Would that Nevada had a few judges as perspicacious as ones found in Arizona and Mississippi.
While a Carson City judge was fining and penalizing a Virginia-based conservative group more than $100,000 for buying television commercials without first registering with the state and disclosing its donors and expenditures, judges in those states were declaring that their similar laws fail First Amendment muster.
Nevada law mandates that any group spending more than $100 to expressly advocate for a candidate or ballot issue must first register with the Nevada secretary of state, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and Elko Daily Free Press.
Attorneys for Alliance for America’s Future — which spent $189,223.50 airing a 30-second television commercial 320 times praising Brian Sandoval’s conservatism during the gubernatorial campaign of 2010 — argued that threshold is far too low to hold up under constitutional scrutiny.
Judge James Wilson rejected that argument, but attorneys for the Institute for Justice won two such cases within hours of each other in Arizona and Mississippi a month ago.
Mississippi’s threshold for having to register and report as a “political committee” was $200, twice Nevada’s. Five friends from Oxford, Miss., decided to join together and speak out in favor of a ballot initiative that would provide greater protection from eminent domain abuse.
Judge Sharion Aycock noted the courts have ruled there must be a point below which mandatory disclosure of campaign expenditures by incidental committees’ runs afoul of the First Amendment.
In the Arizona case a woman sent an email to a couple dozen friends and neighbors, inviting them to a protest against a $44 million road bond on the 2011 ballot. She promptly received a letter telling her to cease and desist until she registered as a political committee and filed all the paperwork to comply with state campaign finance laws.
Judge James Teilborg wrote: “In this case, it is not clear that even a campaign finance attorney would be able to ascertain how to interpret the definition of ‘political committee.’ As such, people of common intelligence must guess at the law’s meaning and will differ as to its application. Such vagueness is not permitted by the Constitution.”
He basically declared the whole law unconstitutional, not just the state’s $250 threshold.
Perhaps, the Alliance for America’s Future could invite the Institute for Justice to appeal Judge Wilson’s ruling to the state Supreme Court and reinstate the First Amendment in Nevada for everyone.