts from lobbyists and donors when the Legislature is not in session.

But many of the ideas have been proposed before, only to die with little evidence of who did the deed.

While the Legislature passed reform last year that requires electronic filing and allows reports to be searched — what Miller called “the most significant campaign finance reforms passed in state history" — lawmakers shied away from stiffer measures.

This really does look like a great idea and a nice way to bring some real campaign finance reform to Nevada. So yes, I appreciate Pat Hickey's proposal and his newfound zeal to change the way this state is governed. And yes, I really do mean it.

However, I must still ask this: Why now? Why is Pat Hickey doing this now? Last I checked, the Legislature is not in session.

And as Former Senator and current Senate candidate Sheila Leslie noted in Anjeanette Damon's Sun article today, this is not the first time that the Legislature tried to tackle campaign finance reform.

“People in the system like the system the way it is,” Leslie, the bill’s sponsor, said Monday. “They like the status quo. They don’t see the need to change it.”

She added that, on the Assembly side, neither Republican nor Democratic leadership were helpful in pushing her bill for a vote.

“The animosity toward the bill came from both sides,” she said. “There was equal opportunity hostility to the bill.”

She called Assembly Republicans bringing forward this issue now “a little hypocritical” but said, “I welcome them to the transparency bandwagon.”

Sheila Leslie was referring to SB 206, her bill which would have required lobbyists to file reports on lobbying activity occurring when the Legislature is not in session. It actually passed unanimously in the Senate. But for some reason, it died in the Assembly. I wonder why?

Here's a hint: Take a look at the minutes of the hearing SB 206 received in the Assembly's Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. In particular, notice the hostile tone of several Assembly Members of both parties. When Pat Hickey had the chance to "carpe diem" and build on the strong bipartisan support that Leslie's pro-transparency bill earned in the Senate, he punted... And he pretty much joined his colleagues in showing deep hostility towards this bill.

Assemblyman Hickey:
You mentioned unpaid lobbyists. I assume one must pay a lobbying registration fee during the session. Do they then have to pay an additional fee during the interim?

Senator Leslie:
That would be something the Legislative Commission would have to set— whether it would be one fee every two years, an annual fee, or one fee during the session. This bill does not cover those types of decisions. Right now, a nonpaid veteran lobbyist pays nothing. A nonpaid lobbyist pays $20, and a paid lobbyist pays $300 for the session. I imagine the Legislative Commission would review those regulations and make that determination. I am not trying to make money with this bill. For the first time, we raised the lobbying fees significantly, and it was a revenue-generating act, but that is not my intent.

Assemblyman Hickey:
Lobbyists should report campaign contributions, so the point of this bill is obviously about transparency, but what perceived problem are you trying to address?

Senator Leslie:
What I have heard from my constituents is that there is a public perception that there is a lot of lobbying activity, and that lobbyists are paying for things for legislators such as golf games, fancy dinners, or whatever it might be. As a result, there is a lot of consternation that that activity is not reported. The public just wants to know. This is purely about sunshine. If it is so important that we have them report during session, I believe it is equally important that they also report out of session, when a lot of planning and legislative activity— interim committees or planning for the next session—happens. It is good government to have this kind of reporting. Most states do have year-round reporting, but of course most states meet more often than we do.

Assemblyman Hickey:
Mr. Murphy's [a Clark County lobbyist] house needs painting. Should I paint it? Is that something my business should report?

Senator Leslie:
No, it is not about you; it is about Mr. Murphy. If Mr. Murphy was the painter and was painting your house for free or giving you a discount, yes, that should be reported. It is not about you.

So why did Hickey say that then? And why is he trying to cast blame on everyone but himself for past failed reform efforts? He had a chance to champion SB 206 last year, when the Legislature was actually in session and something could have been done. Why did we wait until now to propose his reform package?

Again, I genuinely appreciate what Hickey is saying and doing now. This is exactly the kind of conversation that we need to have. However the Legislature is not in session now. We haven't even...

Oh wait, that's right! This is an election year. Ah yes, strange things happen in election years. All of a sudden, proposals that never saw the light of day suddenly become the campaign centerpiece as soon as they poll well. Now, I get it.

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