Carson District Judge James Wilson on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction barring the Alliance for America's Future from running pro-Brian Sandoval commercials until and unless the group registers as a Nevada Political Action Committee.
The Alliance, a Virginia-based nonprofit, has refused to register and disclose who its contributors are, claiming that would violate its First Amendment rights to free speech. A spokesman said Tuesday there are also fears of retaliation against some of the contributors.
But the Secretary of State's office filed to stop the TV ads, saying the Alliance is a PAC and required to register before engaging in political advocacy.
"This case is about disclosure," Deputy Attorney General Kerry Benson told Wilson during a Tuesday hearing. "It's not about limiting free speech."
Jason Torchinsky, representing the Alliance, argued the commercial doesn't contain any direct call for voters to support Sandoval and, without magic words such as "elect," "support" or "cast your ballot," doesn't expressly advocate Sandoval's candidacy.
Therefore, he said, paying to run the commercial isn't in violation of Nevada law and the Alliance doesn't have to register.
"The advertisement is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for Mr. Sandoval," Wilson wrote.
Therefore, he said, the Alliance is a PAC and required to register before engaging in political activity in Nevada.
"Nevadans have a right to know who is behind election advertising," he said in the order. "Continued violation of the statutes and depriving Nevadans of information about who is behind its election advertising will cause irreparable harm as voting will be influenced by unknown persons."
Secretary of State Ross Miller said, "I have no sympathy for any organization that clearly engages in political activity in our state and, at the same time, deliberately skirts state law to avoid revealing who's funding the activity."
Torchinsky said the group is considering whether to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.