On Tuesday morning, an estimated two dozen business leaders—representing the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Resort Association and the Forum for a Common Agenda—met to discuss support for airport expansion, the train trench project and how to recruit candidates for 2002 elections.
Actually, the RN&R tried to be a fly on the wall, but to no avail.
“This is a private meeting that is not open to the press,” the RN&R was told after a door was shut to the 12th-story conference room of the Cal-Neva tower.
The meeting was announced in the Reno Gazette-Journal the day before. The purpose: to discuss recruiting viable candidates for next year’s local government races and to set up a political action committee to fund these candidates.
The meeting was called by Frank Partlow, a business analyst—not, we repeat, not a “lobbyist"—for three dozen businesses under the Northern Nevada Network in the Truckee Meadows.
These are the groups who give money to those elected officials who pass the agenda litmus test. According to a survey of campaign disclosure reports of the 2000 Reno City Council candidates, all of these organizations tended to favor the incumbents more than their challengers.
For example, the Chamber of Commerce donated $3,000 each to incumbent councilmen Dave Aiazzi, Pierre Hascheff and Tom Herndon, while their challengers received no money. Gaming and developers—whose representatives are members of Partlow’s group, the Chamber and the Forum for a Common Agenda—followed that trend, although in some races, they hedged their bets.
At any rate, there’s a good argument for campaign finance reform, said Jim Hulse, chairman of the government watchdog group Common Cause Nevada. Special interests banding together to support anointed candidates may not be in the best interest of the public, he said.
“We would like to see public funding of campaigns,” Hulse said. “Common Cause has repeatedly said [that] special interests fund incumbents more.”
Mike Robinson, a Reno businessman and a candidate last year for City Council, offered a different point of view.
“[The Northern Nevada Network has] a right to give to whomever they choose,” he said. “But we have a right to know who they are.”
Robinson said that representatives at Partlow’s meetings do not always represent the views of the business community and noted that his insurance business is also a member of the Chamber. He compared the situation to labor leaders, who don’t always represent the views of their rank-and-file members.
“It is a small group of people looking out for its own interests,” he said.
According to one local government representative, who asked not to be named, another topic discussed by the business groups may have been support of state legislation to give the Airport Authority of Washoe County “autonomy" from the three respective local governments.