October 7, 2009

Nevada PACs can keep voters in the dark

What do you get when you mix a state with terrible campaign finance disclosure laws and PACs ran by ambitious politicians?

A mess

Since 2000, Mayor Oscar Goodman has formed two political action committees with the stated goal of revitalizing downtown Las Vegas.

In 2005, then-North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon formed his NLVPAC to “promote good leadership to benefit North Las Vegas.”

It’s difficult to know whether these PACs have achieved their aims. Nevada law allows political action committees to gather donations and — with the exception of donations to political candidates — spend that money without any public disclosure or limit.

Critics say those laws, which are among the weakest in the nation, deprive voters of potentially important information about who is giving money to and potentially currying the favor of elected officials.

As Kim Alexander of the Campaign Disclosure Project notes, PACs are often used by donors who want to "get around contribution limits." (Former-Mayor Mike Montandon has voluntarily disclosed the donors to his PAC.)

Just how lax are Nevada's campaign finance disclosure laws?

In 2008 Nevada ranked 45th among the states in public disclosure efforts, according to the Campaign Disclosure Project, a joint effort from the UCLA School of Law, the Center for Governmental Studies, and the California Voter Foundation. Nevada was one of 10 states last year that received an “F” from the group based on the adequacy of its campaign disclosure laws, thoroughness of its electronic filing program and accessibility of disclosures, including online resources. (Emphasis added)

PACs aren't the problem. The problem is keeping the activities of PACs secret. This allows donors to curry favor with a politician without his/her constituents knowing about it.

More strigent reporting laws would help the public know who is trying to buy influence and with whom.