(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Secretary of State Ross Miller made his pitch for campaign finance reform before an Assembly committee today, saying that while his two bills are extensive and complex at 155 pages combined, the many provisions are necessary because, “we are behind the curve.”
Miller, in testimony before the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, said Nevada should provide increased transparency to voters about the campaign contributions and expenses of the candidates for public office.
The committee took no immediate action on the measures.
“This legislation has a lot in it – I get it – 155 pages of legislation, but it has a lot in it because we are behind the curve,” Miller said.
Of all the provisions in the two bills, the requirement of electronic filing of campaign contribution and expense reports, the change in deadlines to make the filings more useful to the public, and having the secretary of state’s office be the single entity to maintain the information, are the most important, he said.
“If you remember only one thing from this package, it’s that those three things alone would send voters a message that transparency is a priority in our campaign and election processes, and the three go hand-in-hand toward increasing accessibility,” Miller said.
Nevada has consistently received poor grades for its transparency on election reform efforts, including an “F” in 2008 from the Campaign Disclosure Project.
Assembly Bills 81 and 82 would require online reporting of campaign contribution and expense reports so the data could be searched by voters. Filing deadlines would also be moved up so the reports would be filed before early voting begins.
The two measures would also provide for online voter registration, a process Miller said is more secure than the current use of voter registration cards. The bills would also increase fines for violation of voter registration laws.
Filing fees for candidates would also be increased for the first time in 20 years, to $3,000 from the current $500 for U.S. Senate candidates, and to $300 from $100 for legislative candidates. Other filing fees would increase as well.
Members of the Assembly panel asked questions and voiced some concerns, particularly about the increased penalties proposed for voter registration violations because of the many volunteers who perform such work, but there was no clear opposition expressed to the measures by lawmakers.
Several members of the audience testified in support of the proposal to require on-line filing of campaign reports by candidates, including Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association.
Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said he supported the electronic filing of campaign reports, both to save employee costs and because of the improved transparency for the voting public.
But not everybody was in favor of the bills.
Lynn Chapman, Washoe County chairwoman of the Independent American Party, said the increased fees proposed in AB81 would be a hardship on some candidates, including herself. She ran unsuccessfully for Washoe County Public Administrator in 2010. The new fees would require $300 to file, up from $100 now, for a county office.
Janine Hansen, state president of the Nevada Eagle Forum and a candidate for the Assembly in the 2010 election, said the bills favor the rich and powerful.
“The secretary of state’s election bills, AB81 and AB82, secure the advantages for the rich, powerful incumbents and candidates anointed by the ‘powers that be,’ ” she said. “These twin bills are dangerous to the democratic election process.”
Hansen also objected to the increase in filing fees, saying they would be a disadvantage to challengers and minor party candidates.
“Has the secretary of state become a revenuer instead of an elections official?” she said.
Miller said the filing fees have not been raised in 20 years and do not cover costs. He said the filing fees would not keep candidates from seeking public office, and that candidates could gather signatures to qualify for the ballot instead.
A number of other speakers, both in Carson City and Las Vegas, voiced opposition to the bills on many different grounds, including the increase in filing fees. Some critics characterized the measures as a “power grab” by Miller’s office.