Tuesday, May 6, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Steve Nathan hadn’t thought about running for public office. Then some friends and business associates approached him about a state Senate seat.
“Yesterday they presented me a war chest with $50,000 in it and a promise of a lot more,” said Nathan, a Democrat, a casino maintenance engineer and, as of Monday, a candidate for a Senate District 7 seat.
Who gave him the money? “I’d rather not say.”
In fact, Nathan refuses to say. And he won’t have to disclose the donors until August — 10 days after early voting begins.
In Clark County alone, 165 people filed Monday to run for Congress, County Commission, state Assembly, state Senate and judgeships.
Monday also marked the start of another season sure to remind Nevadans of the shortcomings of their state’s campaign finance laws.
Candidates will spend tens of thousands of dollars patting themselves on the back and hurling allegations at their opponents, and voters won’t know from the start who’s funding them.
“Our campaign finance laws are very weak,” said Julie Tousa, acting president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics. “People have a right to know who’s funding who, where money is coming from.”
Nevada’s campaign finance laws received an F and ranked 44th nationwide in a 2007 survey by the nonpartisan Campaign Disclosure Project. In particular, the report points out that contribution and expense reports in Nevada are not searchable by donors’ names and don’t require disclosure of their occupation, employer or the cumulative amount they have donated.
Violations of campaign finance laws bring a maximum fine of only $5,000.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley acknowledged that the law should be changed to require candidates to disclose their donors and expenditures before early voting begins.
“Disclosure dates should be modified,” Buckley said. “It makes sense if they coincide a little bit better.”
She noted that the state’s primary dates were moved up late in the past legislative session, but campaign finance report disclosure dates were not moved up.
As a result, this year’s primaries in August will feature three months of campaign mailers and attack ads funded by sources that are as good as anonymous.
Nathan, saying only that he’d received the money from unnamed “friends and supporters,” said disclosing the sources now could put him at a disadvantage.
Democratic Assemblyman David Parks also filed to contend for the District 7 seat being vacated by Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus because of her run for Congress.
Parks, the state’s only openly gay legislator, has faced questionable campaign tactics in the past from conservative activist Tony Dane, including Dane’s attempt to run a traveling salesman named David Parks against the assemblyman.
Nathan, who owns auto-dialing political business DNA Communications Consulting Group, said he knows Dane, who also owns an auto-dialing business. Nathan said he doesn’t believe Dane is behind the money or support he has received.
“I would think Tony is supporting a Republican,” Nathan said. “To the best of my knowledge, no, he’s not (behind the contributions). I don’t think he was.”
Dane said he had not supported Nathan’s candidacy. After initially saying he would support the Republican candidate, Lou Toomin, whom Dane described as a friend, he called back later to say he would be polling in the Senate district Monday night to see how Nathan fares against Parks.
“If he has a chance of winning, I’ll break party line and will support Steve Nathan,” Dane said.
Jim Ferrence, Parks’ political consultant, said Parks has $100,000 in his treasury “ready to spend right now.”
Assemblyman Mark Manendo said he also is considering a run for the state Senate seat, in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 23 percentage points.