One of Damon’s rivals even weighed in. Jane Ann Morrison, a former political reporter who’s now a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, publicly commended Damon in a Monday piece headlined, “What ever happened to ‘disclose, disclose, disclose’?”
Blatantly stealing from political satirist Stephen Colbert, I’m giving a tip of my hat to the Las Vegas Sun’s Anjeanette Damon and a wag of my finger to seven Assembly Democrats.
Damon did what I’ve never accomplished in all my years. She wrote a piece about campaign finance omissions and one week later, lawmakers caved and filed amended reports. It’s taken me decades of pounding on campaign finance issues to notice even minor improvements, much less an immediate turnaround.
To earn those kudos, Damon relied on her well-developed network of sources. In an email to me, she explained how she got the scoop:
I received a tip from a source that Democrats in the Assembly had received legal advice that they were not required to report all of the money they spent from their campaign fund on expenses not directly related to their election. The lawmakers were told that if they spent money on expenses related to their official duties (a legally valid way to spend their money), then they didn’t have to report those expenses on their campaign contribution and expenditure forms.
My next step was to get that confirmed. Another source confirmed the legal advice. Next, I had to prove that some lawmakers had indeed followed the advice and failed to report all of their expenses. I knew from covering the Legislature for many years that a couple of individual lawmakers paid for their Carson City housing from their campaign funds. I went to their disclosure forms and could not find those expenses listed. I confirmed with those lawmakers that they had followed their lawyer’s advice and did not report. I asked many other sources if they knew of any other lawmakers who hadn’t reported and came up with a possible list. I wrote the story based on the first three lawmakers. After the story ran, seven Democrats filed amended expense reports. I used the Secretary of State’s disclosure database to locate those individuals and wrote a follow up story.
Damon invoked an old adage—“You don’t know what you don’t know” —as she continued her recap:
Honestly, the story never would have come together if I hadn’t received a tip, or if people hadn’t been talking about it in enough circles that it got back to me. If they had all kept mum about what they had done, they could have continued hiding expenses without being caught.
Damon says she’s continuing to keep in touch with Nevada’s Secretary of State. He’s the person who will need to decide whether campaign finance laws were broken and, if so, whether prosecutions should be sought.
In the meantime, the veteran political reporter has some advice for colleagues:
This is a story that proves your sourcing can be just as important, if not more so, than your ability to comb through public documents. I used both approaches in reporting this story and it did take some persistence. I would say to get as many facts straight as you possibly can before approaching the lawmakers you suspect of a questionable activity. In this case, almost every lawmaker was honest when asked directly about the expenses. Had they decided to deny what they did, I needed to have enough information to prove them wrong.