A state judge has fined a conservative group $10,000 and ordered it to file a contribution and expense report involving a 2010 campaign mailer targeting former Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera.
The ruling by Carson City District Judge James T. Russell against Citizen Outreach could have wider implications as a similar case involving undisclosed donors against the conservative group Americans for Prosperity winds through the courts.
The Las Vegas Sun reported the ruling Tuesday.
Citizen Outreach is headed by conservative activist Chuck Muth.
Muth argued he didn’t have to file finance reports because his mailers didn’t use words such as “elect,” “vote for,” or “defeat” — words that under federal law are considered “express advocacy” triggering some reporting requirements.
The Citizen Outreach mailers accused Oceguera, now a retired North Las Vegas assistant fire chief, of having “gamed the system” and for “sponsoring trivial bills, voting for tax hikes and enriching himself as a public employee.”
Muth characterized the mailers as educational.
Oceguera was termed out after the 2011 session. A Democrat, he ran for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District seat last year and lost to Republican incumbent Rep. Joe Heck.
Secretary of State Ross Miller argued that under state law, if there can be “no other reasonable interpretation” than the ad seeks the election or defeat of a candidate, then the producer must disclose the funding source for the ad.
The judge agreed.
According to the Sun, Russell said that under Nevada law, express advocacy includes all communications that, with limited reference to context, can have no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate.”
Russell agreed with other federal court decisions that simply avoiding certain words doesn’t undermine the intent of an attack ad.
“Such a functionally meaningless test exalts form over substance and eviscerates disclosure requirements,” Russell wrote.
Miller in December filed a similar lawsuit against Americans for Prosperity, a Republican group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, for a 2012 attack mailer against state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas.
That suit seeks civil penalties of $15,000 and a court order for the organization to fine contribution and expense reports.