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Secretary of state goes to court to force AFP to reveal donors


Karoun Demirjian

Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, speaks about voting machines that drew complaints from voters. Miller held a news conference in the Clark County Elections Office in North Las Vegas to address concerns about election problems.

Updated Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 | 2:38 p.m.

Secretary of State Ross Miller filed a civil complaint today alleging Americans for Prosperity violated Nevada’s campaign finance laws in a case that could force the national conservative organization to reveal its donors for the first time.

The complaint, filed in Carson City District Court, alleges AFP engaged in “express advocacy” in an attempt to influence the Democratic primary election in Senate District 4 earlier this year.

Americans for Prosperity sent several campaign mailers to voters in the district criticizing Democrat Kelvin Atkinson, who ultimately won both the primary and general election.

In federal races, political nonprofit organizations such as AFP can skirt requirements to reveal their donors by avoiding such words as “elect” or “vote against” in their political advertisements.

But Miller says Nevada’s campaign finance laws are stricter than federal requirements. Any political advertising that clearly seeks to influence an election would subject the group to the state’s campaign finance laws, he said.

As a result AFP should have registered as a political nonprofit or a political action committee and disclosed the source of its funding and any expenditures it made, the complaint argues.

“By soliciting contributions and by mailing the fliers, AFP has engaged in political activity in Nevada, yet has failed to register as a nonprofit and therefore violated (state law),” the complaint reads.

If found to be in violation of campaign finance laws, AFP would be subject to $15,000 in fines. More importantly, however, the group would be forced to reveal its donors.

Lawyers for Washington, D.C.-based AFP have adamantly denied the organization broke Nevada’s campaign finance laws. The organization’s Nevada director, Adam Stryker, says the mailers were simply meant to educate voters in the district.

In a statement Saturday, Stryker accused Miller of being politically motivated. The lawsuit originated from a complaint filed by the Nevada Democratic Party.

"Americans for Prosperity has repeatedly shown this complaint to be frivolous and not grounded in applicable law," Stryker said in the written statement. "The Secretary of State has made it clear his ideology conflicts with that of AFP, and this is not the first time his position has been used to harass those with whom he disagrees. The Attorney General’s office’s resources unfortunately are being misused to advance Secretary Miller’s partisan agenda.

"We fully expect this charge to be dismissed in court, as all frivolous complaints should be. AFP will not be intimidated from continuing with its good work of advancing economic freedom for all Americans.

Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, is conservative organization largely credited with helping Republicans take over the House in 2010. The group also spent heavily in the 2012 election, in both state and federal races.

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