A plan to impose tighter controls on lobbyists who try to influence Nevada decision-makers is facing resistance - but not from the likely suspects, the advocates who are the big spenders when it comes to wining and dining state lawmakers.
Instead, officials who would have to enforce the proposed standards are expressing concern, along with low-budget or no-budget lobbyists who say new paperwork requirements and penalty provisions in the plan are too onerous, and would unfairly restrict their free-speech rights.
The big-time lobbyists haven't even weighed in publicly on the plan being debated in a state Assembly committee, and it's already being revised. But its chief proponents remain hopeful that key sections will survive in what would be the biggest change in decades in Nevada laws governing lobbyists.
"We don't want a situation like the Jack Abramoff thing in Washington," Assemblywoman Ellen Koivisto, D-Las Vegas, said at a recent hearing on the plan, AB142. "We're trying to avoid those kinds of things. That's what we're working toward."
Nevada has a long ways to go to strengthen its lobbyist laws - which have been given a failing grade in comparison with other states by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based government watchdog group.
Lobbyists reported spending just over $161,000 in food and drinks on Nevada lawmakers during the four-month-long 2005 session. But the reports didn't include the advocates' personal expenses, such as their pay, housing, transportation and their own food and drinks and other related costs.
Critics of the sketchy reports say there's bound to be nonreporting or underreporting by some of the several hundred registered advocates, but there's no way to prove it since there's no follow-up accounting or auditing.
All that would change if AB142 survives, even with some of its terms intact. And seeing something pass would be better than having the Assembly send the Senate something so broad that it would be killed, advocates said. A bill that contained part of AB142 died in the Senate two years ago.
The latest proposal would require new lobbyists and newly elected or appointed officials to take a course on ethics, and would increase disclosure requirements to include anyone who lobbies officials in the executive branch of government.
Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, d-Las Vegas, says there are disclosure rules that apply to the advocates who show up for Nevada's 120-day legislative sessions that are held every other year, but there are no such requirements for the executive-branch lobbyists.
Among those raising concerns about the legislation is Craig Walton of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics. While Walton says the extension of reporting requirements to executive-branch lobbyists is long overdue, he questions a requirement that lobbyists list all legislation they're trying to see approved, revised or killed.
Others who have brought up questions about the bill include representatives of the state Ethics Commission and the secretary of state's office, which would administer the expanded reporting program.
Richard Siegel, head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he supports the expanded financial disclosures, but worries about penalty provisions that would apply to unpaid or low-paid advocates along with the high-paid professional advocates. Under the measure, a false report could lead to a perjury charge and loss of lobbying privileges.
Siegel says the goal should be to focus on the full-time lobbyists who do most of the spending and wield the most influence.