Nevada's top election official has filed a civil lawsuit against Americans for Prosperity, alleging the Republican conservative group violated state election laws by not registering in the state or filing donor contribution reports.
The suit filed in state court in Carson City late Friday by Secretary of State Ross Miller claims the group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch engaged in "express advocacy" against Kelvin Atkinson, a state Senate candidate who won both the Democratic primary in June and the November general election.
In a statement Saturday, Adam Stryker, AFP state director, said the complaint filed by the attorney general's office on behalf of the Democratic secretary of state is politically motivated.
"The secretary of state has made it clear his ideology conflicts with that of AFP, and this is not the first time his position has been used to harass those with whom he disagrees," Stryker said. "The attorney general's office's resources unfortunately are being misused to advance Secretary Miller's partisan agenda.
"We fully expect this charge to be dismissed in court, as all frivolous complaints should be. AFP will not be intimidated from continuing with its good work of advancing economic freedom for all Americans."
Americans for Prosperity is a nonprofit advocacy group that spent millions on political ads around the nation in this year's elections. In federal races, such groups avoid revealing donors by eliminating buzz words such as "elect" or "vote against" in their advertisements.
But Miller argues state law is more stringent and any activity to influence an election requires disclosure.
Miller's suit seeks civil penalties of $15,000 and a court order for the organization to file contribution and expense reports.
The legal action follows a complaint filed with the secretary of state in August by the Nevada Democratic Party over mailers Americans for Prosperity sent to voters in Atkinson's Senate District 4 race in Las Vegas.
During the campaign, the group sent three mailers targeting then- Assemblyman Atkinson for his co-sponsorship of AB416 during the 2011 session. The bill, vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, dealt with renewable energy goals and incentives that mailers claimed would have cost utility customers a "potential rate increase" of $1 billion.
"While North Las Vegas families struggle to make ends meet .... Atkinson was busy saddling North Las Vegas families with AB416 and the $1 billion in rate hikes that may come with it," one flyer read. Another stated, "A billion dollar increase is only a small amount to Kelvin, but Nevadans are struggling ..."
Each piece urged voters to call Atkinson and "tell him it's time to represent Nevada working families."
Miller's suit argues "each of these flyers constitutes express advocacy," making them subject to state campaign disclosure laws.
While the lawsuit only targets Americans for Prosperity's activity in Atkinson's race, the group sent advertisements in other state races as well.