Assembly panel hears election reform bills

By Sandra Chereb

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 1 2011 6:40 p.m. MST

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Secretary of State Ross Miller pushed for sweeping changes to Nevada's election laws Tuesday, saying new rules on political action committees and campaign finance disclosures are needed to increase transparency.

But critics of Miller's proposals were vocal in their opposition in a hearing before the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. They argued the measures would create an elite society of candidates and keep minor party and independent candidates off the ballot.

"We want to let voters know who's funding the campaigns," Miller said.

No action was taken by the committee.

Nevada, he said, has consistently received an F in disclosure laws, according to reports compiled by the UCLA Law School, the Center for Governmental Studies and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

"That's flunking out," Miller told panel members.

His proposals, AB81 and AB82, would require all candidates to electronically file campaign finance reports with the secretary of state's office. Currently, local government candidates file their reports in their own jurisdictions.

Miller said the electronic reports and making his office a centralized reporting center would allow a searchable database as to contributions, donors and amounts. Currently, reports can be handwritten and delivered by mail.

The bills also impose new reporting deadlines. Under existing law, reports must be filed — or mailed — seven days before an election, well after early voting begins. Miller's proposal would make reports due four days before early voting begins and four days before primary and general election days.

Organizers of voter-registration drives would be required to register with the secretary of state's office and undergo training, a response to the 2008 scandal involving the now-defunct political advocacy group ACORN. Two directors were convicted of overseeing a program where canvassers were illegally paid to register voters during the presidential campaign. A criminal case against the organization is still pending.

Political groups that don't explicitly advocate for a particular candidate or cause also would be required to register and disclose donations. In the 2010 election, a district judge in Carson City imposed an injunction against a group with ties to former Vice President Dick Cheney over ads that spotlighted then-Nevada gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval as a conservative. Sandoval won election in November.

Lawyers for the Alliance for America's Future argued Miller lacked jurisdiction over their activities because the ads didn't expressly advocate for Sandoval's election. The judge disagreed.

Disclosures would also be required on electronic mailings if they are sent by a group or candidate to more than 500 people.

Candidate filing fees, which haven't been changed in 20 years, would jump from $500 to $3,000 for the U.S. Senate. For governor and U.S. House candidates, the fee would increase from $300 to $2,000. For those who can't afford to pay, the proposal "allows them to seek signatures instead in order to qualify as a candidate," Miller said.

Janine Hansen, with the American Independent Party and the conservative group Nevada Eagle Forum, said the bills discriminate "against those who are not the chosen in the state of Nevada and may have alternative views."

"Do we want to shut down our elections so our minor party candidates ... people who aren't rich and powerful, who aren't incumbents ... aren't allowed to participate in the process?" she said.

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