Members of the Nevada Supreme Court questioned Monday whether advocacy groups can avoid registering with the Secretary of State and revealing their contributors simply by avoiding the use of the “magic words” vote for or vote against.
Citizen’s Outreach was ordered to provide that information to the Secretary of State’s office after posting advertisements in the 2010 election that the office charges amounted to express advocacy for or against a candidate. The ads essentially sharply criticized then-Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-North Las Vegas, over his taking both his legislative pay and his fireman’s salary during session.
Secretary of State Ross Miller fought the group’s attempt to block disclosure and won at the district court level, bringing the issue to the Supreme Court for resolution.
Citizen Outreach lawyer Alan Dickerson said the ads were informational and free speech, not political advocacy for or against a candidate in a contested race.
“If that was not what was intended, please tell me what it is if not advocating for a candidate,” said Justice Nancy Saitta.
Chief Justice Mark Gibbons referenced the advertisement’s statement that, “we don’t need any more fiddling “ by Oceguera. He said watching the ads this weekend in the Attorney General’s race pointing up negatives by both candidates saying that, just because they’re not saying vote for or against one of the candidates, should they be considered outside the reporting requirements.
Justice Michael Douglas pointed to the same passages in the ad commercial. He said whether the TV ad contains the “magic words” vote for or against, “is not the absolute test.”
Justice Ron Parraguirre questioned whether the “magic words” test doesn’t go against the concept of open campaign disclosure.
Dickerson said the law was, in 2010, unclear about those issues and that the proof is in the fact that the Legislature changed the standard to clarify it in 2011.
Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson amplified the questions raised by the justices saying the “magic words” test has never been absolute and that in reviewing the issue in a legislative committee, then Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, stated that the statute requiring reporting does not apply only to advertisements containing the “magic words.” He said the only way a voter could achieve what the TV commercial wanted was to vote against Oceguera, which makes the group subject to reporting requirements.
The high court took the case under submission.