Senators consider ethics bills

CARSON CITY — When exactly does a campaign end, and a politician’s public duties begin?

It isn’t so easy to tell, some lawmakers said Thursday as a key Senate panel debated several ethics bills.

The senators gave a chilly reception to one bill that passed the Assembly with relative ease.

Assembly Bill 79 would prevent public officers and employees from using government time, property or equipment for campaign purposes.

Assembly members Ellen Koivisto and Marcus Conklin, both D-Las Vegas, urged the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee to support the bill, saying that the case of the late state Controller Kathy Augustine case showed the need for clarifying what is allowed.

Augustine had been impeached by the Assembly, convicted by the Senate for using state equipment on her 2002 campaign for state controller and censured, but not removed from office.

Some lawmakers on the Senate committee said that while the bill’s intent was good, the measure wasn’t clear enough on what separates campaigning from the normal course of political work.

Language in the bill could put an official at risk for having conversations with a supporter that turn to issues like fundraising, even if the official didn’t initiate the call or intend to do campaign work, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

“Then someone who’s got a grudge says, ‘Hey, you took a call, you talked about it,’ ” said Raggio. “I don’t want everybody to be afraid to make a phone call.”

Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, objected, saying the bill would regulate acts such as how campaign disclosure forms are filled out, a mere function of his office, and not something of concern to the public.

“My campaign forms, they’re absolutely a function of me holding office,” said Beers. “Our citizens aren’t concerned with that.”

The intent of the bill is clear, and campaign contribution forms should be filled out by candidates or a campaign committee, not by government staff, replied Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.

“I think the public, in addition to being concerned about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, are also interested in public disclosure of elected officials,” Horsford said.

The committee also heard testimony on several other ethical issues, including campaign contribution disclosure, lobbyists requirements and when public officials should be ousted because of ethical violations.

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