weather icon Clear

Municipal election voters blind to campaign donors

Updated March 13, 2019 - 6:30 pm

By the primary election in early April, candidates stumping for votes in several Nevada cities will have had months to canvass neighborhoods, send mailers and deliver speeches to community groups.

But when election night rolls around, there will be one thing they haven’t had to do: disclose who’s funding their campaigns and how they’re spending the money.

A glitch in a two-year-old bill meant to strengthen campaign finance reporting has actually weakened transparency in eight Nevada cities, the Review-Journal has found, ensuring that voters in Las Vegas and elsewhere will be blind to political donors when casting a ballot this spring.

That’s because reporting deadlines that formerly required reports linked to elections now require candidates to file quarterly. Instead of disclosing contributions and expenses 21 days and four days before an election, candidates now only need to submit paperwork 15 days after a quarter concludes.

The first reporting period of 2019 is April 15 — which is 13 days after the April 2 primary election.

“I’ve never seen a change away from the basic minimum level of disclosure, which is at some point before the election, the voters get to see where the candidates’ money is coming from,” said Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, a public policy institute at New York University Law School focused, in part, on promoting campaign finance reform.

The impact of quarterly deadlines this election cycle will be clear: In 2017, there were two reporting periods before the primary election and two before the general. This year, however, there will be just one, wedged between the primary and the general. The three others are scheduled well after elections are decided.

In addition to Las Vegas, other cities holding elections this year will be Boulder City, Caliente, Ely, Fallon, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Yerington.

‘Unintended consequences’

Assembly Bill 45 was introduced in late 2016 on behalf of the Nevada secretary of state’s office, expanding campaign reporting by demanding candidates itemize credit and debit card expenses, list the balance in their campaign accounts and requiring recall organizers to file paperwork even if a recall election doesn’t happen.

The bill passed the Assembly in April 2017. A month later, nine days before it was approved by the Senate, it was heard in the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, where the Democratic chairwoman, state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, proposed what was presented as an amendment to provide more consistency to campaign finance reporting.

Cannizzaro suggested implementing a quarterly deadline for campaign finance disclosures during election years, which would stagger reports evenly throughout a year in lieu of having irregular gaps between them. After clarifying questions were answered, committee members unanimously signed off.

“Before, some periods were very long, and some periods were very short. So quarterly reporting is more consistent,” Cannizzaro said Wednesday. “But obviously to the extent that any piece of legislation has unintended consequences or doesn’t work for a particular circumstance, that’s what we’re here for, is to look at those things.”

One person who served on that committee said those consequences might have led members to a different outcome.

“I definitely would not have voted for it because I’m a big believer in reporting before the election so people can see,” said Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who was then a state senator. “I’m shocked that we would do that. You think staff or somebody would have pointed that out.”

Odd-year battle

The issue arises, in part, because of a quirk in another Nevada law.

The vast majority of races in the state — 11 cities and all county, state and federal contests — are held in even-numbered years, with primary elections in June and general elections in November. Under that system, one disclosure will occur before the primary and three before the general.

There is an ongoing legislative effort in Assembly Bill 50, also requested by the secretary of state, to do away with odd-year elections entirely. The bill has been cast as a way to save money and increase voter turnout, although some cities have rejected the idea of municipal races as down-ballot contests, worried they might be overlooked by voters.

Las Vegas, the largest of the eight cities, is remaining neutral on AB 50, according to spokesman Jace Radke. Some noted this week, however, the bill would fix the campaign finance dilemma.

“This would resolve the issue of voters going to the polls without having the opportunity to review campaign finance details,” secretary of state spokeswoman Jennifer Russell said.

Doug Goodman, executive director of Nevadans for Election Reform, a group also in favor of even-year elections, said restoring pre-primary election transparency was “another critical reason” to pass the bill.

If AB 50 is approved and signed into law, 2019’s would be the last odd-year election in Nevada. To bridge the gap in alignment, those elected in 2017 would enjoy an extended term, with their seats up in 2022.

Information vacuum

A particularly troubling hitch about the new reporting schedule is that candidates can win outright if they receive 50 percent of the vote plus one in a primary, nullifying the need for a general election. It’s possible that voters might elect a candidate to office in the primary without ever knowing who is bankrolling a campaign.

The new quarterly reporting deadlines apply beyond municipal candidates; political action committees, independent expenditures and ballot question advocacy groups are affected by the new deadlines.

Russell said that while the secretary of state’s office did not set the deadlines, jurisdictions “have no choice but to follow the statute.”

Vandewalker suggested that perhaps candidates might voluntarily disclose campaign finances before the primary election, or the voters may suffer.

“Unfortunately, the voters are going to miss a key piece of information: What the candidate stands for, what interests they support or don’t support,” he said. “And that’s going to make it harder to make an informed decision.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Colton Lochhead contributed to this story.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
US alleges visa fraud scheme targeting American research

WASHINGTON — A Chinese government employee was arrested Monday after the Justice Department linked him to a visa fraud scheme intended to help others enter the United States to recruit research talent.

More tainted marijuana found in Las Vegas

The Nevada Department of Taxation on Monday issued a health notice after batches of marijuana sold from four Las Vegas dispensaries were found to have fungus, bacteria and high levels of mold and yeast.