Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On Stopping That Merry-Go-Round of Corruption

It's a time honored tradition in Nevada politics. Corruption scandals emerge. Certain former legislators re-emerge as lobbyists. Ugly campaign finance reports surface. And all of a sudden, certain politicians pay lip service to "reform"... While actually working behind the scenes to kill actual reform.

This time, it's supposed to be different. Assembly Minority Leader and "born again reformer" Pat Hickey (R-Reno) has wanted us to forget his own checkered past on the subject and notice his newfound zeal for combating corruption. Yesterday, Hickey was trumpeting his own bill (AB 77) to slow the revolving door from the Assembly & Senate floors to lucrative lobbyist careers by implementing a one session "cooling off period". This sounds noble. And it seems like common sense. So of course, it's under attack by the very legislators-turned-lobbyists Hickey is targeting.

“I am the definition of the revolving door,” joked contractors lobbyist Warren Hardy, who was an assemblyman who became a lobbyist who became a senator who became a lobbyist again. “Saying I couldn’t go back to lobbying would be like saying (Sen.) Joe Hardy couldn’t got back to being a doctor.”

Of the handful of former lawmakers-turned-lobbyists interviewed by the Sun, all readily acknowledged their time in the Legislature has given them a leg up as a lobbyist.

They know the process. They know the people. They know the pitfalls.

“I don’t think I’d ever own my own independent business as a lobbyist if I hadn’t been a lawmaker first,” gaming and mining lobbyist Josh Griffin, who served one term in the Assembly, said. “Sure, it’s valuable experience for a lobbyist.”

And of course, there's "Moose Juice". Remember this?

“I think you have to hit things while the iron is hot,” said [Morse] Arberry [D-Las Vegas], who was in his final term in the Assembly because of term limits. “For 25 years I served in the Legislature and in public, and I bring relationships and a lot of knowledge to the table. A cooling-off period hinders an individual. Momentum you have is lost because then you’re not involved in the field.”

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak laughed at Arberry’s comment. He called Arberry a friend, but said his remarks reflect “exactly why we need a cooling-off period.”

No really, he tried that. He didn't succeed there, but he's nonetheless now a lobbyist. Ah, Nevada politics at its best. (/snark)

And then, there's Ross Miller. Mr. Secretary of State made waves late last year with SB 63, his election reform bill. However, that's not the only legislation he's pursuing. Miller is also pushing for SB 49, which calls for more comprehensive and timely campaign finance reporting.

Ross Miller isn't new to this. He's tried campaign finance reform before. Of course, his past bills were quietly killed. He's also suing AFP over its questionable campaign activities, and he may find more success in court.

Ross Miller is hoping this Legislature session will be different. After all, he has some help. Not only is Senator Justin Jones (D-Enterprise) supporting SB 49, but he's also offering SB 203 as a companion bill. Jones' bill calls for lobbyists to file quarterly reports on their activities. (FYI, Jones was one of the candidates targeted by AFP last year.)

Of course, Miller and Jones are running into resistance. While no lobbyists actually showed up yesterday to testify against SB 49, they nonetheless found a more nefarious way to make their position clear on this and other campaign finance reform efforts. Make no mistake. This is coming.

Miller’s bill says any contribution of $1,000 or more must be reported to the secretary of state within 72 hours.

Whatever arguments you hear from legislators –how onerous that is, the great imposition – are smoke screens. How can they argue with a straight face that the public should not know as soon as possible when a contribution is made and for how much?

They can’t, so they will create diversions. Mark my words. Other parts of Miller’s bill also should sail through the committee and the Legislature because they would make the system more transparent:

Reporting how much a candidate has on hand, a glaring omission on current reports

Stricter reporting and policing of gifts from lobbyists

Defines what personal uses of campaign contributions are prohibited

One reason most readers might not take any of this seriously is because unless you are a political insider, you might find it hard to believe these loopholes exist. But they do, and their closure is long overdue.

So stay awake folks. Anyone who tries to kill this bill is interested only in perpetuating a corrupt system and is guilty of the kind of insidious, subtle corruption that is often invisible to the naked eye.

That's what's really at stake. And that's why the superpower legal/lobbying firms' arm of "The Gaming-Mining-Lobbying Industrial Complex" will likely go all in to kill all the transparency and ethics legislation pending this session. You likely won't see this at the committee hearings and the Assembly & Senate floors, but this will be pushed behind the scenes. After all, they hate it when the mask is pulled from the corrupt reality of Carson City.

We've discussed this many times before. Nevada Government has been a merry-go-round of corruption for quite some time. And while the modest reforms mentioned above won't completely end the ride on their own, they at least have the potential to slow the merry-go-round of corruption enough to where we have a better view of what's happening. That alone is why Miller's, Jones', and even Hickey's respective bills have a tough ride ahead.

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