Study Finds Nevada Vulnerable to Corruption

By Steve Kanigher , Nathan Baca

Published 03/19 2012 10:10AM

Updated 03/19 2012 01:55PM

LAS VEGAS -- Only eight states ranked worse than Nevada in a new study that measured the possibility for political corruption.

The study released today by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., in partnership with Global Integrity and Public Radio International, assigned Nevada a D-minus grade and a ranking of 42nd among the 50 states.

The state received failing grades for lobbying disclosure, ethics enforcement agencies, internal auditing, pension fund management and insurance commission. A D-minus was assigned to the state's political financing, budget process and civil service management. Nevada also received a D for public access to information, legislative accountability and redistricting, a D-plus for judicial accountability, a C-minus for executive accountability and a B-minus -- its best grade -- for procurement.

"Really poor lobbying disclosure. I think, time and again, you see that a lot in states. That's a problem especially in states where it's a smaller government, so there's this real crossover between people in office and the private interest," said Caitlin Ginley with the Center For Public Integrity.

The eight states that received overall failing grades were: Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming. New Jersey, assigned a B-plus, emerged with the best overall grade.

Joan Whitely, who wrote the Nevada story for the first-of-its-kind State Integrity Investigation study, noted that the state's legislative framework factored heavily into Nevada's poor ranking. This includes part-time citizen lawmakers who face potential conflicts of interest "when proposed laws touch their sources of income," she wrote.

"Lobbyists can operate year round, but their networking and hospitality are tracked for a narrow window of time -- just right before, during and right after legislative sessions," Whitely wrote. "Those who lobby members of the executive or judicial branches do not register at all."

Whitely pointed to flaws involving the Nevada Legislature's Interim Finance Committee, which meets between regular legislative sessions.

"Budget changes occurring between sessions violate, at least in spirit, the principle of representative democracy, as only a handful of legislators serve on the Interim Finance Committee that makes changes," she wrote.

Whitely also wrote that the Legislature has exempted itself from open-meeting laws.

"That exemption, critics say, means the public cannot always readily see what legislators do," Whitely wrote.

Despite having had numerous political corruption cases, New Jersey came out on top because it has since implemented some of nation's toughest ethics and anti-corruption laws, according to the study.

Nevada's Ethics Commission says they are limited to what they can do by laws in place since the 1970's. But they do point to their impeachment of former State Treasurer Kathy Augustine on corruption allegations.

"The Ethics Commission does not on its own motion watch public officers and public employees and call them out and give them a speeding ticket, if you will. Instead, when a member of the public brings up conduct to the attention of the commission, the commission's investigator looks at it from a very, very careful standpoint on behalf of members of the public," said Jenkins.

The report also mentioned how Secretary of State Ross Miller has made recent improvements in campaign finance reporting, making more information available to Nevadans online.

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