(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Secretary of State Ross Miller says the time is ripe to get a substantial campaign finance reform package through the Legislature, and with Gov. Brian Sandoval and lawmakers of both parties in agreement on the need for change, he may be right.
“I believe we probably have the best chance to pass meaningful campaign finance reform this session than in any other cycle we’ve had,” Miller said.
“Every time an outside group comes in and gives Nevada an ‘F’ and ranks us dead last in terms of campaign finance transparency, the single biggest complaint that they have is that we allow for handwritten, paper-based reports that can be sent in often times a day or so before the election,” he said. “In a state where well over half the people will vote early, that’s not helpful to anybody.”
Miller’s reform measures, Assembly Bills 81 and 82, were introduced on the first day of the session on Monday. AB82 would require candidates in most cases to file their campaign contribution and expense reports electronically so the public could easily review the information in a searchable database.
Assembly Bill 81 would require the reports to be filed four days ahead of early voting, with an update due the Friday prior to the primary and general election days. Currently the reports are filed just seven days before the primary and general elections, well after many Nevadans have already cast their ballots. The reports can also be mailed in, making the information even less useful to voters.
Miller said the idea is to get the information out to the public at the appropriate time, and in a format that would allow voters to examine the reports in a convenient way.
“The current structure is a disaster and we deserve the ‘F’ we get every cycle,” he said. “This legislation I don’t think will move us to an ‘A’ but I would be happy with a ‘C’ at this point. I would be happy with a passing grade.”
Efforts to require electronic filing of the reports have failed in past sessions due to opposition by some lawmakers.
Sandoval supports electronic filing as well.
In a statement from his office in response to a query about the measures, spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said: “We’re still reviewing the full bills as they cover many election issues, but we do support the electronic filing because it has the potential to put the information in the hands of voters earlier in the campaign. We’ll continue to monitor these bills and other campaign measures.”
Sandoval said he has been in conversation with Miller on the need for campaign and election reform.
“I know there are some items that I’m going to be supportive of within his package,” he said.
Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, who had initially indicated he might pursue his own measure, said instead he will likely use Miller’s bills as a starting point for implementing needed reforms. Oceguera said he is optimistic the Legislature will adopt needed changes to the reporting process.
Oceguera said he has not yet read Miller’s proposals, but does conceptually support reforms.
“We should be as transparent as possible,” he said.
Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, said she is optimistic as well that reforms will succeed this session.
“We do everything online now,” she said of her campaign reports. “So I’m there. I’m up with technology and so I have no problems with it. I support Ross Miller and the changes that he wants and I think it is going to be fine.
“There is no reason not to do it,” said Cegavske, a member of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee that will hear the bills later in the session.
In addition to the bipartisan support, some opponents of the reforms are no longer serving in the Legislature, which could also improve chances for passage.
Former Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, made the motion to delete the electronic filing requirement in Miller’s campaign bill in the last days of the 2009 session. The Assembly had already weakened the requirement by postponing its effective date to 2011 so it would not affect the 2010 campaign season.
In this session, the two bills have now been referred to the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Miller said a proposal requiring the reporting of large contributions within 72 hours within 21 days of an election is not part of his reform package this session.
There was some opposition to the idea from some elected officials who said it was too burdensome, he said.
Oceguera said in September he would seek such a change to state law this session, but in comments earlier this week he appeared to back off the idea.
The Nevada Legislature is made up of citizens who have regular jobs, families and other commitments, he said.
“You should report those as quickly as you possibly can, but I don’t know if 72 hours is the appropriate number,” Oceguera said. “Maybe we give people 10 days or two weeks.”
Miller said he is making the reform proposals a priority for his office, and is engaged in public outreach to drum up support for the changes, including a Facebook page. Past efforts at reform may have failed in part because lawmakers did not get any sense that the public was concerned about the need for the changes, he said.
“It is a modest step forward to mandate that these reports be filed electronically,” he said. “It does not create any additional burden on elected officials or candidates, and while at the same time would be a giant leap forward in putting more transparency in place.”