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Are you considering donating to a candidate this election year? Wonder how that money will be spent. Well there are a few services on line for the first time this year including the records of how our elected officials spend money and where to vote.
PLASKON: People want to know where to go vote says Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax.
LOMAX: Just to give you an idea, in the last presidential election on election day alone we received 12 thousand phone calls alone in this office, the vast majority were from individuals wanting to know one, if they were registered and two, wanting to know where their polling place is. So anything we can do to cut down on the number of phone calls we get is a benefit to us.
PLASKON: Now voters don't have to wait till the last minute to find out their voting status and where to go punch the chads. The Registrar put together this web site . . . For the first time now at the Registrar's web site, with a name and a birthdate anyone can find out where to go vote . . . aaaah, there it is. I'm supposed to vote at Lewis E. Rowe Elementary. While voters like to know where to vote, something that reporters traditionally like to know in elections is how much money politicians get and how they spend it. So every time there is a filing deadline for candidate campaign finance records, reporters rush down to the registrar's office to see politician's income and expense reports. Erin Neff has been covering politics for the Las Vegas Sun for the past 5 years and now for the Review Journal.
NEFF: In the past, this information was photocopied this information was in the form of hundreds of pages of information, boxes and boxes of information literally go to the county and then we would have skaggs and skaggs of stuff to go through and trying to find relevance and meaning to the numbers.
PLASKON: Also for the first time the Registrar has developed the ability on it's web site for reporters, politicians and anyone to sift through how politicians spend campaign money and who gives it to them. Neff was snooping the new site recently, looking at Assemblyman Chad Christensen expenditures. She found Christensen had paid himself 16 thousand dollars in cash from his campaign to start a campaign office that was outside his district and at the same time the financially troubled assemblyman was trying to start a financial consulting business. The investigation hasn't led to much other than information about how the Assemblyman has spent money and a statement by the Secretary of State about potential improper reporting. Neff says the ease with which the public can now see expenses raises a lot of questions but not many answers.
NEFF: Certainly sunlight on the issue is going to scare some people from doing some overtly corrupt things, but I also believe until the legislature puts a little more teeth into the disclosure laws and also having the ability to enforce the filing of these reports until that happens I don't believe we are going to see any real change in public official's behavior.
PLASKON: A brief look at the database on line offers some idea of that political spending behavior. Even though last year wasn't an election year, campaign offices of Nevada elected officials were spending left and right. For instance Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins' campaign raised 136 thousand dollars from power companies to tobacco, liquor and contracting . . . and he spent 116 thousand of it on Hawian Airlines, petty cash, ham and golf among other things. Nevada Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus raised close to 30 thousand dollars last year from casinos to trash companies and developers. She used those campaign funds to fly on an airline that donated to her campaign and pay one of her staff members also employed by the Nature Conservancy. Both used campaign cash for a big purchases at Lees Discount Liquor and flights for official duties, not campaign related. Unlike other states Nevada legislators have small budgets for their offices, 60 dollars for mail for instance - so they are legally allowed to use campaign funds for non-campaign-related duties. While the expenditures raise the question of whether funds are or aren't being spent appropriately, Ted Jelen, Professor of Political Science at UNLV, says when the public looks at these expenses they should keep in mind that campaigns need politicians to spend how they see fit. He says campaigns shouldn't have to spend money on lawyers to figure out if expenses are legal or not.
JELEN: There are not a lot of rules governing this sort of thing and I think that is appropriate as long as we can find out what people are using that campaign contributions for. We at least have the capacity to decide if that is the best use in the final analysis of what is our money.
But there aren't really many donations from individuals. He says probably less than 5 percent of Nevadan's donate to campaigns. According to the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada - a campaign finance watchdog group - the amount raised by state legislators is around 8 million dollars a year, almost all of it from special interests and the amount donated increases by about 1 million dollars a year. The real benefit to the public of such political income and expense reports according to Jelen and the Progressive Leadership Alliance is the ability to see who are the big donors to campaigns, the donors who may be gaining political influence and favors. And for the first time, residents of Clark County can see it for themselves on-line.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR