Court: IAP candidates can’t refuse to do ethics filings
December 17, 2004
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Friday that Independent American Party candidates cannot hide behind the Constitution to avoid filing Ethics Commission reports.
Large numbers of IAP candidates have for several campaign seasons refused to give financial information required by Nevada law in mandatory ethics commission filings. Instead, they submit statements claiming the commission is “violative of unalienable God given rights” and part of a conspiracy to “establish a civil religion.” They argue forcing them to reveal personal income, properties and other holdings would violate their constitutional rights.
Several candidates also argued they don’t have to report any income unless it was paid in gold or silver.
Therefore, they argued, they can’t be required to complete financial disclosure forms listing their sources of income, properties held, creditors, gifts received and holdings of their spouses. That information is required by Nevada law of all candidates in the state to allow the public to determine whether they have any conflicts if they win office.
The group of candidates argued the letters and forms they filed meet the mandate to file with the ethics commission and that the commission has no actual power to decide what must be in that filing. They said as long as the form was filed by the statutory deadline, the commission has no power to ask for fines against them.
The Ethics Commission went to court asking a ruling that affirms its power to rule the statements inadequate and to seek fines against 27 IAP candidates.
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Carson District Judge Bill Maddox ruled the commission was limited to reviewing the filings to ensure they were filed on time and that the Legislature had not granted the commission the power to determine what constitutes an adequate filing.
He said no fine could be levied as long as a candidate filed some sort of financial statement on time.
Six members of the Supreme Court disagreed and overturned Maddox. They said there are no constitutional rights involved in the issue and that the plain meaning of the ethics law gives the commission the power to determine whether a candidate’s financial statement is adequate. If not, the court said the commission has the power to seek penalties spelled out by the law including fines.
The opinion issued Friday says the commission has the power to recover, waive or reduce penalties and, in order to do that, must first have the power to determine whether a candidate has filed a proper financial disclosure statement.
“Consequently, the commission’s express statutory power to recover and waive or reduce penalties necessarily depends on the implicit power to determine whether a candidate’s filing qualifies as a financial disclosure statement,” the opinion states.
The justices wrote, the commission has the power to seek statutory penalties for not filing proper financial statements.
As for those statements, the opinion says those filings “were so devoid of the necessary information that they could not be considered financial disclosure statements.”
The opinion was signed by six members of the court. The seventh, Justice Michael Douglas, recused himself from the case.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.