A U.S. Senate subcommittee voted along party lines Wednesday to approve a constitutional amendment restricting the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. Led by Nevada’s own Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, elected Democrats have for the last few years engaged in a widespread effort to restrict the speech of their opponents. And Nevada is no exception.
While railing against the influence of right-leaning billionaires, Reid used the floor of the United States Senate to hold the equivalent of an all-night telethon to solicit donations from a left-wing billionaire for his Democratic Senate colleagues.
In Wisconsin Democratic prosecutors have harassed conservative politicians and activists in so-called “John Doe” cases.
Here in the Silver State, Secretary of State Ross Miller has waged an all-out campaign to force disclosure by organizations engaging in political activity. Well, maybe not all out.
Former Las Vegas Sun reporter Andrew Doughman reported in January on Miller’s efforts toforce organizations to disclose their donors, noting three such lawsuits the Democrat Miller had filed.
• In July 2012, conservative group Citizen Outreach was fined for failing to file expense reports showing how the organization paid for mailers criticizing former Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, during his 2010 re-election campaign. Citizen Outreach has appealed the decision.
• In November 2012, the Nevada branch of national conservative group Americans for Prosperity won a lawsuit about whether the group had to disclose donor contribution reports for a negative mailer it published about state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas. Miller is not appealing that decision.
• Also in November, a judge fined Virginia-based Alliance for America’s Future for running an advertisement in favor of Gov. Brian Sandoval in the 2010 election. The group did not register as a political action committee in Nevada, and the courts have said the group will now have to disclose who paid for the advertisement. The alliance has appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Since that article was published another organization has become a target of Miller.
After a group known as the State Government Leadership Foundation ran a 30-second television ad critical of Miller, who is now running for Attorney General, he responded byvowing to “continue to review every legal option to compel this front group to reveal its special interest donors”.
A few days later a former deputy of Miller’s filed a complaint against SGLF, “seeking financial penalties and an injunction to halt the ad campaign” and claiming the group should have registered with the Secretary of State’s office and disclose its donors.
The Secretary of State’s office is no longer involved with this particular complaint. According to Public Information Officer Catherin Lu, the Secretary of State’s office received the complaint “and immediately deferred to the Nevada Attorney General’s office for review independent of this office.”
While Doughman states the situation is “not a partisan issue”, all of these lawsuits have targeted right-leaning groups. According to Lu, the only other similar case the Secretary of State’s office has pursued was against Joe Scala, owner of Courtesy Automotive, for actions Scala took during a recall effort of Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross, a Democrat.
Yet the behavior that should trigger the lawsuits, according to the sections of Nevada law Miller is claiming to be enforcing, is hardly limited to the right.
NRS 294A.140 requires essentially any group that receives more than $1,000 in contributions or “makes an expenditure for or against a candidate for office or a group of such candidates” to disclose its donors. NRS 294A.210 has similar provisions but applies to groups that expend more than $1,000 advocating for or against candidates.
As Doughman’s piece reveals,
“Our donations are confidential,” wrote Erin Neff, former executive director of ProgressNow Nevada Action, in an April 27, 2012, fundraising email appealing to Nevadans to donate to a campaign for state Sen. Pat Spearman, D-Las Vegas. “As a 501(c)(4), ProgressNow Nevada Action does not publicly report its donors.”
ProgressNow Nevada Action’s 990 filings indicate the group raised $355,047 in 2011 and $67,531 in 2012, far exceeding the limit NRS294A.140 sets for requiring disclosure. A search for the group on the Secretary of State’s campaign finance disclosure websiteindicates ProgressNow Nevada Action has not disclosed its donors.
In addition to the fundraising email for Spearman, the group also published a voter guide in 2012. While the guide is no longer available online, the website of the late Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, who served in the Legislature through 2013 but passed away shortly after that session, contains the group’s candidate profile of Pierce.
“We can’t fathom why Peggy Pierce draws primaries. She’s a true progressive by any count and is one of the most reliable go-to legislators for progressive issues, ideas and bills.
“If it protects consumers; makes our tax system fair; raises revenue for schools or protects the environment, it’s likely a Peggy Pierce bill.”
If urging voters to call a candidate about an issue, the offense allegedly committed by AFP, is considered “express advocacy”, then certainly such fawning praise as was heaped upon the late Assemblywoman Pierce should meet the same definition. According to Lu, “[a]ny form of communication can be express advocacy,” including website content and, presumably, emails.
“Depending on content on website, it could be express advocacy which would trigger disclosure requirements of NRS 294A.348, contributions & expenses reporting requirements of NRS 294A.140/294A.210 (i.e., reporting all contributors who gave in excess of $1000), and it could require the organization to register as a PAC (NRS 294A.0055),” Lu wrote in an email. “Again, we evaluate the facts of each situation on a case-by-case basis.”
Yet it appears only right-leaning groups have been the object of Miller’s gaze.
This was not always the case. In 2009 Miller’s investigation of ACORN resulted in 13-count indictments against ACORN and its former Las Vegas leader. It was the only case in the nation in which the organization itself was charged with a felony.
But in the case of campaign disclosure, as with his Democrat colleagues across the country, it appears Miller is blind to the left.
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