Campaign Finance

Nevada's first attempts to regulate campaign finance occurred in the 1890s with the birth of the Silver Party and state legislators who introduced the first campaign finance reform measure in 1895. Modern campaign finance law continues to develop in Nevada and now requires reports of campaign contributions and expenditures, places limits on the amount one person can contribute to a candidate or question, and regulates the time period for contributions. The responsibility for enforcing campaign finance law resides with the secretary of state.

The Silver Party's "Purity of Election Law" required that a candidate have five persons sign an affidavit stating they would be responsible for financing the campaign. The law provided for reporting of contributor names and exact details of amounts given, regardless how large or small. The Purity Law also imposed strict spending limits based on a percentage of the annual salary for the office being sought. If these provisions were applied today, legislators would be able to spend only a few hundred dollars on their campaigns, while candidates for statewide offices, such as the governor, would spend less than five thousand. The Silver Party's campaign finance experiment was short-lived, and by 1899 the legislature repealed the Purity Law.

Modern campaign finance law dates from 1975, when Secretary of State William Swackhamer (D) was given the responsibility of designing new forms for the reporting of contributions. The new law required that candidates report only those contributions in excess of $500 and then only during election years. The Nevada Campaign Practices Act was amended in minor ways until Secretary of State Cheryl Lau (R) pushed for legislative changes in 1991 and 1993. These changes included maximum contribution limits and the reporting of expenditures in excess of $500, itemized by name and address. Other revisions included a Code of Fair Campaign Practices and restrictions on the times when sitting governors and legislators could solicit and accept contributions.

An initiative petition regarding campaign finance reform was approved by the voters in 1994 and 1996. Limits of $10,000 per contributor were set for any office and $5,000 for any ballot question.

In 1997, Secretary of State Dean Heller (R) successfully lobbied the legislature to reduce the reporting threshold to $100. Heller advocated reporting deadlines for political parties and candidates to ensure that reports are filed closer to election day. In subsequent legislative action, Heller's office lobbied for annual reporting in certain circumstances and disclosure of in-kind (non-cash) contributions of goods and services. Revisions to the Campaign Practices Act also gave the Secretary of State more power to enforce violations, allowing for investigations and the imposition of civil fines.

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