CARSON CITY – An attorney for the conservative group Citizen Outreach told the Nevada Supreme Court on Monday that because political flyers distributed by the group criticizing a former lawmaker in 2010 did not contain the words “vote for” or “vote against,” they did not qualify as express advocacy requiring the reporting of who paid for them.
Allen Dickerson, representing the group on appeal to the court, said state law at the time the fliers were sent out, which were aimed at then-Assemblyman John Oceguera during his reelection campaign, was clear that such “magic words” were needed to trigger such disclosure.
But Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson, representing Secretary of State Ross Miller, who sought legal action against the group for failing to disclose the donors, argued that the Legislature in 1997 did not have only a magic word requirement for political mailers.
Citing legislative history on the issue, Benson said that if such words did not appear in political pieces, then the entire context of the ad or flyer could be considered. In this case, the fliers clearly sought to convince voters to oppose Oceguera’s reelection and so fell under the state law requiring disclosure, he said.
The court will rule later on the case.
The Legislature in 2011 clarified the statute to eliminate the ambiguity in the previous law as to what constitutes express advocacy.
After the hearing, Dickerson, legal director of the Center for Competitive Politics, said the position of the attorney general’s office suggesting that the overall content of the fliers could be looked at to determine if it was express advocacy was based on a single comment from a legislative attorney to a panel of lawmakers hearing the bill.
The original law was ambiguous, he said.
“The secretary is trying to shoehorn an ambiguous statute into an unconstitutional result and you can’t do that,” Dickerson said.
Chuck Muth, president of Citizen Outreach, declined to offer a prediction on how the court will rule on the issue.
“I’m just thrilled that the Supreme Court let us have a day in court,” he said.
Muth said the lower court ruling against the group came without any opportunity to present evidence.
In July 2013 the group was fined $10,000, plus attorneys fees by Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell for failing to report the source of the donors for the fliers.
The mailers sent out criticizing Oceguera in October 2010 highlighted his record on tax hikes and accused him of being “a double-dipping government employee.”
Oceguera won reelection in 2010 and was termed out of office in 2012.