Long-delayed Nevada campaign finance reform surfaces again in Legislature

CARSON CITY — Could this finally be the year that the most common-sense campaign finance reform becomes law?

Could this at last be the year that the simplest change, sought by at least three secretaries of state in recent Nevada history, survives the committee process in the Legislature?

During the debate over Assembly Bill 45 — an omnibus campaign reform bill sought by Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske — an old idea resurfaced. The Council for a Better Nevada suggested, in a friendly amendment, that all candidates for public office “…must include the total amount that the candidate has in the campaign account at the end of the applicable reporting period” on campaign finance reports.

That seemingly simple reform has eluded myriad previous sessions of the Legislature, as well as past secretaries of state including Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Ross Miller. That simple change would allow members of the public and the press to know how much a politician actually has in a campaign account. Amazingly, that isn’t currently required by law, and lawmakers have killed efforts to change it.

Cegavske would be only the latest secretary of state to try for this change. And let’s hope she has more luck than her predecessors.

Even without the Council for a Better Nevada’s amendment, AB 45 has some provisions that commend it for passage. The bill:

• Requires private groups that send voter-registration materials to people in Nevada include a notice that it’s not an official government publication. Witnesses at a Tuesday hearing testified that government agencies frequently get calls complaining about such mail solicitations, which are often based on old or inaccurate information, but are often mistaken for official government mail and may induce voters to believe their registration has lapsed or been canceled.

• Requires official training for people conducting voter-registration drives, to ensure they’re aware of and in compliance with laws regarding signature collection.

• Requires candidates who prepare to run in recall elections to file campaign fundraising and expense reports, even if the special election doesn’t occur. This provision would fix a loophole that came to light when former North Las Vegas City Attorney Sandra Douglass Morgan collected money for a bid against Municipal Court Judge Catherine Ramsey, who was being targeted by a 2016 recall. The election was delayed by a lawsuit, and the city later eliminated the entire department, which mooted the election. Morgan, however, was not required to report her contributions or expenses.

• Provides a formal, legal way for initiative petition proponents to withdraw a petition after it’s filed with the secretary of state office. Currently, proponents may request a withdrawal, but there’s no formal process to do so.

• Allows the secretary of state to investigate complaints of campaign-finance violations, including issuing subpoenas of witnesses and for documents.

• Mandates that campaign finance reports be signed under penalty of perjury.

The bill was heard on Tuesday, but must pass out of the Assembly’s Legislative Operations and Elections Committee by Friday or it will be dead for the rest of the session.

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