The good news: There have been so many political mailers in the Las Vegas City Council Ward 2 special election that the post office might be in the black this year.
The bad news: They had to clear-cut so many trees to print the mailers, global CO2 levels are rising.
Only kidding. Sort of.
Las Vegas Planning Commissioner Ric Truesdell, facing an opponent with massive name recognition in ex-state Sen. Bob Beers, has certainly done his best to level the playing field, flooding the ward’s mailboxes with positive pieces about himself and negative ones about Beers.
And that’s where a little more paper comes in: Beers on Thursday filed a defamation lawsuit against Truesdell over a mailer’s assertions that Beers used his position as a state senator to help a former employer get out of a $1 million fine.
A bit of history: In 2008, Beers filed a defamation lawsuit against the state Democratic Party, which claimed he was being investigated by the state Ethics Commission on the same allegations. Beers lost his bid for re-election to Allison Copening, but settled the lawsuit after the Democrats admitted he wasn’t under investigation and wrote a $2,500 check to Opportunity Village, the charity of Beers’ choice.
That didn’t stop Truesdell from alleging that “partisan flamethrower Bob Beers used his insider political connections to get a former business partner out of paying back taxes and a $1 million fine for breaking the law,” and that he “used his political position to get an old business partner out of paying a $1 million fine.”
The actual story is more complicated.
Before the 2007 session, Beers quit his job with a company called Payroll Solutions. That company operated a self-funded health insurance plan for small businesses, which Nevada’s insurance division charged was improper under state law. It ordered a $1 million fine. Payroll Solutions Chief Executive Officer Howard Winters sought a change in state law that would establish his insurance program was legal and potentially obviate the fine. And that’s where it gets dicey.
According to a 2008 story in the Las Vegas Sun — which was cited by the Truesdell campaign — Beers approached two colleagues, state Sens. Randolph Townsend and Warren Hardy, and asked them to deal with Winters. Hardy said in the Sun story that Beers told him he wasn’t comfortable moving legislation involving a former employer.
“Mr. Beers used his influence to make sure his former business partner got his legislation through,” charged Steve Redlinger, Truesdell’s campaign manger. Redlinger says the clear intent of changing the law was to eliminate the $1 million fine.
But beyond introducing Winters to his colleagues, Beers had no involvement with the bill until it came up for a vote. Having been advised by the attorney general that he did not have a conflict, Beers voted for it.
The introductions and his vote wouldn’t matter, however: Payroll Solutions had filed a lawsuit to stop the fine before the 2007 session even began. After the law was passed, the lawsuit was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which declared the Legislature had totally changed the rules. Justices remanded the case to District Court to be decided under the rules in place in 2006, making the change sought by Payroll Solutions in 2007 moot.
And then the state — under a different insurance commissioner — decided simply to drop the matter.
That means that no matter what Beers did, or didn’t do, it was manifestly not his political influence that got Payroll Solutions out of paying the fine. It was a decision made by state officials, who could have proceeded under the old rules.
“It (the 2007 legislation) did not have a role in the dismissal of this fine,” Beers said. “There was no back-room deal concocted here.”
Not that you’d know if from looking in your mailbox, however.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.