Democrat: Ex-lawmaker violated campaign rules

CARSON CITY — A former Republican Nevada assemblywoman was accused by a Democratic Party leader Wednesday of illegally keeping unspent campaign money and then disposing of it improperly.

The complaint filed by Chris Wicker, former chairman of the Washoe County Democratic Party, alleges Heidi Gansert of Reno of keeping more than $100,000 in unused campaign funds after she left office in November 2010.

After leaving the Assembly, Gansert served for a time as chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Wicker’s complaint alleges that nine months after leaving elected office, Gansert gave the bulk of her campaign funds, nearly $74,000, to her own political action committee, Nevadans First, which then made donations to Republican candidates in the 2012 election.

Under Nevada law, public officers who do not seek re-election are supposed to dispose of unused funds within about two months.

The law also restricts how those funds are distributed.

Wicker’s complaint said: “If the law against violation of campaign practices mandated by Nevada state law means anything, the funds improperly retained, handled and managed by Ms. Gansert should be identified and then required to be disposed of in an appropriate manner, and civil penalties should attach to the conduct of any actors who participated or benefitted from these campaign finance violations.”

The complaint filed with the secretary of state’s office came the day before an Assembly panel is scheduled to hear a campaign finance bill.

AB178 is co-sponsored by Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey and Sen. Greg Brower, both Reno Republicans. A similar bill, SB194, is pending in the Senate.

The bills want to close a loophole in Nevada law that allows some former elected officials to keep campaign cash in anticipation of a possible run at another office years down the road, provided they receive at least $100 in campaign contributions.

That qualifies them as a “candidate” under Nevada law.

Candidates who withdraw or are defeated in an election must dispose of unused contributions by the 15th day of the second month after an election.

AB178, to be heard today by the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, would require anyone who qualifies as a candidate to dispose of unused campaign funds within two years if they don’t file as a candidate or appear on a ballot.

The bills are a response to hefty sums amassed by former Democratic Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley of Las Vegas.

Buckley termed out in 2010 and left office with $575,000 in her campaign account.

In 2011, Buckley received a $200 campaign donation from fellow Democrat Sheila Leslie, keeping her status as a candidate intact.

In last year’s election cycle, Buckley gave $8,700 to Leslie’s failed election bid against Brower. The sum was a small portion of the $155,000 Buckley contributed in 2012 to candidates, Democratic parties and political action committees.

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