Citizens, try a little DIY lobbying

Not all lobbyists have the moral flexibility that simplifies selling services to the highest bidder.

A few unpaid lobbyists actually want to make life better for Nevadans. On Feb. 5, when the Nevada Legislature kicked off, members of the Religious Alliance In Nevada (RAIN) were on hand, launching a campaign to help people released from Nevada prisons reenter society successfully.

Thousands of prisoners are released from prison each year. What then? Jobs? Housing? Hard stuff even for people without a prison record. Maybe that’s why 80 percent of released prisoners end up back in prison.

RAIN’s members are Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, United Methodist and Presbyterian. Their statement to lawmakers includes a Bible verse from Matthew 25: “Lord, when did we see you in prison, and come to you?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ “

Without groups like RAIN who lobby for helpful non-profits, the legislative environment would be dominated by corporate lobbyists. That means people we didn’t elect who aren’t representing us are wooing lawmakers in the interests of casinos, mining, telecommunications, energy companies, credit card companies, Big Beer, insurance companies and developers. Perhaps doing what’s best for a gold mine equates to doing what’s best for the rest of Nevadans. Color me doubtful.

It’s not breaking news that local, state and national lawmakers are heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists. I read Jeffrey Birnbaum’s book, The Lobbyists: How Influence Peddlers Work Their Way in Washington.

But year after year, no one seems to pay much attention.

Ho-hum, we say, when Jim Gibbons takes his family on what The Wall Street Journal called “a lavish, weeklong Caribbean cruise,” compliments of Nevada-based “entrepreneur” Warren Trepp. Trepp was chief trader for Michael Milken, the Junk Bond King who spent a couple years in jail after robbing an untold number of middle-class workers of their life savings.

In as much as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

Mere coincidence, surely, that Trepp’s little firm received “millions of dollars in classified federal software contracts from the Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and the Central Intelligence Agency,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Mere whoopsie that Gibbons, a member of Congress’s Intelligence and Armed Services committees—which hand out contracts—"forgot” to report the cruise as a gift.

Nonetheless “values voters” had no choice, or so said the uber-conservative editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, but to vote for Gibbons as governor.

That’s a bugger. For a real gut-twister, check out the Nevada Legislature Web site, which lists corporations employing lobbyists to make sure Nevada laws are friendly to businesses (’s plenty to ponder. One example: Black Rock City LLC (aka Burning Man Corp) and Sempra Energy, the company that hoped to build a coal-fired power plant next to the Black Rock Desert, are represented by the same lobbyist: Tom Clark.

Head-scratcher? Maybe not. How much did you pay for that Burning Man ticket, friend?

That’s why RAIN gives me hope. We the people might try a bit of influence peddling ourselves. Nevada’s still relatively small. Pay attention to the issues. Contact lawmakers via email or phone. Speak at a committee meeting in Carson City.

Chevron, Pfizer, Barrick Goldstrike Mines and Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. pay people to wine and dine our elected officials in the hopes that lawmakers will do their bidding.

Nevada needs you to lobby, too.