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Nevada’s story: ‘People everywhere should be deeply concerned about this’

By   /   April 11, 2014  /   No Comments

AP file photo

POWER PLAY: Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller pledged to use the power of his office to go after his conservative political enemy, the State Government Leadership Foundation. Miller’s campaign to “intimidate” his political enemies, critics say, is part of a broader initiative nationally by liberals to silence conservative speech.

 

By M.D. Kittle | Watchdog.org

MADISON, Wis. — Nevada’s Democrat secretary of state says he’ll do all in his power to crush a conservative organization that ran ads against him in his campaign to become the state’s attorney general.

Sound familiar?

It’s part of a “disturbing trend,” said Matthew Walter, executive director of the State Government Leadership Foundation, the conservative nonprofit behind the ads that earned the ire of Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller.

“This is all about freedom of speech,” Walter said. “Whether it’s President Obama’s Internal Revenue Service and their unbalanced scrutiny into conservative organizations, or whether it’s Ross Miller with his threats and blustering in Nevada, what we see far too often are liberal groups defending the right to free speech until they don’t personally agree with the content. At that point, they throw up every roadblock they can to hinder the individual’s right to free speech.”

Miller, who as secretary of state is Nevada’s chief elections official, last month threatened to pursue “every legal option” to force SGLF to disclose its donors. The group’s ad and its website attack Miller, the state AG candidate, for freebies he has amassed while in office.

“I will continue to review every legal option to compel this front group to reveal its special-interest donors,” Miller said in March.

Miller was upset about the foundation’s $500,000 campaign that, in part, exposes the secretary of state for taking $60,000 in gifts from a variety of donors, many of them corporate contributors.

“He lives the life. You pay the tab. Tell Ross Miller to stop living the high-life at your expense,” urges the SGLF issue ad. That message is accompanied by pictures of Miller posing with ear-biting former boxing champ Mike Tyson and a curvy Playboy playmate, and attending glitzy celebrity receptions.

Miller tried to have the ads removed, but the TV stations refused.

The secretary of state’s swag bag since 2009 includes thousands of dollars in tickets to an Ultimate Fighting Championship event, two tickets valued at $1,200 to the musical “Jersey Boys,” and $600 in tickets to a Major League Baseball game.

Miller himself disclosed all of that information in accordance with legal requirements. But he was livid about the conservative foundation’s disclosure of his disclosures. It’s not fair, Miller, said. As an elected official, the secretary of state and attorney general wannabe has to disclose his campaign contributors, and the gifts he receives.

SGLF, as a 501(c) (4), does not have to make public their donors.

“My disclosure forms are public for anyone to see,” Miller said in a statement. “The real question is, why won’t this group also be transparent, and disclose the funders who paid for this ad? Nevadans have the right to know who is trying to buy their vote and what they hope to gain.”

The answer: They don’t have to. Because that’s the law, something the secretary of Nevada ought to know.

Miller has long railed against anonymous political speech, sounding like part of the echo chamber of the liberal “dark money” conspiracy. He — and they — do so with seemingly little regard for the fact that such speech is at the core of the blessings of American free speech.

And as a recent editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal points out, “the collective push from Democrats to root out conservative donors reveals the backers of such speech have good reason to keep their names secret.”

Miller asserts that, under Nevada law, all third-party groups that engage in political expression must register with his office and file reports detailing their contributions and expenses — and donor information.

“However, groups are exempt from such disclosure requirements if they avoid what the U.S. Supreme Court has defined as ‘express advocacy,’ meaning a clear call to vote for or against someone,” the Review-Journal editorial notes.

The State Government Leadership Foundation’s issue advocacy campaign against Miller, while unflattering to the politician, would seem to defy the definition of express advocacy. The group’s ad says nothing about voting against Miller, and it doesn’t mention the names of his Republican opponents.

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‘LIVING THE LIFE:’ Screen shot of the attack ad in question, which paints Secretary of State Ross Miller as living it up on other people’s money.

But those facts appear to be of no concern to the secretary of state, who sounds bent on doing all he can to disrupt SGLF’s constitutionally protected rights.

He’s been down this road before, and he’s been burned by his own arrogance.

In October, a judge in Carson City, Nev., ruled that conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity did not have to register with Miller’s office or file campaign contribution and expense forms. As the Review-Journal noted, the case involved AFP fliers attacking a Democrat assemblyman who successfully ran for state senate on his backing of a renewable energy bill.

Adam Stryker, AFP-Nevada’s state director, in a statement at the time, said the ruling was a “victory for free speech and grassroots advocacy.

Neither Miller nor his campaign spokesman returned multiple calls for comment.

Walter, of SGLF, said it’s clear that Miller wants to silence the conservative group’s right to inform the public about his actions. But the liberal campaign to stifle political opponents’ free speech goes well beyond the borders of Nevada, Walter reiterated.

“People everywhere should be deeply concerned about this,” he said. “The fact that he thinks it’s OK to silence political dissenters should be chilling to folks in Nevada and across the country.”

It is.

In Wisconsin, 29 conservative organizations have been targeted in a sprawling and secret John Doe investigation, launched by the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat. Prosecutors in the probe, which is like a grand jury investigation without the benefit of a citizen jury, have been digging into the activities of the groups on a theory that they illegally coordinated with the campaign of Republican Gov. Scott Walker during Wisconsin’s Democrat-driven recall elections of 2011 and 2012.

The court-administered dragnet has included what sources close to the investigation have described as “paramilitary-style,” pre-dawn raids at home and properties, seizing the electronic equipment, documents and other items from targets.

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O’KEEFE

In January, the presiding judge in the John Doe quashed several subpoenas, saying prosecutors failed to show probable cause — in short, there was no evidence of illegal coordination.

And this week, a federal judge rejected the prosecutors’ motion to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit filed against them by conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and his Wisconsin Club for Growth. The lawsuit, which asks the judge to shut down the probe because it has and continues to violate the targets’ First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, will be heard.

This week, the Office of Special Council reported that the IRS “urged callers to vote for President Obama, disparaged Republicans in conversations with taxpayers and wore pro-Obama swag at working during the 2012 election cycle,” according to a piece in the Washington Post.

On the same day the federal ethics watchdog released its report, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to hold ex-IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the IRS’ stalling conservative groups who applied for tax-exempt status. The House, Ways and Means Committee voted to refer Lerner’s case to the U.S. Justice Department for possible prosecution. That department is, of course, run by Attorney General Eric Holder, an Obama appointee.

Lerner’s lawyer, William W. Taylor III, said the now-retired, long-serving federal employee has committed no crimes.

VON SPAKOVSKY

VON SPAKOVSKY

Hans von Spakovsky, former member of the Federal Elections Commission, said he sees a pattern of free-speech abuses by Democrats nationwide, particularly in public officials who vehemently disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision. Critics have said liberal politicians like Nevada’s secretary of state want to rewrite the rules as they go along.

Von Spakovsky, who serves as legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, said he sees the action of Miller in Nevada and the prosecutors in Wisconsin’s politically charged John Doe case no differently than the state of Alabama’s campaign in the 1950s to force the NAACP to turn over its records — including membership lists.

“I guess they are unembarrassed about putting themselves in the same position as the racist lawmakers in Alabama,” Spakovsky said. Why do they want the information? “Clearly it is to bully, harass and intimate donors.”

And the editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal and the Las Vegas Review-Journal, among others see it that way, too.

“This is part of a larger Democratic Party campaign to protect incumbents by intimidating conservative groups that lawfully engage in anonymous political speech, with the ultimate goal of suppressing such expression by scaring off donors,” the Review-Journal editorial asserts.

Gifts galore

Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller has been the beneficiary of some nice gifts during his time in office. The Democrat, who is running for state attorney general, has accepted some $60,000 in gifts from his “friends” in politics and business during his tenure as Nevada’s chief elections officer. Here’s a look at some of the items in Miller’s campaign swag bag:

Four tickets valued at $3,000 for an Ultimate Fighting Championship event

 

  •  $400 in tickets to watch a World Extreme Cagefighting bout
  •  Two “Jersey Boys” musical tickets, at a cost of $1,200
  • Airline tickets, at $408.40, from the Shane Victorino Foundation, plus $600 in Major League Baseball tickets from outfielder Victorino. The SOS apparently modeled in the foundation’s fashion show.
  • Hundreds of dollars in tickets to professional golf tournaments.
  • A $9,360 fee, entry into the CEO Leadership Group Membership, sponsored by Vistage International, a peer-to-peer membership organization for CEOs, business owners and executives of small- to mid-size businesses.

 

Miller is a UFC fanatic, probably the only secretary of state in the nation who has fought an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout, albeit amateur. And he won. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal after the 2012 brawl that it was a long-time dream to step into the ring, but that he was hanging up his fighting trunks.

“I’m one and done,” Miller said. “Competing in an MMA event was on my bucket list. Now that I’ve got it done, I’ve got a day job and an important election coming up.”

His conservative critics would contend that Miller has plenty of opponents to beat up on using his power as secretary of state.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

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