Watch for massacre when ethics reforms dream hits Legislature

Watch for the massacre when dream of ethics reforms hits Legislature Like an armchair quarterback channel-surfing for the mismatch of the week, I am tempted to tell Craig Walton he's dreaming.

Detroit Lions-go-to-the-Super-Bowl dreaming. O.J.-Simpson-makes-an-NFL-comeback dreaming.

Walton will surely be flattened, crushed, blitzed and sacked. He'll have bruises on his bruises by the time the game is over. His sport isn't smash-mouth football, but something much bloodier: the contest for tougher ethics laws in Nevada. A former UNLV professor, Walton is the founder and president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics.

Or, as I like to call it: Walton's Center for Dream Analysis.

His group is forwarding proposals for the 2007 Legislature that are as laudable as they are optimistic. (Read them in total at In short, he's calling for changes that could speed Nevada's political maturation, which is why most of the ideas are doomed from the start.

Hey, I don't call it the Slither State for nothing.

Noble gesture No. 1 would require limited liability corporations to list their partners.

But if they do that, how will politicians be able to conceal their personal and familial connections to big contributors, lobbyists and business power players?

Sounds like Walton's dreaming if you ask me.

Then there's the idea to remove the "proportionality" exception from the state's Marvel Comics Conflict of Interest Disclosure. Nevada's lobbyist laws receive failing grades from the spoilsports at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity in part because the state "too narrowly defines what a lobbyist is," the center observes. The current system keeps the public and press in a deep slumber about the effect the lobbyists have on legislation.

I've suggested a full-color scoreboard reading "Whittemore 147, Taxpayers 0," but I guess there's no room in the budget for such extravagances.

Walton's dreamers want to enable counties to enact stricter ethics laws than those in place at the state level. And they want to force politicians to disclose the gifts they receive, which would raise the state's F grade in that category. (Again, with the Center for Public Integrity doing the scoring.) Legislators who think tickets to the Rolling Stones and Strip showroom acts don't need to be reported as gifts have some homework to do on this subject.

The dreamers don't stop there. They actually want to change the definition of "willful," as in a "willful violation of the state's ethics law."

And, get this, they want tangible penalties with minimum dollar amounts attached to the changes in the laws. That way, a politician who finds himself on the wrong end of an ethics decision might have to cut a personal check to pay for his mistake. Rather than, say, work on his stand-up comedy routine and go on vacation until the storm blows over.

Talk about dreaming. Next stop, Fantasy Island.

I don't favor ethics watchdog organizations and ethics commissions. I'm more of a dog-bites-master-dog-gets-whacked kind of guy when it comes to holding politicians accountable for their sleazy antics.

But Walton's dreamers are different. They believe that tightening the collar will help change the behavior of the dog. And maybe it will.

First they have to get the laws changed.

On the surface, that should be easy. After all, no straight-shooting legislator should have much of a problem with the center's proposed changes, right? (I crack myself up sometimes.)

Watch what happens once the whistle blows and the game begins in Carson City.

There will be the instant ethics micromanagers, legislators who obsess on a trivial point at the expense of an entire bill. They'll want to examine the proposals with electron microscopes.

And there will be the easily offended legislators, who for weeks on end will focus on the personalities and petty politics involved. Theirs is the equivalent of a team sticking to the ground game to run out the clock.

Then there will be the "crisis, what crisis?" legislators who can't see a problem no matter how many Clark County commissioners are sent to the penitentiary.

My personal favorite is the lawmaker who says, "Time is limited, and we have more pressing priorities." This is the Carson game's ultimate end run.

They'll all work against Walton's dreamers in the coming weeks, and they'll most likely pound them to pieces.

While we stock up on ice packs and analgesic balm to send to Walton and his dream team, the least we can do is root for the underdog.

• John L. Smith's column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal's Opinion page. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.


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