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October 30, 2014

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GOP picks fight with secretary of state over TV census ad

Miller’s appearance in TV ad sparks ethics complaint

Census ad

Ross Miller

Ross Miller

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki

Secretary of State Ross Miller is facing questions from political opponents over his appearance alongside UFC fighters in an ad encouraging Nevadans to participate in the U.S. Census.

The ad — which features Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters, an octagon girl, UFC President Dana White, and Miller urging people to send in their census forms — has prompted the Nevada Republican Party to accuse Miller, a Democrat, in an ethics complaint of using taxpayer money to further his political career.

The UFC paid for production of the ad, while the state spent $156,723 to air it statewide between March 10 and April 3, Miller said.

Miller called the complaint a “completely silly allegation.”

A Census Bureau liaison asked him to participate in an ad campaign to inform residents that every returned census form is worth $10,000 to the state, he said. Miller is chair of Nevada’s Complete Count Committee, which oversees the decennial census.

Miller is also a fan of UFC, sparring occasionally with White and previously appearing in a get-out-the-vote ad with UFC figures leading up to the 2008 election.

Miller called the UFC “the most powerful brand in the world” for males between the ages of 18 to 24. That group, he said, “is a primary target for outreach, because they’re much less likely to participate” in the census.

He acknowledged the ads could benefit his campaign, but no more than performing other aspects of his job as secretary of state, Miller said.

“Obviously, for someone seeking re-election, my candidacy is going to benefit anytime I’m seen as successfully upholding the duties of the secretary of state,” he said.

Miller appears on-screen for six seconds during the 30-second spot, which is prominently featured on Miller’s campaign website.

Ads promoting state programs and featuring state officials have brought political attacks before.

When Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, a Republican, was a treasurer running for his current post, his primary opponent criticized him for appearing in publicly funded ads promoting a state college savings program administered by his office.

Before the ads appeared, Krolicki asked the state Commission on Ethics for an advisory opinion. The commission found the ads did not violate state law. The opinion also praised Krolicki for suspending the ads before he filed for office.

Krolicki, however, was later indicted by a Clark County grand jury for circumventing the legislative process to use $1.5 million over the years to pay for some of those ads; a judge threw out the case last year.

State Treasurer Kate Marshall has used radio ads to promote the college savings plan, spending $12,000 in the past year, according to her campaign.

Ryan Erwin, a campaign consultant for Krolicki, said he believed there was a “double standard” for elected officials being featured in ads. Republicans are more harshly criticized for it than Democrats. “Everybody should be allowed to or not,” he said.

The $961,550 marketing plan for Nevada’s census was approved by the Legislature.

Rob Lauer, a Republican running against Miller, said his opponent “is clearly running a shadow campaign using that money. He wants to look cool with the UFC people.”

Miller said the ad buy stopped in early April, but may have run for an extra week as public service announcements.

The ads featuring Miller are not the only census ads running in Nevada. Under an $867,000 contract approved by the state Board of Examiners and Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, an outside agency produced a census ad for $82,000. The state spent $266,855 to air that ad, which does not feature Miller.

In the Nevada GOP ethics complaint against Miller, the party also notes that he listed his secretary of state’s office phone on forms he filled out when he filed for office. Miller said that he simply entered the wrong phone number on the wrong line.

The Nevada Republican Party has also filed a similar complaint against Marshall.

Her campaign manager Gary Gray said she “just absent-mindedly jotted down the office of the treasurer’s phone number ... I don’t think a reasonable person says that quickly jotting down a single number only once where you can be reached if they have a question about your filing constitutes a violation of ethics.”

Sun reporter Brett Okamoto contributed to this story.

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