Public ethics center's new leader aims to raise profile


CARSON CITY -- Martin Dean Dupalo figures it should be easy for a politician to determine what is appropriate ethical behavior: Just use a little common sense and remember what your parents taught you about right and wrong.

Dupalo, 44, of Las Vegas, recently was named president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, a non­partisan citizens organization that offers its opinions on the behavior of Nevada's politicians.

Unlike the state Ethics Commission, the center cannot compel a politician who is behaving badly to change, but it can shame him or her into becoming a better representative of the people.

That seemed to carry some weight when the late UNLV professor Craig Walton served as president of the organization. Walton cried foul in 2006 when reports surfaced that 10 Nevada legislators had accepted $400 tickets to a Rolling Stones concert. After his revelation, most of the lawmakers donated the price of those tickets to charity.

But Walton died in 2007. And although the center has continued to operate, it has not received much public attention.

DUPALO AIMS FOR REVIVAL

Dupalo is a political science professor at Carrington College, a small nursing and dental program college in Las Vegas. He formerly taught at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

A former military officer and wildland firefighter, he is no stranger to politics. He twice has run unsuccessfully for the nonpartisan Clark County School Board. His most recent attempt in 2010 was derailed when he was injured in a car accident. He still suffers pain from the accident.

For now, he and members of the Center for Public Ethics are responding to calls of concern about public officials' behavior. He is reconstructing the organization's website. He hopes to add news stories that have been published over the past 20 years about politicians' unethical behavior, as well as complaint forms.

Dupalo said he wants to return the center to its former glory.

"A public office is a public trust," he said. "I am constantly amazed by the things politicians do that are obviously unethical to the general public, but they seem oblivious."

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said she is glad that he wants to revive the ethics center. She said the two groups' missions are different.

The Ethics Commission can only render opinions on the ethical behavior of public officials after thorough investigations and review. It cannot issue any opinions on elections or candidates for office.

But the ethics center is not bound by state ethics laws and can more quickly make judgments on the behavior of public officials.

"There is room for multiple organizations on ethics," Jenkins said. "We don't decry their activities. We invite them."

PRIORITY: LOBBYIST LAW

Just last week, Dupalo said it should have been obvious to state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto that she should not have accepted thousands of dollars worth of tickets to sporting and music events. Masto, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and Secretary of State Ross Miller all accepted more than $13,000 in freebies in 2011.

Instead, he said Masto, who earns more than $140,000 a year, should have bought the tickets like anyone else. The attorney general declined comment.

But the ethics center's No. 1 goal is persuading the Legislature next year to pass a law requiring lobbyists to publicly report everything they spend on legislators year-round. Now lobbyists only report these expenditures during the 120-day legislative sessions every other year.

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill on May 23 sponsored by Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, to require year-round reporting, but it died in an Assembly committee without a vote.

"The lack of accountability by lobbyists is appalling," Dupalo said. "Nevada is a playground for lobbyists, and lobbyists know it."

As a private citizen, he always has been quick to respond publicly when he sees something wrong in public officials' actions.

MAYWEATHER CONCERNS

Dupalo recently fired off a letter to the editor to complain about Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa's decision to let boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. remain free until June 1, instead of immediately serving a 90-day sentence for domestic violence.

Mayweather since has drawn headlines by denying he did anything violent, although he previously pleaded guilty.

Saragosa's reasoning was that by delaying the sentence, Mayweather could participate in a scheduled May 5 fight. But Dupalo noted that Mayweather does not even have an opponent for that fight yet.

Dupalo, who is vice president of SAFE House that provides shelter for battered women, said in an interview that the judge is belittling the horrors of domestic violence by granting Mayweather a delay that other citizens do not receive.

Dupalo also filed a complaint in 2010 with the attorney general's office asking that then-Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen's office be declared vacant since he had moved out of the district to run for state Senate.

With only a month left in Kihuen's term, the attorney general's office refused to issue an opinion. Kihuen admitted he had moved out of his Assembly district but said he still was serving the district's needs. He won election to the state Senate and now is running for Congress.

Dupalo said his complaint was a matter of principle since the constitution requires seats be declared vacant when the officeholder has moved out of his or her district.

BIG ON CHARITY WORK

Even though Dupalo has a reputation for identifying injustice, he is probably best known for his charitable work. Every week he shows up at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and other stores to collect food near its sell date. He takes this food to charities for distribution to the poor. He received the Daily Point of Life award in 2005 from the National Points of Light Foundation for this work.

He began his food collection drives after witnessing a culinary school dump 40 pork chops into the trash.

"We are here to educate, research and advocate through the media," Dupalo said about the ethics center's mission. "We can provide nonlegal guidance to public officials and be effective, at least in a minor way."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

 

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