Augustine lawyers say everyone does it; Nevada officials disagree
State Controller Kathy Augustine is expected to present a defense that other elected officials have carried out political work while on state time when her impeachment trial begins Monday in Carson City.
Her lawyer, Dominic Gentile, says Augustine’s actions are no different than those of politicians in general.
But other elected Nevada officers disagree.
Gov. Kenny Guinn, a fellow Republican, said he has kept politics out of the governor’s office and has never had staff members do political work while on the taxpayers’ time clock.
And although he campaigned for President Bush this fall, Guinn said there’s a big difference between that and ordering members of his staff to assist on campaigns.
“It’s acceptable if I do campaigning, but you don’t tell your staff to do anything political,” Guinn said. “If it is not acceptable for me, then they need to change the rules.
He added that every governor in America campaigns for presidents.
Attorney General Brian Sandoval, who served as co-chairman of Bush’s re-election campaign in Nevada, agreed.
“There is a difference between having me do it and having my staff do it,” Sandoval said. “We have an office policy that any employee can run for office and support the candidates of their choice, but they have to do it on their own time.”
State ethics law allows public officials to perform non-office work out of their state offices on a limited basis, such as sometimes using office telephones to take political calls.
The law says such tasks must not create an appearance of impropriety or interfere with public duties.
Secretary of State Dean Heller said it is basic morality to keep staff members from doing political work.
“Everybody doesn’t use their staff for political work,” he said. “I don’t. You just don’t do it. If it has to be explained that you shouldn’t do that, then you shouldn’t be in office.”
During Augustine’s impeachment proceedings, Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins said he hopes the attention given the violations will convince other employees to file complaints if they suspect similar violations.
“I don’t believe everybody does this,” added Perkins, D-Henderson.
Augustine was impeached for admitting to three violations of a state law, passed in 1991, that stipulate a public officer “shall not use government time, property, equipment or other facilities to benefit his personal or financial interest.”
She admitted to the state Ethics Commission in September she used her executive assistant to write campaign speeches, keep records of political contributions and perform other work for her 2002 re-election campaign while on state time.