CARSON CITY — The conservative group Citizen Outreach, led by Boulder City Review columnist Chuck Muth, has been fined $10,000, plus attorneys fees and costs of $7,600, for failing to file campaign expense reports detailing the source of funds to pay for mailers criticizing then-Assemblyman John Oceguera in his 2010 re-election campaign.
The judgment on behalf of Secretary of State Ross Miller was filed by District Judge James Todd Russell of Carson City on July 8.
Russell ordered the nonprofit group to file its campaign contribution and expense reports to reflect the expenditures within 30 days.
“This was not unexpected,” Muth said in a statement.
“This ruling was by the same judge who had already ruled against us. We asked for reconsideration. He chose to stand by his original ruling. We will now weigh our legal options,” Muth said.
Miller sued Citizen Outreach in 2011 over a pair of mailers sent out criticizing Oceguera in October 2010 by highlighting his record on tax hikes and by accusing him of being “a double-dipping government employee.”
Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, won re-election, but lost a 2012 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives to Joe Heck last year.
Miller argued the mailers constituted express advocacy “because there is no reasonable interpretation of these communications other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate on the ballot.”
He also argued Citizen Outreach therefore had to disclose those paying for the mailers as required by state law, a position supported by court rulings in the matter.
Muth told Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius that he contends the issue is less clear than the state contends.
First, Muth says, there was no definition of “express advocacy” in state law until 2011, the year after his fliers were mailed. Second, most courts have imposed the “magic words” test, and the fliers contained none of those words. Third, he asks if the state could apply the disclosure requirement to independent political bloggers or others. Fourth, he says disclosure would chill both free speech rights and fundraising.
“To us, it is a free speech issue,” Muth says. “I think we should be able to tell voters information about their elected officials’ records so that voters can make an informed decision.”
Muth has vowed to appeal the case to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.