Overall, Nevada ranked a dismal 47th among the states in lobbying transparency with a score of 35.3 percent, according to the Pacific Research Institute’s report, “State-Level Lobbying and Taxpayers.” This recent study examined states’ lobbying disclosure laws and how states provide accessibility to the information disclosed.
In terms of disclosure laws, the first component of the study, Nevada ranked 49th with a score of 29.7 percent. That score is based on an examination of 37 different aspects of Nevada’s lobbying laws, including the breadth of registration for lobbying activities, the degree of reporting required and exemptions for government. Nevada’s laws achieved only 11 of the 37 components analyzed. The state’s disclosure laws need to be broadened and deepened, but that alone is not sufficient.
“State-level Lobbying and Taxpayers” also looked at the accessibility of the information for interested citizens. After all, it’s not enough simply to require lobbying activities to be disclosed. The information must be accessible in a timely and clear manner for journalists, legislators and all concerned citizens. A total of 22 components of accessibility were analyzed, including whether current and historical data was available, and its level of detail.
The study also assessed how users could sort and analyze data by different criteria, and rated the accessibility of the website. Nevada received a score of 9.0 out of the 22 criteria, ranking it 28th in the nation, but the state’s problems go beyond disclosure and accessibility.
Like other states, Nevada does not subject all lobbying to the same standards. Some lobbying is conducted and funded by private interests. The state requires individuals in the private sector to register and report their lobbying activities but exempts certain people in the public sector, even though they pursue the same lobbying activities, with taxpayers footing the bill.
For example, Nevada exempts the executive branch, legislative branch and government agencies from registering for lobbying activity. Nevada also provides complete exemptions for government agencies and officials from the normal lobbying regulations imposed on private-sector equivalents.
State-level lobbying is not theoretical, nor merely a subject for argument. Key legislation hangs in the balance, and a great deal of money is involved. Nevada’s local governments spent more than $3.2 million lobbying the state government in Carson City: not exactly chump change and certainly more than enough to warrant attention on the part of reformers.
Recent scandals have moved some to call for prohibition of lobbying, but that approach is misguided. As long as state governments tax, spend and regulate, there will be a legitimate need for lobbying. At the same time, taxpayers need to know what legislators are doing with their hard-earned money.
This calls for transparency in lobbying, and data that is easily accessible to all. Just as important, double standards are not acceptable. Lobbying by state governments and their many agencies should be subject to the same regulatory standards as lobbying by the private sector. The need for transparency becomes especially apparent when one considers that governments can use taxpayer dollars to finance advocacy for positions with which some taxpayers disagree.
Like many other states, Nevada could stand some improvement on all counts, particularly its disclosure laws. Such reform will improve the behavior of lobbyists and enforce greater discipline on the lobbying process. More transparency, and a single standard, will also make for better government in the Silver State and across the nation.
Jason Clemens is the director of research at the Pacific Research Institute (www.pacificresearch.org) and a co-author, along with Julie Kaszton, PRI policy fellow, of “State-Level Lobbying and Taxpayers.”