The Nevada Supreme Court said it made a clerical error when it issued a campaign finance ruling earlier this week against a conservative group, and on Wednesday replaced it with a ruling that came to the opposite conclusion.
The court’s corrected decision rules 5-2 in favor of Las Vegas-based advocacy group Citizen Outreach, which was accused of violating campaign finance law by publishing fliers attacking former Democratic Assemblyman John Oceguera in 2010 without disclosing contributors or expenses.
The majority opinion found that state law requiring campaign disclosures only applies to communications containing so-called “magic words,” or key political terms like “vote” or “elect.” The fliers against Oceguera didn’t contain those words.
“I’m just thrilled, thrilled beyond imagination,” Citizen Outreach president Chuck Muth told The Associated Press after learning about the reversal. “We were so dejected ... but we knew something was wrong.”
Center for Competitive Politics President David Keating said the court’s decision was an important victory for free speech and the state overreached in bringing legal action against Citizen Outreach.
“The secretary of state tried to use a law passed after the group spoke in order to fine and impose burdensome government filing requirements simply for exercising its First Amendment rights,” he said in an email.
In the original ruling, the five-judge majority appeared to come to the same conclusion as the two dissenting judges. That ruling has been rescinded.
Transparency advocates had been cheering over the original outcome a day earlier. Denise Barber of the National Institute on Money in State Politics said the first decision was “definitely a victory for disclosure.”
Citizen Outreach, led by anti-tax activist Chuck Muth, issued the fliers during Oceguera’s re-election campaign and accused the former assemblyman of getting fat off taxpayers and sponsoring trivial legislation.
Oceguera, who won his Assembly race in 2010 but made an unsuccessful bid for Congress against Rep. Joe Heck in 2012, called the error and reversal bizarre.
“I am disappointed because this entire case was all about transparency,” he said Wednesday.