Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 | 9:39 a.m.
Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has filed a civil complaint against a political organization run by well-known conservative operative Chuck Muth, accusing him of violating campaign finance laws by failing to report money he spent attacking Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, in last year’s election.
Muth’s political non-profit group, Citizen Outreach, could be subject to $10,000 in fines for failing to file contribution and expense reports associated with two mailers it sent last year.
Masto filed the complaint after an investigation by Secretary of State Ross Miller into allegations by a Las Vegas man that Muth had violated campaign finance laws.
The mailers attack Oceguera, who recently retired from the North Las Vegas Fire Department, for so-called double-dipping because of his dual public salaries.
One flier accused Oceguera of having “gamed the system to retire at age 48 with $135,000 salary plus benefits.”
Another attacks Oceguera for “sponsoring trivial bills, voting for tax hikes and enriching himself as a public employee.”
“The Fiddling Flyer and the Nice Work Flyer constitute express advocacy because there is no reasonable interpretation of these communications other than an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate on the ballot,” Deputy Attorney General Kevin Bensen wrote in the complaint against Muth.
Muth acknowledged he never filed contribution and expense reports, but said he is not required to under state campaign finance laws because the mailers didn’t specifically say “elect” or “defeat” any particular candidate.
Under federal campaign finance law, such words constitute “express advocacy” and would trigger reporting requirements. Muth argues that standard applies at the state level as well.
“What they’re saying is that what has been traditionally known as educational mailers talking about issues are express advocacy,” Muth said. “That is a stretch on their part and we are going to fight it.”
Political non-profit groups have long relied on that legal standard to skirt reporting requirements on both the state and federal level.
“In my mind this is just pure harassment,” Muth said.
Deputy Secretary of State Scott Gilles, who investigated the complaint, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.