If you sell cheap, you are cheap

Expanded from the 8-17-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
An updated version appeared in the 8-21-2003 Comstock Chronicle

We have new evidence that Nevada is becoming a major league state. The cost of corruption is apparently going up. Back during the Clinton-Gore Asian campaign contribution scandal, an unnamed foreign official marveled at how cheap it is to buy U.S. government influence.

If you wanted to do business in Indonesia during the reign of the U.S.-installed dictator Suharto, you had to give a member of his family part of your company. Here in the U.S., as little as a $1,000 campaign contribution makes you a player.

Alas, like everything save most paychecks, the price of purchasing power is rising. The fastest-growing city in the fastest-growing state is once again leading Nevada into the big time. Las Vegas has always done things with more digits to left of the decimal point.

Back in the 1970s, one LV insider told me in front of witnesses that "I can't understand why anyone would want to be governor when being a Clark County Commissioner is so much more lucrative. If you can't walk away after four years with at least $400,000 cash, you're not doing it right."

Compared to our brethren in Gomorrah South, northern Nevada politicos remain a bunch of Mother Theresas.

In case you haven't followed it, the FBI recently wiretapped a bunch of San Diego officials as well as some current and former Clark County pols. Some were dumb enough to spill their guts in cell phone conversations which anyone can monitor. Look for highlights soon on "America's Dumbest Criminals."

Clark County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey as well as former commissioner and congressional candidate Dario Herrera have been notified by the feds that they are targets of the investigation. Last week came word that former commissioner Erin Kenny has copped a plea and may be testifying on behalf of the feds.

All of this is reminiscent of Operation Yobo, an FBI sting which resulted in the convictions of five Nevada officials 20 years ago. Las Vegas Democratic State Sens. Floyd Lamb and Gene Echols went down, as did Clark County Commissioners Jack Pettiti and Woodrow Wilson. Reno City Councilman Joe McClelland was also caught up in the mess. Press reports at the time related transcripts of McClelland's conversations with FBI agent Steve Rybar. I thought they exonerated McClelland, but a jury disagreed. The last time I saw Joe, he was selling newspapers in front of the Reno post office.

The feds broke the man. In his case, it seemed unjust. Before we jump to conclusions, we should wait for all the evidence. The FBI in LV often uses the press to further its ends. It's also not immune to leaks.

As I noted in a column at Lamb's death last year
, the late Nevada State Senate Majority Leader James Gibson, D-Henderson, got wind of the Operation Yobo sting while it was in progress. He apparently did not warn Sens. Lamb and Echols.

CORRUPT CONVERSATION. This Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., I'll be back on
Sam Shad's Nevada Newsmakers pundit panel on KRNV TV-4. The guest of honor will be longtime Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith, who's written for years about unethical and corrupt local government in Gomorrah South. Don't miss it.

The show repeats at 9:30 p.m. the same day on Sparks-Reno-Carson cable channel 12 and channel 19 in Douglas County. Program audio airs on wing-nut KKKOH at 780 on the AM radio dial next Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE. In a special web edition of this column on June 1, 2001, I related a story about Dubya's buddy Kenneth Lay, now-disgraced boss of energy pirate Enron. On May 26, 2001, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Mr. Lay had recently attended a secret meeting to push influential California Republicans, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, to support preservation of the state's deregulated energy market.

I noted that little-noticed fact on Nevada Newsmakers last Wednesday, a day before Schwarzenegger opponent Arianna Huffington raised it at a press conference. I hope she presses the issue. Like Vice-President Cheney's secret meetings with energy execs in March 2001, which early reports indicate may have produced a blueprint for invasion of Iraq six months before 9/11, the public has a right to know what Lay, Schwarzenegger and other heavy hitters talked about and what they did afterward.

Unfortunately for Huffington and ratepayers, the news media chose to concentrate instead on billionaire Arnold adviser Warren Buffet's call for higher California property taxes. The 2001 column has been available on the web since publication. I will link it to this piece, along with investigative reporter Greg Palast's insightful commentary on how Enron, Dubya and their energy industry pals are to blame for last week's northeastern power blackout.

Schwarzenegger is due in Reno to attend a charity event on Oct. 9, two days after the scheduled California gubernatorial vote. He visited Carson City a few years back as part of Dubya Daddy's fitness for kids campaign.

Sooner or later, especially if the courts delay the Golden State election, Arnold's going to have to answer some questions with more than "vote for me and I'll set you free."

OOPS. Last week, I noted that local activist Patricia Axelrod received a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Wrong term. It was a research and writing grant. Her forte has been the medical maltreatment of Gulf War veterans. She still needs technical assistance in putting together her TV series "Reno Talks War and Peace." Video volunteers may call her at (775) 787-8528.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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Copyright © 1982-2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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