WASHINGTON — It was the kind of legislation that slips under the radar here.
The name alone made the eyes glaze over: "The Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002." In a welter of technical jargon, it dealt with boundary shifts, land trades and other arcane matters -- all in Nevada.
As he introduced it, Nevada's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Harry Reid, assured colleagues that his bill was a bipartisan measure to protect the environment and help the economy in America's fastest-growing state.
What Reid did not explain was that the bill promised a cavalcade of benefits to real estate developers, corporations and local institutions that were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to his sons' and son-in-law's firms, federal lobbyist reports show.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 27, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Lobbyists -- A graphic accompanying an article in Monday's Section A on Nevada Sen. Harry Reid's lobbyist relatives incorrectly said that the University of Nevada at Reno paid $10,000 a month to the Lionel Sawyer & Collins law firm. In fact, the university paid the firm $40,000 in the last half of 2002, according to federal lobbyist reports.
The Howard Hughes Corp. alone paid $300,000 to the tiny Washington consulting firm of son-in-law Steven Barringer to push a provision allowing the company to acquire 998 acres of federal land ripe for development in the exploding Las Vegas metropolitan area.
Barringer is listed in federal lobbyist reports as one of Hughes' representatives on the measure that his father-in-law introduced.
Other provisions were intended to benefit a real estate development headed by a senior partner in the Nevada law firm that employs all four of Reid's sons -- by moving the right-of-way for a federal power-transmission line off his property and onto what had been protected federal wilderness.
The governments of three of Nevada's biggest cities -- Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson -- also gained from the legislation, which freed up tens of thousands of acres of federal land for development and annexation. All three were represented by Reid's family members who contacted his staff on their clients' behalf.
The Clark County land bill, which was approved in a late-night session just before Congress recessed in October, reflects a new twist in an old game: These days, when corporations and other interests want to cement a vital relationship with someone in Congress, they're likely to reach out to hire a member of the family.
Reid said he supported the bill because it was good for Nevada -- and not because it helped his family's clients. And when it comes to lobbying relatives, he said, he has plenty of company.
"Lots of people have children, wives and stuff that work back here," he said. "It is not as if a lot of cash is changing hands."
Seeking favors is as old as the Capitol, but the new tendency to come at it from the side -- through family members -- may be a consequence of campaign-finance reform: As restrictions have tightened on traditional political giving, interest groups have cast about for new ways to ingratiate themselves.
Nothing strikes quite such a personal note as channeling fees or lucrative jobs to relatives -- whether the relatives lobby Congress or perform other services. There are no restrictions. Neither House nor Senate rules bar the practice.
At least 17 senators and 11 members of the House have children, spouses or other close relatives who lobby or work as consultants, most in Washington, according to lobbyist reports, financial-disclosure forms and other state and federal records. Many are paid by clients who count on the related lawmaker for support.
But Harry Reid is in a class by himself. One of his sons and his son-in-law lobby in Washington for companies, trade groups and municipalities seeking Reid's help in the Senate. A second son has lobbied in Nevada for some of those same interests, and a third has represented a couple of them as a litigator.
In the last four years alone, their firms have collected more than $2 million in lobbying fees from special interests that were represented by the kids and helped by the senator in Washington.
So pervasive are the ties among Reid, members of his family and Nevada's leading industries and institutions that it's difficult to find a significant field in which such a relationship does not exist.
Reid's chief of staff, Susan McCue, said he has had broad support in his state for the Clark County bill and other legislation that he has championed for those groups.
"In every instance, Sen. Reid acted in the best interest of the people of Nevada and Nevada's economy," she said.
In an internal memo, McCue said Reid's family members had lobbied his staff by "supplying research, technical support and strategic guidance." She described them as "effective advocates for their clients."
Reid said he thought he might have had casual conversations about legislation with his family members but could not remember specific cases or times.
"Have they said something? I am sure they have," he said. "I don't have meetings with my children to go over business things."
Reid's sons -- Rory, 40, Leif, 35, Josh, 31, and Key, 28 -- work for Nevada's largest law firm, Lionel Sawyer & Collins.