Adelson’s fingerprints are everywhere … well, almost

Sheldon Adelson speaks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before a speech by President Trump at the Israel Museum on Tuesday in Jerusalem. (AP pix via Haaretz)

The Las Vegas newspaper may have to add a couple of pages just to handle the disclaimers if its owner gets his fingerprints on any more news items.

Today there were, count them, four separate disclaimers.

In the front page story about President Trump being at a museum in Israel there was a mention that the paper’s owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife were in the audience. So at the end of the piece there was the obligatory disclaimer: “The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.”

The disclaimer also appeared at the end of a story about what it would cost to remove the attorney general as legal counsel for various agencies, including the Gaming Control Board. A bill was introduced to do this after the head of GCB secretly taped a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt in which Laxalt asked the GBC to file a brief in a civil court case involving Adelson.

At the end of a story about a languishing bill that would have created an inspector general’s office to audit spending by government agencies there were two disclaimers. The bill was prompted by the newspaper’s reporting of lavish spending by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The first one notes: “The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates the Sands Expo and Convention Center, which competes with the LVCVA-operated Las Vegas Convention Center.”

The second adds: “The Review-Journal owns the domain lasvegas.com, which is subleased to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The sublease terminates Aug. 2.”

Frankly, the story and its front page placement smelled distinctly of editorializing that would benefit Adelson’s convention business at the expense of his competition.

Oddly enough there were two stories in the sports section about the NFL’s Raiders moving to Las Vegas, but neither mentioned Adelson’s key role as catalyst for the move since he walked away from the deal — keeping his money but still getting the stadium “amenity” largely at taxpayer expense while still being able to put bods in his beds. No mention, no backgrounding, no disclaimers.

Also, pay no heed the fact the legislation that created the stadium funding also created a special oversight committee to monitor the expansion of the LVCVA facilities. Adelson has long opposed the expansion of the publicly funded convention center, contending it unfairly competes with his Sands Convention Center.

The redundant oversight panel could scale back the expansion, which might have been Adelson’s real Machiavellian objective all the time.

 

Guess his fingerprints have been wiped clean from that one, but who knows where they will turn up next.

 

 

Sandoval seeks to end controversy over lawyers’ taped talk about lawsuit

Well that should settle that piece of politically inspired legislation.

According to the morning newspaper, Gov. Brian Sandoval told a Reno radio station Monday he does not support creating a general counsel to legally represent agencies such as the Gaming Control Board and remove the office of attorney general from that role. Sounds like a promise to veto.

The proposal is contained in Assembly Bill 513, which was put forward by Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton of Las Vegas in response to learning that the head of the Gaming Control Board, A.G. Burnett, had secretly recorded a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt, in which Laxalt asked Burnett to consider filing an amicus brief in a private civil lawsuit involving casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson.

Burnett declined Laxalt’s request, and the lawsuit has since been settled.

A transcript of the conversion given to the Legislature shows Laxalt, a Republican who is contemplating running for governor, arguing his purpose was to protect the confidentiality of state gaming records.

When the matter first surfaced as a political issue, Fox News reported that Carlton and another assemblywoman released a joint statement saying, “Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s attempt to pressure the Nevada Gaming Control Board to interfere in a private civil lawsuit involving a gaming licensee, with whom he has longstanding connections, is unsettling. … Records obtained by legislative subpoena suggest that the Attorney General has created a conflict of interest and that he should not continue to serve as counsel to the Gaming Control Board.”

Laxalt and Burnett (R-J pix)

Laxalt quickly responded in kind.

“Nearly every outside independent analyst has recognized how partisan this Legislature has become,” the office said in a statement obtained by Fox News.  “Today’s news proves the point — Nevada’s Democrat politicians will stop at nothing — including twisting and politicizing a routine action that previous attorneys general, including Catherine Cortez Masto, have taken. We look forward to exposing this for what it is: a political attack designed to distract from the Democrats’ radical agenda that harms Nevada’s working families.”

Both Laxalt and Burnett were asked about their conversation during a joint legislative committee meeting this past week and both talked about protecting confidential gaming records. Burnett said he thought the matter was settled. He had turned the recording over to the FBI, which found no criminal wrongdoing.

Sandoval told the Las Vegas newspaper, which is owned by Adelson, “I think everybody agrees that this is an isolated incident and that there’s no need to provide for independent counsel.”
Adelson is a major contributor to Republican campaigns, including those of Laxalt and Sandoval.
Sandoval went on to add, “It was important to have that hearing. It was important to get the facts out there. But now that all the facts are out there, I think everybody understands that it’s time to move on. And as I said, having spoken with regulators, they’re comfortable with the representation they’re getting.”

There are still some lingering question about the behavior of both Laxalt and Burnett — Laxalt’s appearing to seek to gain legal footing for a contributor and Burnett’s secretly recording the conversation.

Laxalt issued a statement earlier in an attempt to explain his reason for the meeting, “The Attorney General’s Office was approached by the Sands Corporation asking us to file an amicus brief about NRS 463 — a statute that protects the confidentiality of documents submitted to the Gaming Control Board. I’ve made it a practice to personally advise and meet with my clients on a regular basis. As a Nevada statewide elected official, I also meet with constituents all the time on issues that are important to the State and our clients.”

As for Burnett, the state’s rules for professional conduct of attorneys state, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: …  (c) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation …”

But an online discussion by two law professors as to whether it is ethical for a lawyer to secretly record another appears to cloud issue and leave the matter as a state-by-state question:

The ethics of secret recording. Ethics codes, such as the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, do not specifically address covert recording by lawyers. The secret recording of conversations potentially implicates a number of general ethical standards, however. Model Rule 8.4 states that it is “professional misconduct for a lawyer to . . . engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

In 1974 the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility in Formal Opinion 337 prohibited secret recordings, reasoning that secret recordings would be tantamount to dishonesty or misrepresentation. The ABA affirmed this position a year later and stated that a lawyer was also ethically prohibited from directing an investigator to tape- record a conversation without the knowledge of the other party.

In the years after ABA Formal Opinion 337, many state ethics authorities followed it. Others did not, concluding that when done legally, a lawyer is ethically permitted to secretly record conversations. For example, the State Bar of Arizona Ethics Committee considered whether an investigator retained by a public defender could surreptitiously tape an interview with a potential witness “to obtain impeachment material on the witness should the testimony of the witness be different at the trial than in the interview.” In reversing an earlier opinion prohibiting secret recordings, the ethics committee in Arizona Opinion 90-02 stated, “The practicalities of the present day criminal justice system seem to be inconsistent with any continued prohibition against surreptitious recordation of a witness.”

The ABA withdrew Opinion 337 in 2001. Its current position, set forth in Formal Opinion 01-422, is that “[a] lawyer who electronically records a conversation without the knowledge of the other party or parties to the conversation does not necessarily violate the Model Rules.” As do ethics opinions from several states, the ABA opinion advises that a lawyer may not make secret recordings in violation of the law “nor falsely represent that a conversation is not being recorded.” In reaching this new position, the ABA noted that its prior position relied in part on the prohibition against the appearance of impropriety, which does not appear in the Model Rules. Further, Model Rule 4.4, dealing with “respect for rights of third persons,” proscribes “means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person,” and “methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person.” By implication, the ABA sees conduct that has a valid purpose and does not violate a person’s legal rights as permitted by Model Rule 4.4. Thus, prior Opinion 337 was at odds with the Model Rules. The ABA’s new position on secret recording is consistent with a growing number of state ethics opinions.

On the other hand, shouldn’t the gaming industry be squeaky clean and not have to hide behind confidentiality?

Democrats push to block Nevada entering statehood

The Democratic majority in the Nevada Legislature is doing everything they can to erase everything accomplished by the 2015 Republican-controlled session. First, labor reform and a minor prevailing wage reform are rolled back. Now, they want to keep Nevada a territory instead of barging ahead into some semblance of statehood.

In 2015 the Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 1, which urged Congress to release about 7.2 million acres of federal public land to the state, which would have reduced the federal land control in the state from about 85 percent to about 75 percent.

In support of that resolution in March 2015 Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, introduced H.R. 1484, dubbed the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources finally got around to conducting a hearing on the bill in November but the bill lapsed with the session of Congress.

Amodei at a meeting in Reno in April. (RGJ pix)

On Tuesday the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining heard testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 12, which would rescind SJR1 as if it never happened and the results of a years-long public lands task force report was written in smoke. That task force found that, while the federal government loses 91 cents an acre on the land it manages, states with public land trusts make $28.59 acre, meaning Nevada could net $114 million by taking over just 10 percent of BLM land.

SJR12  has already passed the Senate on a 12-9 party-line vote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Amodei appears to be throwing in the towel. He told the Reno newspaper editorial board this week that he won’t likely reintroduce a bill to transfer federal land to state control. “Transferring millions of acres of public lands … is not something I think the majority of people think is a good idea,” he was quoted as saying.

Janine Hansen, representing the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, was one of the few to testify against SJR12. She noted that the federal land bureaucracies are blocking economic development in rural Nevada.

 

 

 

Editorial: Give state revenue windfall back to those who created it

State workers demand higher pay raises. (R-J pix)

Riddle: What is the difference between the Nevada Legislature and a drunken sailor?

Answer: Eventually the drunken sailor sobers up.

The Economic Forum, which is tasked with estimating state general fund revenues so lawmakers can dodge blame for overestimating, has found a few million more coins in between the couch cushions — $96 million more in the coming biennium and a $44 million surplus from the current year for a total of $140 million. So immediately the governor and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle started calculating just how they could spend it. The added funds hike the general fund budget to $8.2 billion over the next two years.

Not one person suggested letting the taxpayers keep some of that windfall to blow on groceries and new shoes for their children.

Gov. Brian Sandoval wants to spend the windfall on education. “I introduced the weighted student funding formula last session, and this additional money provides a unique opportunity to invest directly in students who are economically disadvantaged, English learners, gifted and talented and in special education,” he was quoted by the press as saying.

For all the good that has done over the years. Over the past four decades, according to a Cato Institute analysis, Nevada has increased K-12 public school funding by 80 percent per pupil, adjusted for inflation. During those four decades student test scores have actually fallen slightly.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford said in a joint statement, “While these newly projected revenues will not be enough to fully meet our needs in public education, mental health, job training, and other vital services, we are committed to putting our tax dollars to work for the hardworking Nevadans who still feel left behind.”

How about some concern for the hardworking taxpayers who keep paying more and getting no recognizable return on their investment?

A few days later several dozen state government workers rallied near the legislative building demanding that the $140 million windfall be used to give them higher pay raises. Though the governor has included 2 percent raises in each of the next two years, the workers were demanding 5 percent each year, complaining that wages are so low many state government employees are on public assistance programs. They complained about how workers’ pay was reduced by furloughs during the recession, failing to note that they were paid the same rate of pay for the time they did work.

They also did not talk about how their pay compares to those in the private sector. According to census data maintained by the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, the weekly wage of a Nevada state government worker in the third quarter of 2016 was $1,093 a week, compared to $922 for a private sector worker in Nevada. Also, the state worker’s pay has increased 21.7 precent since 2012, compared to an increase of 13.1 percent for the private sector.

To add insult to injury, we note that the windfall-inflated $8.2 billion general fund budget is a 12.3 percent increase over the previous biennium’s $7.3 billion spending, while inflation in the past two years amounted to 2.5 percent. And the general fund is only about a third of the total state spending.

Since 2011 the state general fund budget has grown by 32.3 percent, while inflation amounted to 7.9 percent. Since 2001 that budget has grown by 122 percent, compared to 37.5 percent growth in the cost of living.

Meanwhile, the Economic Forum forecasts that the commerce tax passed in 2015 at the urging of Gov. Sandoval will raise less than $200 million in each of the coming years — less the millions the state is spending to create what is basically a Nevada version of the Internal Revenue Service.

The commerce tax is a tax on gross receipts on all businesses grossing more than $4 million a year. It has different tax tables for 27 different industries — ranging from a low of 0.056 percent for mining to a high of 0.362 percent for rail transportation — and there are 67 different tax brackets.

It is costing businesses in the state untold millions to comply with all the paperwork needed to enforce and collect the tax.

Take that $140 million windfall, add a few nips and tucks in the budget, then repeal the commerce tax. That’s the sober thing to do.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

 

Newspaper fails to uncover name of ‘mystery’ gaming licensee

Sheldon Adelson, owner of casinos and newspaper. (Reuters pix via NY Times)

Often the most significant aspect of a news story is what it doesn’t report.

The morning newspaper today reports that Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton of Las Vegas is seeking to conduct a hearing on a surreptitious recording made by Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett of a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt concerning “a certain licensee” — in other words, a casino owner.

Near the end, the news account informs readers that neither Carlton nor the AG’s office would name that “certain licensee.”

Now who on earth could that “certain licensee” be?

Back in February an online news operation called The Nevada Independent reported that Burnett had secretly recorded a meeting with Laxalt in which the AG asked that the gaming board file an affidavit in a civil lawsuit in Las Vegas demanding that certain records concerning the Las Vegas Sands be kept confidential. The Sands is owned by Sheldon Adelson, whose family owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Adelson is also a major contributor to Laxalt’s political campaigns.

The Nevada Independent is funded by contributions, a large portion of which come from Sands competitors, and is headed up by former Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun and television commentator Jon Ralston.

Both the Independent and Battle Born Media newspaper sought a copy of the recording under the state public records law but were turned down. “Even if the requested material was a public record,” the gaming board custodian stated, “it is declared confidential and privileged by law and, therefore, exempt from disclosure.”

Laxalt issued a statement at the time in an attempt to explain his meeting with Burnett on behalf of Adleson, “The Attorney General’s Office was approached by the Sands Corporation asking us to file an amicus brief about NRS 463 — a statute that protects the confidentiality of documents submitted to the Gaming Control Board. I’ve made it a practice to personally advise and meet with my clients on a regular basis. As a Nevada statewide elected official, I also meet with constituents all the time on issues that are important to the State and our clients.”

In the story first filed online Tuesday evening, the morning paper quoted Carlton as saying in a statement, “Last week I issued a subpoena for information regarding actions Attorney General Laxalt took to interfere with the Gaming Control Board’s oversight of a certain licensee. … The information is unsettling and warrants a hearing. We will work with the Chairman of the Gaming Control Board to bring more light to this situation.”

At about 4 a.m. today The Nevada Independent, which bills itself in social media as @TheNVIndy, posted a lengthy story recapping its previous reporting on the topic and attaching a 14-page notarized affidavit filed by Burnett on April 27. Why he created the affidavit is unclear.

That affidavit explained for the first time why Burnett, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, decided to record the conversation. “Further, because said licensee had in recent months been part of the purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and as previously noted, there were news articles implying that agents or employees of the newspaper had sent reporters around to monitor particular judges, including the judge presiding over the wrongful termination case, I was concerned reporters might be monitoring me, as well.”

Burnett also said, “I was shocked and in disbelief due to the nature of these unusual circumstances. I was also extremely worried about what the conversation might entail. Based on my knowledge of Nevada statutes, including past discussions with federal authorities, I determined it was in my best interest, and those of the state and the GCB, to record the upcoming oral conversation.”

Burnett reportedly turned over a copy of the recording to the FBI, which found no criminal behavior.

The Independent reported that Laxalt sent this statement to the news outlet: “Today’s news proves the point — Nevada democratic (sic) politicians will stop at nothing — including twisting and politicizing a routine action that previous attorneys general, including Catherine Cortez Masto, have taken. … We look forward to exposing this for what it is: a political attack designed to distract from the Democrats’ radical agenda that harms Nevada’s working families.”

Laxalt is said to be planning to run for governor. In March the Sun reported that Democrats filed public records request seeking copies of Laxalt’s official communications with Adelson and his representatives. The Sun story also mentioned the secretly recorded conversation that remains a mystery to the newspaper into which it is inserted.

The Sun reported, “Laxalt has faced criticism over an April 2016 meeting with Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett. Democrats have asked the FBI to release any audio recordings and documents related to the case and called for a state ethics investigation, saying Laxalt was attempting to push Burnett into supporting Adelson in a lawsuit.”

A year ago the Gaming Control Board fined the Sands $2 million for failing to maintain the reputation of the gaming industry. This was based on the company settling with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a $9 million civil penalty, which follow on a $47.4 million settlement with Treasury a couple of year earlier.

 

Here there be gods

Apparently when one is handed the power to write laws, one immediately becomes omniscient and omnipotent — knowing how everything should be done and how everyone should behave and do their jobs, even physicians.

On Friday the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy approved Assembly Bill 105, which requires doctors and other health care providers to undergo ongoing suicide prevention training. Like doctors don’t go through enough training already and doctors have no incentive to keep their patients alive and paying the bills.

State law already requires a litany of training requirements, including how to spot terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but it would change the law from encouraging ongoing suicide prevention and awareness training to requiring it.

 Meanwhile, the Assembly is expected to vote next week on a bill that would prohibit so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, even with their consent and the consent of their parents. Such therapy is intended to alter the minor’s sexual orientation — generally, we presume, from homosexual to heterosexual. Senate Bill 201 has already passed the state Senate on a vote of 15-5 despite concerns to any conversation with a young person about sexual orientation might to construed as therapy under the law.
While the law specifically prohibits treatment that “seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person,” despite their actual chromosome composition, it specifically allows support or confirmation for “a person undergoing gender transition …” or provides “acceptance, support and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s ability to cope, social support and identity exploration and development …”
Our lawmakers know what’s best for you, no matter what you might think. For their next trick: Laying on of hands.

Editorial: Nevadans would benefit from Trump’s tax deduction change

So President Trump has finally decided to take our advice.

More than a year ago this newspaper noted in an editorial that then presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Ben Carson all had proposed repealing the IRS deduction for state and local taxes, but Trump was still vague on the matter.

Nevada is one of only nine states with no state income tax to deduct. Since the creation of the federal income tax in 1913 the residents of states with income taxes have been allowed to deduct those taxes from their federal obligation. Only in recent years have Nevadans been permitted to deduct sales taxes, but this is subject to the whims of Congress because it must be renewed every year.

This past week Trump’s one page tax reform plan called for eliminating all deductions except for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

WSJ graphic

Predictably, the high-tax states are whining.

Nevadans — along with residents of New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota and Alaska — get to deduct about 1 percent or less of our adjusted gross income, while those who live in New York, Maryland, D.C. and California deduct more than 5 percent. The federal government is effectively subsidizing the big spending in those states at the expense of the lower tax states.

As we pointed out a year ago, using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, the most recent available, you find Californians who filed for state and local income tax deductions claimed deductions of $10,700 per return. Nevadans who filed for the state and local sales tax deduction claimed only $1,430 in deductions per return.

Calculated on a per capita basis, Californians claimed $2,116 in federal income tax deductions, while Nevadans claimed only $166 per person for sales tax deductions.

Heritage Foundation researchers Rachel Greszler and Kevin D. Dayaratna have concluded that the state income tax deductions subject federal tax revenues to the whims of state lawmakers and largely benefit wealthy taxpayers and those in high-tax states.

“The rationale for it is that since state and local taxes reduce individuals’ after-tax income, the income used to pay those taxes should be excluded from federal taxation. …” the researchers wrote. “In practice, however, the deduction allows states to raise taxes higher than they otherwise would and has significant perverse distributional impacts, redistributing income from the poor to the rich and from people in low-tax states to people in high-tax states. Despite some efforts to eliminate it, the deduction for state and local taxes remains one of the largest deductions in the federal tax code.”

Pro-state-and-local-tax-deduction groups have been quoted as saying, “Any alterations to the deduction would upset the carefully balanced fiscal federalism that has existed since the permanent creation of the federal income tax over 100 years ago.”

It is long past time to upset this century-old unfair tax break for some and tax burden for others. Where do we go to get a rebate for being overtaxed all those years?

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.