Miller touts tighter Nevada campaign reporting

Nevada secretary of state pushes tighter campaign reporting, gift limits

Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Secretary of State Ross Miller touted a sweeping campaign finance reporting bill Tuesday to shed light on gifts and campaign contributions received by Nevada lawmakers and other public officials.

Miller, testifying before the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, said SB49 would provide "increased transparency into who is funding Nevada campaigns and how much is being spent by candidates and third-party groups."

The bill also clarifies what gifts are banned, what is acceptable, and what gifts must be disclosed. It sets a limit of $3 for acceptable tokens.

"You could in fact receive a cup of coffee," Miller said. "You could get a cup of coffee but you could not get a latte."

Miller cited Nevada's dismal national rankings from watchdog groups on the state's campaign and financial disclosure laws.

In 2012, the Center for Public Integrity ranked the Silver State 42nd with an overall grade of D.

"These grades are atrocious and Nevadans deserve better," Miller said, adding the law would hold public officers and candidates to a higher standards and ensure the public "that those standards are consistently being met."

Among other things, the bill would require candidates to report any contributions of $1,000 or more within 72 hours. It would also require candidates to disclose how much cash their campaigns have on hand — something not currently required.

But some lawmakers questioned the 72-hour reporting provision, saying it amounts to job security for accountants and would be onerous for candidates.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, called the rule "a CPA's dream," and arguing "we're getting into that area where we need somebody professional to fill out the paperwork."

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, questioned the timing on when donations over $1,000 would need to be reported. The 72-hour rule, he said, would change the concept of Nevada's "citizen legislature" if lawmakers have to run to the bank every day. He suggested the clock start ticking when the money is deposited.

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, spoke in favor of the bill, saying, "As far as transparency in government, it should be basic."

"Nevada needs to come a long way in taking care of some of what should be considered pretty basic reforms in campaign expenditure reporting," he said.

But Janine Hansen, with Nevada Families and a frequent Independent American Party candidate, said the limits would infringe on the free speech of less-financed candidates.

"We used to have freedom of speech and you don't have freedom of speech anymore unless you have money," she said, referring to the bill as "preposterous."

Another bill heard by the committee would require paid lobbyists to file quarterly reports during the months the Legislature is not in session. Under existing law, lobbyists only filed monthly reports during the 120-day session held every two years.

"We all know a great deal of lobbying goes on between sessions," said Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, the main sponsor of SB203.

No action was taken by the committee on either bill.

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