The head of ‘D’ class

The State Integrity Investigation does not grade on the curve, as nobody got an A: www.publicintegrity.org/accountability/state-integrity-investigation.

It’s easy to be cynical about Nevada politics.

The State Integrity Investigation, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, uses a data-driven analysis to rank each state’s laws and practices designed to deter corruption while promoting accountability and openness in government.

Nevada, unsurprisingly, ranks 42nd among the states, with an overall grade of D-minus. The project grades 14 categories including lobbying disclosure (Nevada received an F), ethics enforcement agencies (another F), redistricting (a D), public access to information (another D) and political financing (D-minus).

The goals of the project are to show what’s working and what’s not, engage the public in learning more about how these factors influence their state’s politics, and ultimately apply pressure to lawmakers to change their ways and the system that supports them.

It’s an uphill battle to be sure. Just this year, Secretary of State Ross Miller sponsored a comprehensive bill to increase transparency in campaign financing, lobbying disclosure, and ethics (see our failing grades above). It not only went nowhere but was nearly transformed into a bill that would have made the situation even worse!

Senate Bill 49 sought to improve campaign reporting through on-line reporting of contributions and expenses greater than $1,000 within 72 hours of receipt. The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee laughably “improved” the bill by raising the threshold of reporting to $2,000 and required the 72-hour reporting period only during early voting. Defying the very definition of transparency, the committee then amended the bill so these contributions would only have to be reported after being deposited in the bank, allowing a candidate to legally hide the contributions until after the election.

Miller wanted to clarify how contributions could be spent, specifically outlawing spending on concerts and clothes (except for campaign attire), but the senators added the so-called Armani provision to allow for the purchase of suits in case an elected official had no clothing suitable for work.

Miller wanted to require reporting of cash on hand from one election to another, so the public, donors, and potential competitors could easily understand how much cash an elected person had in their campaign account. That was another non-starter.

SB 49 tried to carefully define the word “gift” to give guidance to legislators and gift-givers about reporting requirements since few gifts are ever publicly reported despite lots of known gift-giving activity. Legislators found that provision unacceptable as well.

Despite editorials from nearly every newspaper in the state encouraging the Legislature to restore the original provisions along with a modicum of public confidence in the system, the bill kept getting worse, finally dying an ignoble death in a conference committee at the end of the session.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, bluntly explained the failure in a committee hearing: “Not one constituent has ever asked me about this issue. The only people who want it are the people in the audience, the reporters, and your opponents.”

Another bill, SB 203, would have required lobbyists to report their expenditures on individual legislators year-round instead of the current practice requiring the reports only during the four-month legislative session. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, as it did in 2011, but died in the Assembly, repeating the fate of the 2011 bill.

After all, who would want to be tied to expenses from the Nevada Mining Association’s annual September bash at Lake Tahoe? Legislators might have to skip their golf games at expensive Lake Tahoe courses, avoid the booze cruises, and forgo the spa treatments or be willing to see this information show up on campaign mailers and TV ads.

Voters should make these issues part of the open and competitive Secretary of State race next year and every legislative contest as well.

If we don’t care, they won’t either.