RENO (AP) — Luring the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas was a big deal in Nevada — so big that the state Legislature took an unprecedented step when it convened in emergency session last year.
The decision to approve a $750 million tax increase to build a stadium was deemed so crucial that the Senate and Assembly waived the self-reporting requirements for lawmakers to reveal potential conflicts of interest. The resolution was approved on a voice vote with no opportunity for public comment.
Then-Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the action was warranted because the legislation was of “immense public importance” and would “have significant impacts on the general welfare and prosperity” of the state.
“The resolution explains that the Senate’s ethics rules do not require any member to make disclosures or abstain from voting on the bills because each members’ interest are not greater than the interest of the entire class of persons affected,” Roberson said Oct. 11, 2016.
That meant no lawmakers recused themselves, including Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno. Kieckhefer served as vice chairman of the joint session that approved the spending bill rules even though he works as director of client relations for a major law and lobbying firm whose clients included the Oakland Raiders.
Kieckhefer defended his vote. Even without the waiver, he said he didn’t believe he had a potential conflict because he has no involvement in the lobbying wing of the firm.
“I work for the law firm. The lobbying shop is a separate legal entity,” said Kieckhefer, who once worked as a reporter for The Associated Press. “There’s a wall that was put up between them before I even started there.”
Critics of Nevada’s part-time, citizen Legislature say the extraordinary move was a prime example of why the state should elect full-time legislators not dependent on outside jobs.
Bob Fulkerson, state director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a coalition of mostly labor, minority and social justice advocates, said he would have objected at the time if he had the opportunity.
“The Nevada Legislature openly flaunts the absolute lack of rules governing their conflict between serving the public or serving their employers,” he said.