(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – An ambitious effort to make major reforms to Nevada’s campaign finance laws moved to the state Senate [May 5] after three measures sought by Secretary of State Ross Miller passed the Assembly by a deadline last month.
The Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections took testimony on Assembly Bills 81, 82 and 452 but delayed action on the measures, which would make a number of reforms to Nevada campaign finance law.
A number of concerns were raised about elements of the measures by members of the public who testified. But witnesses also praised sections of the measures, which were amended extensively in the Assembly.
Opposition testimony did not for the most part take aim at what Secretary of State Ross Miller considers the most important elements of the measures, contained in AB452, requiring on-line filing of campaign contribution and expense reports by most candidates and earlier reporting of the information so voters could review the data before casting their ballots.
“A big part of the transparency we want to provide is letting voters know who is funding the campaigns,” Miller said. “The reasons of course are obvious, and the need is equally obvious, even to those outside of Nevada.”
Miller said Nevada received an “F” grade from the Campaign Disclosure Project by the UCLA School of Law in 2008 for the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws, the same grade received in the project’s four previous reports.
“In the real world there is a term for that, it’s called flunking out,” he said. “I’m not going to flunk out, I don’t think any of you here want to, and there is absolutely no reason Nevadans should tolerate any kind of excuses that lead to that type of performance.”
The measures cover other issues as well.
Assembly Bill 81 contains a provision restricting the creation of political action committees to circumvent limits on how much money can be contributed to a campaign as is now being reviewed in Rory Reid’s failed gubernatorial bid.
Miller’s office is investigating Reid’s use of 90 shell political action committees his campaign established to funnel $750,000 into his race for Nevada governor. Reid has said the use of the multiple PACs was legal.
Assembly Bill 82 contains a provision allowing for on-line voter registration, a proposal endorsed by Jan Gilbert, representing the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, who said it would increase the number of voters and lead to improved voter turnout.
AB452 also contains a controversial provision requiring a two-year cooling off period before a former lawmaker could be paid to work as a lobbyist in the Legislature, a section not sought by Miller and which was a concern for some members of the Assembly.
Some of those testifying on the bills expressed concerns about a section of AB81 that imposes reporting requirements on groups or individuals spending more than $100 for or against a candidate.
Janine Hansen, representing the Independent American Party, said the provision is an unwarranted effort to regulate free speech, including anonymous free speech.
“Anonymous free speech is part of American history and it is an important thing to protect,” she said.
Those seeking more transparency in the campaign and election process should be seeking more, not less, free speech, Hansen said.
Miller said the provision is intended to fix the most comment election complaint received by his office, that of the anonymous political mailer or television attack ad. The proposed language is not a First Amendment battle because it is taken from requirements used by other jurisdictions, he said.
It is a reasonable response to address the clear abuse of anonymous mailers sent out during campaign season, Miller said.