Political Eye: Berkley benefits from late lawmaker’s friendship

California Rep. Tom Lantos died in 2008, but his family just now is in the process of closing down the hefty campaign fund that financed his 14 terms representing a San Francisco Bay Area district in Congress.

In the meantime, the Lantos family has continued making contributions from the fund to charities and selected Democrats, and Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley has been the largest individual beneficiary among politicians.

Berkley has been given $10,000 since 2009 from the Lantos for Congress Committee, according to federal records. That includes $6,000 for her current U.S. Senate campaign, although Berkley aides say the latest check for $2,000 was being refunded because it exceeds a legal limit.

Lantos, who was born in Hungary in 1928, was notable as the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, and he built a record as an international human rights advocate. After his death, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus that he formed was renamed in his memory.

As a House freshman in 1999, Jewish activist Berkley joined the human rights caucus at Lantos’ request, and the two became close friends. In 2005, they sat together in Poland at ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Since his death, the Nevada lawmaker has remained in touch with the Lantos family, her campaign confirmed.

Berkley and Lantos "shared a commitment to strengthening America’s partnership with Israel and protecting human rights across the globe," said her campaign spokesman, Eric Koch.

Among other Democrats, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada received $1,000 from the Lantos fund during his 2010 re-election bid.

Lantos and Berkley "were very good friends and colleagues," said Denise Perron, executive director of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice that was established after he died.

The chairman of the foundation is Annette Lantos, the late congressman’s wife. The president is Katrina Lantos Swett, his daughter who is married to former New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Dick Swett.

Perron said she understood the campaign fund, which contained $827,688 at the end of March, was in the process of being terminated. According to Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, it is unusual for a campaign fund to remain active and making contributions more than a year or so after a lawmaker’s death.

– Steve Tetreault

ASSEMBLYWOMAN’S FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The old adage is there is no such thing as a free lunch. Whoever came up with that saying apparently had not run into Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas.

Kirkpatrick bought free pizza last Tuesday for all members of her interim legislative committee – which goes by the mouthful the Committee on the Allocation of Money Distributed From the Local Government Tax Distribution Account. She also provided lunches to the legislative staff and even members of the audience.

The meeting was teleconferenced between Carson City and Las Vegas, so she bought lunch for attendees in both cities. Kirkpatrick forgot that the meeting also was teleconferenced to Elko, however. She apologized to the handful of people there, and told them she would catch them next time.

Kirkpatrick is in a good mood these days since she drew no opposition in her bid for re-election. Now if she only could shorten the interminably long name of her interim committee, even members of the press who must mention the name in stories would be happy, too.

– Ed Vogel

DRILL DOWN FOR CATCHY PHRASES

Anyone who follows the Legislature quickly learns the colorful favorite phrases of legislators.

In past decades, no legislator would dare do anything to "kill the goose that laid the golden egg," that being the gaming industry.

Legislators also have dubbed their often boring process of turning words into laws "LEG-O-MATIC," after the popular "VEG-O-MATIC" food processing devices sold on old TV commercials.

Now the favorite phrase of people like state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, has become "drill down," or to explore in detail the reasons for a policy or a law. It’s an appropriate phrase for legislators in the nation’s No. 1 gold state and words Horsford uses frequently in hearings on proposed legislation.

At a hearing last Wednesday on the new formula for higher education funding, Horsford used "drill down" repeatedly. Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich must be a good listener, since he began using "drill down," too.

Since he uses it, one would expect college students and professors now to "drill down" more on their studies and classes.

Unfortunately, Gregory Mosier, the dean of the business college at UNR and a nonvoting member of the higher education funding committee, said students today are not drilling down enough.

Mosier said too many students today skip classes. At $170 per credit hour, that is downright pound foolish.

– Ed Vogel

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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