Ethics on the half-shell |

Ethics on the half-shell

Nevada Appeal editorial board

So much for the credibility of the Ethics Commission.

Its first attempt at fining people for failing to comply with campaign-finance disclosure laws has ended in chaos. The commission is refunding $10,000 in fines it collected and waiving the fines against 81 candidates.

These candidates broke the law – some inadvertently, some blatantly – by failing to inform the public in a timely manner of the donations they received as they were running for office.

As campaign violations go, these aren’t particularly earth-shattering. And you’re not likely to recognize many of the names on the list.

Their crimes boil down, in most cases, to simply procrastinating past a deadline, or forgetting to file a form in duplicate when it was required.

Neverthless, most of the politicians were able to follow the arcane rules. And several who weren’t able to follow the rules, who were cited by the commission, turned around and paid their fines. Wally Earhart, who ran unsuccessfully for state controller, paid $3,750. Greg Brower, who represents part of Carson City in the Assembly, paid $225.

But now the Ethics Commission is admitting that its records are in such a mess it can justify only about $3,000 of the fines. Everybody else skates free.

Maybe this is the clean slate that Gov. Kenny Guinn’s new Ethics Commission needs. That’s one way to look at it.

The other way is the standing joke that “Nevada Ethics Commission” is an oxymoron.

The addition of members to the commission, a full-time director and a lawyer apparently got the commission organized well enough to recognize that its records resembled a teenager’s bedroom.

What hasn’t been swept under the rug has been lurking in the closet or under the bed. The Ethics Commission hasn’t always been wrong in its decisions, but it often seemed like a haven for the well-connected and an obstacle to actual political reform.

Guinn, in urging ethics reform during his campaign for office, suggested that violators be charged with felonies and subjected to removal from office. Another suggestion this week from Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius is to disband the Ethics Commission, turn the investigations over to the Attorney General’s Office and take offenders to civil court.

Clearly, taking ethics cases to the courts is a better alternative than the current system. Why have a parallel justice system, presided over by a quasi-judicial commission, just for politicians? If you or I fail to report our car registration on time, do we go to an ethics hearing? No. We go to justice court.

An additional benefit would be a more open, public process.