Legislative leaders get big discount from cable company on cruise

08/12/2005
Reno Gazette Journal
Anjeanette Damon

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Las Vegas, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, returned this week from an 11-day cruise of the Baltic Sea organized by Cox Communications, Nevada's largest cable television provider.

Perkins, who is expected to run for governor, and Raggio paid for their tickets on the luxury cruise at steep discounts because of the group rate obtained by Cox Communications.

Cox's chief lobbyist, Steve Schorr, invited the lawmakers on the cruise about a month before the legislative session ended in June.

"Everything was on the up and up," Perkins said. "They invited us. We paid our way. That's it."

"I made it clear that whatever the cost was, I would pay it," Raggio said.

Raggio said he paid a total of $3,200 for the fare for himself and his wife. Perkins estimated he spent about $4,000 for himself and his wife.

Neither the lawmakers nor Schorr, who also was on the cruise, knew how much of a discount they received.

According to travel agency Web sites, rooms aboard the Crystal Symphony range from $4,000 to $22,000, meaning Raggio and Perkins likely got a minimum of a 50 percent discount.

Schorr said Cox booked more than 180 rooms on the ship as part of its annual vacation offering to major advertisers and their families.

"They were not given any special privileges, they paid for everything," Schorr said. "I offered (the trip) out of friendship, not to get anything. In fact, they kicked my butt in the Legislature. My bill lasted all of five days."

Cox Communications was the primary sponsor of a bill to charge satellite television companies a 5 percent franchise fee similar to that paid by cable companies. The bill didn't get a vote.

Lawmakers also defeated a bill that would have eliminated all franchise fees.

But a political analyst said the trip could become a campaign issue for Perkins.

"Any elected official should think twice, three or four times before they do something like this," said Fred Lokken, a political analyst and associate dean at Truckee Meadows Community College. "Even if it is in compliance with ethics laws, it still looks wrong."

Lokken added voters don't often take such trips too seriously.

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