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Re-election of Atkinson Gates illustrates key principles of relativity

It pays to be related.

It’s true in business and in politics.

Through the years we’ve heard many stories of the lucrative benefits scored by the family and friends of local elected officials. The practice is so common that its existence has caused one skeptic — all right, it was me — to ask the loaded question: If a politician’s not going to reward his pals once he gets into office, who is he going to reward?

It pays to be related.

Last year’s federal trials involving former County Commissioners Erin Kenny, Lance Malone, Dario Herrera and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey were littered with references to deals involving family members and their good friend and soft touch, topless bar mogul Michael Galardi. His cabaret cash found its way through Malone into the pockets of the politicians.

But it was Kincaid-Chauncey who justified the acceptance of $9,000 from Galardi by passing it to relatives. She sent $4,000 to her grandson to help pay for his attendance at an Olympic ski school and gave another $5,000 to son Mark Kincaid as a pass-through contribution to his unsuccessful run for a seat on the North Las Vegas City Council.

Mark Kincaid was more successful at running his mother’s 2001 political campaign. At Kincaid-Chauncey’s criminal trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Schiess presented evidence that showed Mark Kincaid received 13 checks for approximately $31,000 as his mother’s campaign manager.

As suspicious as such a relationship might appear in light of the corruption indictment and eventual conviction, the fact is it’s common to find family members and friends on a candidate’s campaign payroll. And it’s hardly news that relatives and good buddies have received patronage in various forms from elected officials.

Although Kincaid-Chauncey was slow to report the relative on the campaign payroll — she updated her expenditures in 2004 — her activity was perfectly legal. As long as a candidate follows the rules and reports their expenses, no law has been violated.

It makes smart aleck columnists smirk and ethics professors shake their heads, but it happens every day in Southern Nevada politics.

Yes, it pays to be related.

Nothing illustrates the adage more brazenly that the recent news that former Clark County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates scooped up a truckload of cash and heaped it upon her son, future daughter-in-law, and their advertising business during her successful 2004 re-election campaign. That November, Atkinson Gates collected approximately 75 percent of the vote against a couple of challengers with two nickels between them.

In an act of campaign overkill that’s hardly unprecedented in local politics, Atkinson Gates raised $749,000 and spent most of it on the way to her resounding slaughter at the polls. It turns out she distributed most of it to her family instead of spending it on the usual television and print advertisements.

Did everyone pay the appropriate taxes?

When Atkinson Gates jumped out of her commission seat like a frog from a hot skillet and announced her retirement earlier this year, speculation billowed all over town. Was she really tired of public life? Was her exit somehow related to the breaking investigation of the shenanigans at University Medical Center?

Or was there something else in the shadows?

Now Metro has confirmed for the Review-Journal that it’s investigating whether Democrat Atkinson Gates enriched herself through payments made during her 2004 campaign to son Brian Atkinson Turner ($83,010), his fiancée Katie O’Gara ($136,350) and their company Advibe Advertising ($187,983). That’s $407,343 of the $749,000 she raised.

Much of the money supposedly went for “office expenses.” That must have been some office.

Call it sleazy. Call it greedy. Call it ethically shoddy. It’s all those things. But don’t be sidetracked by discussing the “ethics” of this issue. Instead, focus on the potential criminality.

“We will be exercising the entire gamut of criminal investigative venues available to us,” Assistant Sheriff Mike McClary said Tuesday.

I wonder: Does that include bringing in IRS agents to follow the money trail?

Nevada’s campaign laws are extremely liberal. Half-clever candidates can pass their money to family members and friends in the name of campaign expenditures with almost no investigative recourse.

It pays to be related — as long as you pay your taxes.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.

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