Campaign-finance bill heard in Assembly committee

Backers of a bill to close a campaign-finance loophole that allows some former elected officials to hold on to campaign cash indefinitely said Thursday that the purpose of their proposal is to instill public trust in the election and campaign process.

“This bill addresses a loophole that I think is inadvertent but significant,” Republican Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, co-sponsor of AB178, said Thursday in testimony before the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections.

The bill would require anyone who qualifies as a candidate to dispose of unused campaign funds within two years if he or she doesn’t actually file as a contender or appear on the ballot.

Nevada law requires candidates who withdraw or are defeated in an election to dispose of unused contributions by the 15th day of the second month after an election. But there’s a twist for elected officials.

If they receive at least $100 a year in campaign contributions — even after leaving office — they qualify under the law as a “candidate” and can keep a war chest without having immediate plans to run for election.

“What I don’t think was the intent of the law, whereby simply receiving a $100 annually, you could in effect keep a campaign fund in perpetuity,” Hickey said.

Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, a co-sponsor who is also shepherding similar legislation in the Senate, agreed.

“It’s our feeling that the status quo ... probably doesn’t make sense.” Brower noted a similar bill passed the Senate 21-0 in 2009 but died in the Assembly.

Randolph Townsend, a former senator who served during the 2009 session, also supported the new effort.

“This is about building public confidence,” said Townsend, who now sits on the Nevada Gaming Commission. “This is about doing the right thing. It’s not about anything else.”

His remarks were aimed at downplaying reports that the bill was a response to former Democratic Speaker Barbara Buckley, who termed out in 2010 and left office with $575,000 in campaign funds.

Buckley’s term ended in November 2010. In early 2011, she received a $200 campaign donation from fellow Democrat Sheila Leslie. The token kept Buckley’s status as a candidate intact. She contributed about $155,000 in 2012 to various candidates, Democratic parties and political action committees.

Leslie received $8,700 from Buckley in her failed race against Brower.

Brower earlier said the bill isn’t about retaliation but making Nevada’s campaign laws more transparent. Under the current law, he said, “You don’t have to file a declaration of candidacy ... and never close your campaign account.”

There was no opposition to the bill Thursday and no action was taken by the committee.

But the issue of campaign finance has stirred up political dust.

On Wednesday, a Democratic supporter filed a campaign finance complaint against former GOP Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert — and named Brower and Hickey as candidates who may have benefited.

Chris Wicker, former chairman of the Washoe County Democratic Party, alleges that Gansert, who left office in 2010 and then served as chief of staff for Gov. Brian Sandoval, kept money in her campaign account for months after the deadline for disposing of cash. He said she then gave the bulk of her funds, nearly $74,000, to her own political action committee, Nevadans First, something disallowed by law.

The complaint asks the secretary of state’s Election Integrity Task Force to investigate.


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