Ethics alarms are again ringing outside the offices of Clark County's commissioners, this time over the approval of a lobbying contract for Dan Hart & Associates.
County staff rated Mr. Hart fourth among five applicants for the gig, but he won the job primarily because of his work securing the re-election of Commissioners Rory Reid and Chip Maxfield. The commissioners disclosed their relationships with Mr. Hart and argued that their familiarity with his strengths justified disregarding staff recommendations.
The deal is worth $12,000 per month to Mr. Hart's firm when the Legislature is in session and $6,000 per month when it is not -- as much as $102,000 for the year.
Julie Tousa, acting president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, says Mr. Reid and Mr. Maxfield were correct to disclose their ties to Mr. Hart, and that it would have been fine for them to offer endorsements of his qualifications, but they should have abstained from voting to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
"It makes you think, 'Did any of the other companies have a fair shake?' " Ms. Tousa asked.
Such concerns are well-founded, but they ignore the much larger conflict here: Local governments, state agencies and other public entities have no business billing taxpayers to press for legislation that serves the interests of government itself.
While voters are laboring to cover their living expenses and tax liabilities, the Legislature becomes one big public-sector block party, with lobbyists for school districts, municipalities, the higher education system and law enforcement cajoling alongside administrators and bureaucrats employed by the same agencies, all arguing for more funding, bigger employee pay raises and laws that expand their collective authority and protect their empires despite obvious redundancies and inefficiencies.
By the time the 2009 Legislature adjourns, taxpayers will have coughed up well over $1 million to lobbyists whose primary mission is to make government bigger, and thus create a need for more government lobbyists to fight over the spoils.
The Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections has submitted a bill draft request to restrict the use of state money to pay lobbyists. It's a good start, but guess who will be lobbying against that measure?