Ethics panel finds fault with ‘Magnificent Eleven’ fundraiser

Judicial candidates running as “The Magnificent Eleven” received a slap down Friday.

The Standing Committee for Judicial Ethics and Election Practices decided a fundraiser organized by their campaign consultant David Thomas violated a judicial canon .

For their 11 opponents, this is welcome news.

Judicial ethics complaints are effective campaign tools because an opinion like this one suggests some candidates don’t follow, know or understand the rules governing judicial campaigns. If a candidate doesn’t know how to follow campaign rules, what does that say about his or her grasp of other complex issues?

For the Magnificent Eleven, this is not so great, even though they can say they relied on the expertise of their political consultant.

Thomas organized the Sept. 1 event where contributors were asked to give one check to Thomas’ Policy Communications, and the money would be divided equally among the 11.

Thomas thought he was being innovative by grouping 11 candidates, dubbing them “The Magnificent Eleven,” and promoting them as a unit.

He was at least partially wrong. The committee concluded candidates for judgeships can do group campaign events, but cannot do group fundraisers because that is soliciting funds for another candidate and that is not allowed. The canon banning that is supposed to prevent judges and judicial candidates “from abusing the prestige of judicial office to advance the interests of others.”

A minority thought judicial candidates should be able to raise funds as a group for efficiency’s sake.

Since this is a nonbinding advisory opinion and the standing committee was divided, Thomas predicted the issue ultimately will be decided either in federal court or by the Nevada Supreme Court as a constitutional issue.

Who are the Magnificent Eleven? Family Court Judge Bill Gonzalez is the only incumbent and only Republican. The others are Gloria Sturman, Ron Israel, Jerry Wiese, Rob Bare, Gayle Nathan, Nancy Allf (Thomas’ wife), Susan Scann, Phil Dabney, Vincent Ochoa and Kristine Kuzemka. Besides being “magnificent,” they are “highly qualified” and “experienced.” Or so read the invitation.

The invitation was not an endorsement, which would have been another violation, but the committee commented that “less hyperbole might be viewed by some as more consistent with the decorum appropriate to persons pursuing judicial office.”

Even before the advisory opinion was published, Thomas said he won’t be doing it again because the event only raised about $7,500. He believes the candidates would do better if they hold their own events since $7,500 split 11 ways isn’t a real pot of gold.

But wait, there’s more.

A second complaint about the same fundraiser was filed recently with the Secretary of State’s Election Integrity Task Force on behalf of Jack Howard, who said the fundraiser created a “slush fund” for his opponent, Ron Israel.

Howard’s campaign consultant Gary Gray contends this is an ethical violation because when the candidates report the contributions, the original donors won’t be disclosed on their reports. Hiding the identity of a contributor goes against Nevada’s campaign laws that say you cannot make a contribution in the name of another person.

Thomas said he would be happy to provide all the names of contributors and the amounts if I wanted to publish them, showing he had no intent to deceive.

Who knows what the secretary of state will decide, especially since Thomas discussed the fundraiser with the chief elections deputy, Matt Griffin, before it was held.

Would-be judges are questioning their opponents’ truthfulness, even their grasp of the law, throwing out terms like slush fund and money laundering.

For me, it’s another reason to support a merit selection system of picking judges.

Three of Thomas’ 11 judicial clients start aggressive television ads next week, the subject of my Monday column.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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