Column: State law on political donations translates as 'don't ask, don't register'

You're barreling down the interstate at 90 mph when a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper pulls you over for speeding. Instead of feeling anxious, you just smile.

"Sir," you explain, "My vehicle's not registered. I have no license."

"No registration? No license?" the trooper replies. "Then the rules don't apply to you. Have a nice day."

Think of Nevada's darkly comic statute defining political action committees that way. The state law only applies if you choose to recognize it.

If not, put the pedal to the metal and happy motoring.

Keeping in mind that analogy, consider the political fund-raising group called Republicans on the Go Inc., which has PAC status under the umbrella of the Big Valley Political Action Committee.

I recently clocked the PAC doing 70 in a 35 zone.

The group was a generous contributor to several Republican campaigns in the recently concluded election cycle. A partial search of campaign reports on file with the secretary of state shows Republicans on the Go contributed $1,000 each to Assembly candidates David Brown and Geny Del Rosario, $2,000 to Assembly candidate Jack Close Sr., $4,970.42 to Assembly candidate Jack McClary, and $500 to state Sen. Ann O'Connell.

But now comes the confusion.

Republicans on the Go, which lists Gov. Kenny Guinn's sister Shirley Blair as its president, is not listed as a registered PAC, a secretary of state official said recently.

This came as news to Blair and her attorney Jennifer Lazovich, who promptly produced paperwork that showed the group was an associate of Big Valley PAC.

"I'm new at all of this," Blair admitted, adding she suspected enemies of her brother the governor were trying to discredit him. "I can show you the books. We've accounted for everything right down to the penny."

I'll gladly take her up on that, but I'd rather those numbers be on file with the secretary of state.

I'd probably lose them on my desk.

Something tells me Blair is not some gnarled political warhorse, but a newcomer to the game.

For the record, Big Valley filed as a PAC Oct. 15, 1999, and listed Republicans on the Go as an associated group. The group cut checks to candidates under the name Republicans on the Go.

Thus the confusion.

But a PAC by any other name must still file accurate disclosure forms, and this is something Blair's group failed to do. When reminded of the fact, Blair and Lazovich promised to get the paperwork in order.

Another day, another political scandal averted.

The point is, if you admit you're a political action committee and register as such with the secretary of state, then you must follow the rules. I'm sure there's some wing of the Big House where they put all those PAC officers who forgot to send in the proper forms.

In this case, Blair's failure generated a call from a reporter on a slow news day.

But what's the penalty if you decide not to register as a PAC?

There isn't one.

In Nevada, a group of political contributors doesn't have to register as a PAC, according to a February 1999 attorney general's opinion. The rules apply only to groups that decide to register as PACs with the secretary of state. It can waddle like a turkey and gobble like a turkey, but if it prefers to call itself an eagle, then an eagle it is.

I don't know about you, but this fits my definition of asinine.

"This office has long taken the position that the financing of political campaigns needs to be revisited and our legal analysis of the issue raised in this opinion strengthens that view," wrote Deputy Attorney General Kateri Cavin on behalf of Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa.

"Nevada law does not require every entity, organization or corporation that makes a campaign contribution to register as a PAC. If a group chooses to organize as a PAC, then before the PAC engages in political activity it must register with the secretary of state."

Talk about cutting down on paperwork.

There's no ticket for speeding - as long as you promise not to acknowledge the law.

John L. Smith's column appears Wednesday in the Nevada Appeal. E-mail him at or call him at (702)383-0295.


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