Former Assembly Speaker Maintains Big Campaign Fund Despite Not Running For Office

CARSON CITY – Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley may not be a candidate for public office this year, but this apparent lack of political ambition has not stopped her from maintaining a campaign fund worth nearly half a million dollars.

Buckley, a Democrat who left office following the 2010 general election, has used the broad definition of a candidate in state law to maintain her election fund. In her annual Campaign Contributions and Expenses Report for the calendar year 2010 filed in January 2011, Buckley reported that her campaign fund totaled just under $575,000.

On the same date the fund total was reported, Jan 7, 2011, her report also shows a $200 contribution from colleague Sheila Leslie, a former member of the Assembly and current candidate for the state Senate in Washoe County.

Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

By receiving the $200 contribution, Buckley is defined in Nevada state law as being a candidate for public office, even though she did not seek office in 2010 and is not seeking office this year. She was termed out of the Assembly in 2010 after serving since 1995.

Buckley considered a run for governor in 2010 but ultimately decided against it. The finance reports identify her as a candidate, but they do not specify an office.

Buckley said today she has continued to maintain the fund in the event she does decide to run for public office in 2014 or 2016, and that she relied on advice from the Legislative Counsel Bureau and the Secretary of State’s office before doing so.

But Buckley said she has no definite political plans currently.

“I have no idea,” she said. “To be honest with you, the longer I’m out, the more I wonder if I will ever run for anything ever again. And so if I choose not to run for anything in the near future I will dispose of all of the money by giving it to either other candidates, parties, nonprofit organizations as outlined in the statute.”

Buckley said she has been fully transparent with all money received and spent from her campaign fund in her filings with the Secretary of State’s office.

Scott Gilles, deputy secretary for elections with the Secretary of State’s office, said via an email response that Nevada law allows a candidate to use donations in the candidate’s next election, which does not have to be in the next election cycle.

Nevada state law also defines a candidate as an individual who has received a contribution in excess of $100, “regardless of whether the person has filed a declaration of candidacy” and regardless of whether the person’s name appears on a ballot.

News of Buckley’s active and financially healthy campaign fund comes as members of the Assembly Republican Caucus have called for more transparency and reforms to the state’s campaign finance laws. One of the reforms outlined by caucus leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, would require ending fund balance reports showing how much money incumbents have on hand after an election.

Buckley’s campaign fund of over $575,000, for example, is reported on her 2011 annual filing for calendar year 2010, but is not found anywhere in the 2011 or 2012 reports. Nor is the information required to be included on the more recent reports under current rules.

Buckley said she would be in favor of better organizing such information on the Secretary of State’s website to make it more easily accessible by the public.

But Hickey said Buckley’s decision to maintain a campaign fund even while not seeking public office shows why greater transparency and accountability is needed in Nevada’s campaign finance laws.

“This example by the former speaker of the Assembly, still having that much money on hand and continuing to give out that money, I assume to Democratic candidates, really underscores the need for us to re-examine how we report on campaign money and how we conduct ourselves after we leave the Legislature,” he said.

“We should be asking ourselves whether or not it is appropriate for former lawmakers to keep large amounts of money and be able to disburse those funds into the political process,” Hickey said.

Buckley also worked as a paid lobbyist for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada in the 2011 legislative session. Buckley, an attorney, is executive director of the center. Serving as a lobbyist and donating to candidates is not a conflict, she said.

People who appear before the Legislature give campaign contributions all the time, Buckley said.

Buckley has continued to file her finance reports with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, which show she had expenses of just over $35,000 in 2011, mostly consisting of contributions to nonprofit organizations. She continues to identify herself in the reports as a candidate.

In her first report for 2012 filed in May, she reports another nearly $40,000 in contributions, including many donations to candidates. Leslie, who is facing Republican Greg Brower in the Senate 15 race this year, received $8,700 in cash from Buckley. She also received a nearly $1,300 in-kind contribution from Buckley.

Deducting these expenses totaling about $75,000 from her political fund still leaves Buckley with about $500,000 in cash on hand.

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Audio clips:

Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley says she has maintained her campaign fund in the event she decides to run for public office in the next two to four years:

061112Buckley1 :12 anything ever again.”

Buckley says that if she decides not to run for elective office, she will dispose of the funds as outlined in state law:

061112Buckley2 :18 in the statute.”