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January 29, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

It’s time for lawmakers to take the Transparency Test

I’m generally opposed to litmus tests.

They are pedantic or superficial or meaningless. Say, “No new taxes,” or be branded a profligate money-waster. Say, “More money for education,” or be branded an enemy of children.

It’s all part of the devolution of political discourse, exploited by modern-day Don Drapers who give the public what they will eagerly consume — a miraculous alchemy turning what should be an emetic into something that tastes better and is less filling. But once in awhile, a litmus test comes along that really does illuminate something about a politician’s character and intent.

And thanks to Assembly Republican leader Pat Hickey, we have one that is about to be applied to every lawmaker on the ballot and every candidate who comes out of the June 12 primary who wants to be a member of the Gang of 63. I am going to call it the Transparency Test, one that will reveal how lawmakers and would-be-legislators feel about pulling back the curtain on campaign financing and influence-peddling and will thus be a window into whether they care about protecting the system’s opacity or the public’s right to know.

As I wrote Sunday, Hickey’s proposals are long overdue and should be supported by anyone who believes it’s time to end the institutionalized corruption of the Carson City cabal. As secretaries of state such as Dean Heller and especially Ross Miller have found, reforms such as these enter the Legislative Building but never find their way to the governor’s desk.

It’s time to change that. Or at least try, by getting everyone on the record long before 2013, so when Hickey introduces his package on Day 1, it can be passed on Day 2.

I know what you are thinking: I’m sleep-deprived. Or living on the planet Polyanna. Or dipping into my Glenlivet reserves.

None of the above. What I am is out of patience with a broken system populated by mediocrities who will do anything to protect a structure built on a foundation of sleaze and with the only exits being revolving doors.

I don’t really care if Hickey is sincere — I think he is — as much as I do about the core prongs of his plan. In case you missed the points, they are:

• Real-time reporting of campaign contributions;

• Require candidates to report how much they have on hand after the election;

• Reporting during the interim of lobbyists and donors giving gifts to lawmakers;

• Giving the secretary of state more power to audit the reports;

• A cooling-off period for legislators before they can become lobbyists.

My guess is there are a lot of patronizing smirks on the faces of legislators and lobbyists who have heard this stuff before and figure the only challenge is to find a way to kill the ideas, probably during the Rush to Close. Fine.

I have a better challenge in mind. And that’s why I have emailed the Transparency Test to all lawmakers on the ballot this cycle, asking for positions on these key principles. Well in advance of the gavel coming down on Session ’13, we will know which members of the Gang of 63 (I will send the Transparency Test to the non-incumbent major party victors on June 12) will stand up for institutionalized corruption and which ones won’t. And, yes, failure to answer or some mealy-mouthed “I want to see the proposal in writing” is tantamount to a “no” vote.

I will publish all of the results on my blog, and I will update the list as new responses come in. If you want an indication of how transparency is like sunlight to the vampires who suck the blood out of the system, consider what happened when the conservative think tank, NPRI, and the Nevada Press Association surveyed these folks on similar issues. Few incumbents responded.

I’d say they should be embarrassed, but shame takes a holiday for 120 days every other year in the state capital. I know some of the Democrats have their backs up because Hickey foolishly highlighted Democratic ethics failings during his Monday news conference. But I have three words for them: Get over it. And if Hickey and the Republicans want to get up on their high horses about political depredations, I have five words for them: Jim Gibbons and John Ensign.

I know how difficult it is to get voters interested in this issue, which is what those in power bank on. So I am going to do what the candidates’ consultants tell them to do with their hollow sound bites to ensure any vacuous idea will sink in:

I’m going to keep talking about it, over and over again, until we know who passes the litmus test and who favors corruption.

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  1. Long over-due reforms that are desperately needed - KUDOS Jon for committing to putting every elected and every candidate on the spot in the hot-seat!

    I'm fed up TOO! Not just with the hypocrites in the Republican Party but even more-so with the hypocrites in the Democratic Party!

    You are either FOR transparency, or NOT!

    You are either FOR Equality, or NOT!

    You are either loyal and FOR your political party's platform on issues, or NOT!

    The only "stars" we need are Sunshine, Transparency, Accountability and Sincerity - I hope Hickey is serious!

    The rampant corruption at every level needs to be more than just reigned in - it needs to end now!

  2. I am all for real-time reporting. When I was in college studying how to do candidate reporting we were all warned in the 90s it was going to happen and soon.

    Now that we have smartphones and accounting apps that I use to help my friends who are lounge singers and comedians keep their books straight while on tour by literally just taking a picture of every check received or bill paid - what is our excuse?

    I propose the Secretary of State contract one of the many SmartPhoneApp companies in the Nevada business incubator to make a realtime reporting app.

    The tools are there and really that simple. Even this housewife could write the APP

    The caution I have been warned about is that if campaigns can show money is coming in, has come in, it will slow down the rate of donations as donors will perhaps if given the choice between a candidate reporting 100s of transactions a day or 5 may put their money on the candidate with fewer. I see where the opposite is true often donors want to pile on what looks like the winning team.

    Real time reporting is an idea we are ready for as a nation. Technology is swift and cheap to get the job done affordably for campaigns of all sizes. If I can teach senior citizens how to use technology to elect candidates, we can teach candidates how to overcome any technological obstacles to transperancy.


  3. And another thing! Lobbyists & non profits should have to identify themselves as such at the Legislative Counsel Bureau Committee meetings during the Interim. Members of the public may only comment during the "Public Comment" period, thus identifying ourselves as members of the public. The names of some organizations give the impression that they are part of the school district or a governmental entity. Many will benefit from future legislation & need to identify themselves. By the way, what does human capital mean?