Pro-Sandoval group violated election laws, official says

A group running ads in favor of gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval has run afoul of Nevada election laws, Secretary of State Ross Miller said.

The Alliance for America’s Future didn’t register as a political action committee in advance of starting an ad campaign in support of Sandoval, the leading Republican candidate for governor.

Miller said he will ask a judge in Carson City as early as today to issue a temporary restraining order to halt further airing of the ads until the group complies with the law.

“We’ll be seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the political ads paid for by this group,” Miller said Monday afternoon. “Clearly they were supposed to file before they engaged in political activity and they didn’t do that.”

Miller said he will enlist the help of Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to make a court filing in Carson City District Court. He said violating Nevada laws requiring PACs to register can carry a fine of up to $5,000.

Barry Bennett, a Virginia-based political consultant who coordinated the ad campaign, said earlier Monday he thinks his group has followed the law. The group is independent of Sandoval’s campaign.

Bennett said that he consulted attorneys from two firms before the launch and that they advised him the group doesn’t have to register as a PAC.

“We got their opinions before we started,” Bennett said. “They tell me we are doing the right thing.”

If Miller is successful, it would put Sandoval at a disadvantage on the airwaves. An anti-Sandoval group organized by a Democratic consultant from Nevada recently confirmed it will spend about $500,000 on ads seeking to undermine Sandoval before the June 8 primary.

The Democratic group, organized by consultant Dan Hart and called the Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs, is registered with the secretary of state’s office.

Hart’s ads on television and online slam Sandoval for policy stances on everything from taxes to immigration to reproductive choice. The ads are viewed as an attempt to reduce the likelihood Sandoval will defeat incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons in the Republican primary.

Polls show Sandoval would be a more difficult general election challenge for likely Democratic nominee Rory Reid. Hart is a longtime Reid consultant.

Bennett’s pro-Sandoval campaign is a response to Hart’s anti-Sandoval effort.

“For weeks the liberals have been attacking Brian Sandoval recklessly and personally,” the pro-Sandoval ad said. “What are they scared of? They don’t like Brian Sandoval’s conservative values.”

Although the ads are meant to help Sandoval, they don’t tell viewers to cast a vote for him in the primary.

That lack of “express advocacy” is why lawyers for the Alliance for America’s Future say they aren’t obligated to register as a PAC in Nevada.

“The ad does not contain any reference to an election or voting by the electorate, candidacy for office, or political party and does not encourage the public to vote for or against a candidate,” wrote attorney Tom Josefiak of Holtzman Vogel, a firm based in Warrenton, Va., to Miller.

“Therefore, Alliance for America’s Future has not engaged in any activity that would require registration with the Secretary of State,” Josefiak continued.

Mary-Sarah Kinner, a spokeswoman for Sandoval, said the candidate would have no comment on whether the group should register with the secretary of state or whether, as governor, Sandoval would support Miller’s calls for new laws that would clarify Nevada’s political disclosure requirements.

Kinner said that because the group isn’t affiliated with the Sandoval campaign, “we’re not going to get involved,” though Sandoval has made denouncements of Hart’s group an element of his campaign rhetoric.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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