On Being Blinded
Justice is blind, goes the phrase. Here in Nevada some lawyers like that idea so much that they're working overtime to make the entire electorate blind.
Remember how the state trial lawyer association last year tried to mislead everyone by concealing and denying its central role in those two deceptive ballot propositions?
Questions 4 and 5, you’ll recall, masqueraded under misleading titles, with anti-tort-reform provisions hidden away in the fine print, never to be seen by most voters or even petition-signers.
Although the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association disclaimed any role in that campaign, news reporters soon turned up a damning letter from the NTLA president. It showed that despite the explicit denials, the organization had been actually driving the whole project.
Well, the trial lawyers are still eager to make sure Nevada voters are kept in the dark. Indeed, so hostile are these lawyers to what’s been called The People's Right to Know that last year they launched an effort designed to gut the Silver State's entire system for open disclosure on the financing of ballot questions. And to this day they haven’t reported who paid for their $1.3 million 2004 ballot operation.
It gets worse. Because the trial lawyers are in bed with other political interest groups that also prefer voter (and news media) ignorance, the scam is spreading to those other groups. The state AFL-CIO, for example, used a copy-cat tactic to attempt to conceal from the public where it got the $693,000 it spent on last year’s effort to amend the Nevada constitution.
The ploy being used by the trial lawyers and Big Labor is, in essence, quiet simple: to blandly ignore explicit provisions of Nevada law and the clear intent behind them. Nevada Revised Statutes 294A.150 and .220, for example, require ballot advocacy groups to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors.
Instead of complying with those statutes, however, the trial lawyers and the union bosses are, so far, publicly pretending they are exempt—while implicitly daring the offices of the Nevada Secretary of State and Attorney General to a time- and resource-consuming fight. Hiding all their contributions—including the names and addresses of their actual contributors—behind phony front companies, both campaigns reported that those front companies are the sole source of all the funds used in their 2004 ballot advocacy campaigns.
The trial lawyers’ political action committee—“Yes on Questions 4 & 5”—reported to the Secretary of State’s Office that its cumulative contributions last year totaled $1,298,368. All of that, it farcically maintained, came in the form of “in kind” contributions from a recently created nonprofit corporation, “People for a Better Nevada”—a straw company with no other evident purpose than to conceal the political operation’s money men from public scrutiny.
Political consultant Gail Tuzzolo signed the report, beneath the words: “I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.”
The AFL-CIO’s PAC—“Yes on Question 6”—similarly contends that all its funding came as “in-kind” contributions from a single, recently created nonprofit corporation, this one named “Give Nevada a Raise Corp.” Residing at the Carson City address of the Nevada AFL-CIO, GNRC lists its resident agent as Richard G. McCracken, longtime attorney for Culinary Local 226. Signing this PAC report, also, was Gail Tuzzolo—again under penalty of perjury.
These fundamental attacks on Nevada’s campaign finance reporting system did not arrive without warning. Although the voters of the Silver State have a fundamental right to know who is behind efforts to fundamentally restructure their government, you would not know that from the behavior of state legislators. For decades they have ignored the need for sunlight on Nevada’s process, all the while playing corrupt footsie with some of the state’s biggest malefactors.
A major case in point here is the National Education Association, which for eons has thumbed its nose at Nevada law. In the last four years alone it spent at least $875,000 on ballot campaigns seeking higher taxes on Nevadans—without either registering as a PAC or reporting its contributions and spending. Recently, after looking closely at the record of the NEA’s continuing scofflaw behavior, the Board of Trustees of the Nevada Policy Research Institute filed an official complaint with the Nevada Secretary of State.
The recent antics of the trial lawyers and union bosses are only the natural consequence of the State of Nevada’s long complicity in ignoring its own statutes.
And so those laws are now—before the public’s increasingly blinded eyes—crumbling.
Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.