Could political activism really be just about fundraising?


It was unsurprising to read the news this week that Sharron Angle’s latest political venture — a pair of malodorous ballot initiatives aimed at further sullying our state constitution — had failed to gather sufficient signatures.

Aside from her unlikely and ultimately disastrous victory in the 2010 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Angle has never won anything outside of the Reno Assembly seat she filled from 1998 to 2006. Since then, she’s lost races for Congress, state Senate and U.S. Senate.

Angle proposed to require photo identification for Nevada voters, as well as to outlaw health insurance exchanges in Nevada under the Affordable Care Act. They were measures obviously designed to appeal to fellow conservatives, but perhaps Angle miscalculated just how many conservatives there really are in Nevada.

Yes, she did suffer a setback on the voter-ID petition, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sued to correct inaccuracies in the description of effect, clarifying that the measure would carry a cost to Nevada’s taxpayers.

But perhaps this wasn’t really about amending the constitution after all? Perhaps it was more about raising money? A pair of PACs registered by Angle with the Nevada secretary of state’s office — the Our Voice Nevada PAC and the Our Vote Nevada PAC — don’t have to file expense reports yet.

But Angle’s political empire doesn’t stop with initiatives in Nevada. My friend and colleague Hugh Jackson pointed out to me via Twitter that there’s a different PAC registered with the Federal Election Commission that has the same address and treasurer as one of Angle’s Nevada organizations, as well as a very similar name: the Our Voice PAC.

That group, a federal independent-expenditure PAC, raised $186,149 in the period between January 2013 and March 2014. It spent $252,950 in that period, and, thanks to a healthy balance going into the reporting cycle, has about $7,500 left on hand. Those expenses include payments to Angle herself (as webmaster), travel on Southwest Airlines, telephone and office expenses, postage and mailing list rentals.

Maybe actual political change isn’t the goal here. Maybe it’s just a kabuki-like political performance art for the purpose of separating sympathetic donors from their cash, in order to perpetuate time and attention on the state and national stage. From that standpoint, perhaps Angle’s failure to qualify her measures for the ballot wasn’t really a failure after all.

• Speaking of voter ID laws, state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, says we need one. She’s running for secretary of state against Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall, and this promises to be one of the big issues in that race.

“We need to have something that everybody feels secure about,” Cegavske told the group Hispanics in Politics this week, according to the Review-Journal’s Laura Myers. “I don’t want to disenfranchise anybody, but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have identification.”

Leaving aside the curious rubric — surely, if Cegavske doesn’t know anybody without ID, how many can there be?! — let’s be honest about something: Almost all voter-ID laws will inevitably disenfranchise voters. That’s why they’re controversial.

There is an exception, however. Secretary of State Ross Miller last year proposed marrying the state’s existing DMV photo database with voter-registration polling books, so election workers could match a person’s already-on-file driver’s license or ID card photo with the person’s face at the polls. If there wasn’t a photo on file, workers would offer to take one right there. But voters would still be allowed to cast ballots, ensuring that no one would be denied the right to vote.

Coming from Miller — a man who has earned a no-nonsense, tough-on-crime reputation when it comes to attempted fraud upon the registration and voting systems in Nevada — it was a solid proposal. And the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which typically opposes all voter-ID proposals, was conspicuously neutral on Miller’s idea.

Ultimately, Democrats in the state Legislature rejected the Miller plan as too costly and not needed, given the scarcity of in-person voter fraud cases. But if we’re going to seriously consider a photo-ID plan for voting, Miller’s idea is worth exploring.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.