Bought and paid for legislators
Nobody wants to look like they are bought and paid for. That’s the real reason Nevada legislators are so determined to avoid full disclosure of gifts, including fully subsidized foreign travel.
The issue of gift giving and receiving is actually of more interest during the 20 months the Legislature is not in session during a two-year cycle. That’s when there are no mandated lobbyist spending reports, and legislators are far from the shared limelight in Carson City.
During the “off” months, legislators keep busy at their “real” jobs, but spend plenty of time at private sector meetings, reporting on the actions of the previous session, and then after about six months, forecasting what is likely to happen in the next one.
The lobbyists are never idle, constantly requesting private meetings, or a legislator’s attendance at various dinners and conferences, and providing meals, entertainment, and all-expense paid trips to locales both foreign and domestic.
Legislators like to look on these trips as more of an obligation than a gift, thereby conveniently convincing themselves there’s no need to mention them on the Annual Financial Disclosure Report since there’s no designated spot to record free “educational trips.”
Over the years, legislators have also requested and received a favorable legal opinion from the top-notch attorneys at the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), opining that there is no need to disclose the trips as a gift. However, the legislators have declined to release the opinion to the public, raising doubt about what it actually says.
Journalists and legislative observers object because they suspect these trips do tend to sway legislators. Why wouldn’t they? It’s always easier to make your case when the opposing viewpoint isn’t represented. There’s no law prohibiting the trips, but shouldn’t the public know who’s underwriting them?
The trips have been occurring for decades, ranging from the periodic treks to Taiwan attended by many a Nevada legislator, including some this very week, to the annual Lake Tahoe party weekend in September, a bash sponsored by the Nevada Mining Association. New legislators who raise an eyebrow at the timeworn practice are usually persuaded to go or encouraged to very quietly decline the opportunity.
The latest controversy swirls around four senators who traveled to Israel in 2013, Sens. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, and Greg Brower, R-Reno. Each initially failed to note the all-expense trip as a gift on the January disclosure report, paid by an affiliate of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group.
Although the secretary of state has issued guidelines that trips of this nature should be reported, Brower insinuated the secret LCB legal opinion recommended the senators not comply. He told the Las Vegas Sun the senators agreed to amend their disclosure reports to reflect the $12,000 trip rather than “exacerbating” the imagined dispute between LCB and the Secretary of State, noting that “… it’s really a very simple matter of following legal counsel’s advice.”
Or did legal counsel advise that disclosure isn’t absolutely required, thus providing a convenient excuse for not reporting? The senators won’t say, but it’s doubtful they’ve been advised they cannot fully report the trip in the spirit of full disclosure.
Even more laughable was Brower’s attempt to place blame elsewhere for the omission of the trip disclosure saying the “confusion” is a result of the “vagueness in the law that probably needs to be cleared up.” And whose responsibility might that be?
Meanwhile, the breathless tweets of “look at me at the Red Sea” are bound to continue until the public starts demanding to know why it’s worth $12,000 to fly a Nevada state senator half-way around the world for “education” and why their representative is so eager to avoid reporting it.