Ethics Commission forgives candidates of nearly all fines |

Ethics Commission forgives candidates of nearly all fines

by staff

The state Ethics Commission has forgiven all but about $3,000 of $250,000 in fines owed by political candidates who didn’t file financial disclosure statements in 1998.

Commissioners decided that because of special circumstances – including their own office records being in disarray – most of the fines against 81 candidates and public officials should be voided. None is a major politician.

Commissioners, meeting Thursday in Reno, also agreed to return about $10,000 in fines collected from a handful of officials who had been late in sending in financial disclosure statements.

Carson resident Wally Earhart, who ran for state controller in 1998 and paid his $3,750 fine for filing a late campaign disclosure form, said he has not heard from the commission.

“It would be a pleasant surprise if they did refund the money,” Earhart said Friday. “I would really appreciate getting the money back.”

Earhart paid the $3,750 fine in $100 bills after receiving a notice from the Ethics Commission.

“I saw the ruling and didn’t fight it,” Earhart said. “There were a lot of things going out in the mail and that may not have been one of them.”

Ken Rohrs, executive director of the commission, said the decision against levying fines was a ”matter of fair play.”

Until last year, the commission’s only full-time employee was executive secretary Lee-Ann Keever. Gov. Kenny Guinn and the Legislature beefed up the commission budget and hired Rohrs, a full-time commission lawyer and other staff members.

Rohrs said he’s building a database of politicians and others who must submit financial disclosure statements, and will work with election registrars to ensure candidates fill out forms acknowledging they must submit the statements.

Commissioners decided that 18 candidates from 1998, including some who lost their race, must submit financial disclosure statements by March 31 or face fines.

In other action, the commission:

-Reversed an earlier decision that Las Vegas City Councilman Gary Reese violated a state ethics law by voting two years ago on a restaurant project that affected his friend.

Ethics Commission members originally decided that Reese violated state ethics laws by voting in a May 24, 1998, council meeting against granting a use permit that would have allowed construction of a seafood restaurant in front of BankWest. Reese’s friend, BankWest President Larry Woodrum, opposed the restaurant.

-Asked the attorney general’s office for an opinion before trying to determine whether Las Vegas City Councilman Michael McDonald misled members during a November appearance before the commission.

Commissioners also will hold a March 23 hearing to determine whether McDonald violated conflict of interest laws on a vote approving a 15-year extension of Silver State Disposal’s franchise for garbage service in Las Vegas.

McDonald is a friend of Silver State president Steve Kalish, who once hosted a fund-raising party for him.

-Reprimanded Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin for not fully disclosing his private business ties with the Washoe County Airport Authority, but declined to order a full hearing on the complaint.

The commission ruled Griffin didn’t commit a ”willful violation” when he joined a City Council discussion about whether Reno-Tahoe International Airport meetings should be televised.

Commissioners also rejected a complaint alleging Griffin lied about attempts to boost air cargo traffic at the airport, and found no evidence that Griffin purposely violated an earlier Ethics Commission order that he fully disclose his business contract with the airport.