Blatantly stealing from political satirist Stephen Colbert, I’m giving a tip of my hat to the Las Vegas Sun’s Anjeanette Damon and a wag of my finger to seven Assembly Democrats.
Damon did what I’ve never accomplished in all my years. She wrote a piece about campaign finance omissions and one week later, lawmakers caved and filed amended reports. It’s taken me decades of pounding on campaign finance issues to notice even minor improvements, much less an immediate turnaround.
Damon discovered some Assembly Democrats were picking and choosing what they’d report on their campaign finance reports. They decided not to include what they spent on rent and living expenses during the 2011 Legislature.
The law doesn’t tell lawmakers they can opt out on what to include. The law basically says: If you’re using campaign bucks, report how you spend them. But somehow, attorney Bradley Schrager told the Democratic Assembly Caucus that wasn’t clear.
Now it’s been clear to me and to Secretary of State Ross Miller, but apparently Schrager read the disclosure law as ambiguous. Instead of advising Democrats to “disclose, disclose, disclose,” he provided opt-out choices.
The seven Democrats have since filed amended campaign reports and Miller’s Elections Deputy Scott Gilles wrote asking them to identify “the expenses you did not include in your original filing and explain the circumstances and reasons for not reporting said expenses.” Gilles gave the seven until Friday to respond.
From Southern Nevada: Marcus Conklin, likely to be the next Assembly speaker, Peggy Pierce, Marilyn Dondero Loop and Lucy Flores.
From Northern Nevada: Debbie Smith, former Ways and Means chairwoman now running for the state Senate, David Bobzien, and Richard Daly.
As of Friday, only Smith had responded. She added $14,694 in expenses, the largest increase of all the seven. She said that relying on advice from legal counsel, she did not consider those expenses related to campaigns and that the omissions were a “good faith interpretation of those laws.”
All totaled, the seven underreported their expenses by $43,420.
Pierce added her apartment costs to her list, bringing her expenses to $7,674. Loop increased her expenditures by one-third, jumping to $15,898. Conklin only added $2,879 to his expenses, pulling them up to $115,625.
Flores showed the second-largest jump, adding $8,550 in expenses. Among her add-ons were bills for Sparkletts water, Target, and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
At least she did what many do not: Flores added a trip to Hawaii for a conference as an in-kind expense.
The Legislative Counsel Bureau advises lawmakers they don’t have to report educational trips as in-kind contributions, which is how trips all over the world paid for by special interests like poker companies go unreported in Nevada, another peeve of mine.
The silliest defense came from Flores, a freshman, supposedly with promise, who told Damon it was just too much work to report all those things. “Maybe if I had a staffer that the state paid for to record every single one of my receipts and ensure they were being kept up full time, and I didn’t have to leave my day job so I could spend an additional couple of hours working on that.”
With the amended reports already filed, it’s doubtful that Miller takes any further action against the seven and since he believes the law is clear, at this point he doesn’t plan on making it clearer, according to his spokeswoman Catherine Lu.
What’s the difference between former legislator Morse Arberry, who didn’t report campaign donations of $121,545 and used the money for his personal expenses, and the seven hesitant to say how they spend their campaign dollars? Not much.
“Trust me” just isn’t acceptable when money is involved.
“Show me” is a much better philosophy.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison.