It makes no sense to shield state senators and state assembly members from the same level of transparency that we require from other elected leaders
By David Brog, The Nevada Globe, August 31, 2023
Ethical scandals are nothing new in Carson City. From Kevin Atkinson to Alexander Assefa, plenty of officials have faced legal consequences or even prison time for failing to hold themselves to the standard we expect of our public servants.
Unfortunately, recent developments have shown that some forms of public corruption are effectively legal in our state government.
This week, our state legislature was rocked by a front-page story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal revealing that Democrat Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow voted to appropriate $250,000 in taxpayer funds to an entity called Arc of Nevada. That organization then hired her just days after the vote.
This stunning ethical failure presents a clear conflict of interest and raises legitimate questions about whether Gorelow attempted to profit from public office.
To make matters worse, one of her colleagues, Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May, sits on Arc of Nevada’s board of directors. But she failed to formally disclose her role with the organization before the vote. It’s hard to imagine she did not know about Gorelow’s impending hire.
So, what consequences will these politicians face for funneling taxpayer money to their organizations? So far, Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager and Democrat Party Chair Daniele Monroe-Moreno haven’t said anything publicly about the scandal. Also concerning, the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) told the Review-Journal that a case like Gorelow’s “doesn’t meet the standard for a disqualifying conflict of interest.”
If voting to give hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds to an organization right before they hire you doesn’t meet the “standard for a disqualifying conflict of interest,” what does? The LCB is essentially indicating that neither Gorelow nor Brown-May would receive even a slap on the wrist for their actions.
If such behavior is permissible then our current standards are clearly inadequate. We need change in Carson City, and that doesn’t only mean removing the politicians in question at the ballot box; it means passing fundamental reforms that prevent any elected leader from profiting off public office.
Some of these changes are simple. Currently, legislators are immune from open records requests, giving the public no ability to obtain records of their official communications. These requests can be made for any of the state’s constitutional offices like the Governor, the Treasurer, or the Attorney General, but the legislature carved out an exemption for themselves.
It makes no sense to shield state senators and state assembly members from the same level of transparency that we require from other elected leaders. We must change the law to allow them to be subject to these requests.
There also needs to be more active ethical scrutiny of lawmakers’ actions. The LCB must require recusal and transparency whenever legislators seek to funnel taxpayer funds to organizations with which they’re connected. State legislators should not be voting on bills that give taxpayer funds to any organization they are be associated with, and there should be firm disclosure requirements to prevent individuals like Tracy Brown-May from hiding their ties to such groups.
Lastly, in Nevada, politicians can request funds for organizations behind closed doors and the public is never aware of who requested the funds or for what purpose. This needs to change. If our elected officials believe that public funds should go to a private organization, then let them attach their name to the funding request and advocate in the daylight for these wonderful organizations. They should be proud to do so.
These reforms are important because Nevadans deserve better from their elected leaders. It’s not too much to ask that those who represent us refrain from using their offices to advance their personal and possibly financial interests at the expense of our taxpayer dollars. Sweeping institutional changes must come to Carson City.