This article, written by M.D. Kittle, was originally published by Watchdog on April 14.
MADISON, Wis. — In the national battle by liberal government officials working to silence conservative activists, one Nevada group is fighting back.
The State Government Leadership Foundation, a conservative nonprofit under attack by Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, recently filed an open records request with the agency hoping to track the communications between Miller and his political henchman and former underling, Matt Griffin.
Miller, Nevada’s chief elections official, last month threatened SGLF, demanding it cough up its donors list.
“I will continue to review every legal option to compel this front group to reveal its special-interest donors,” Miller said in March.
Miller is upset about the foundation’s ad and $500,000 Web 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, who is running for state attorney general (Nevada’s top law enforcement post), has gotten some back-up from old chum Griffin, who formerly served as Miller’s deputy secretary of elections.
Miller, son of former Nevada Governor Bob Miller, also a Democrat, demands full donor disclosure by SGLF. But as a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization, the conservative advocacy group really doesn’t have to. Anonymous speech, after all, is a bedrock of the First Amendment, warmly embraced by the nation’s Founding Fathers, conservative groups demand.
The complaint, dated March 17, 10 days after Miller publicly went on the political war path, asserts the content of the ad constitutes “express advocacy” for a candidate. Under Nevada law, such advocacy demands organizations register as political action committees with Miller’s office.
But the ad doesn’t tell Nevadans who to vote for or to vote against Miller. It doesn’t even mention the candidate’s opponent. Hence, it’s hard to make the case for direct or express advocacy.
“Left unsaid, because the (Miller campaign) cannot dispute this either, is that Ross Miller received these gifts from special interests because of his taxpayer-funded position as Secretary of State. The facts are clear: Nevada’s taxpayers are paying for Ross Miller to be Secretary of State, and he is using that position to live the high life,” SGLF states in a letter to TV stations who were asked to remove the attack ad.
No matter. It’s all so much “dark money” in the minds of the Brighter Futures crowd.
“We are calling for the Nevada secretary of state and the Nevada attorney general to investigate SGLF and bring them out of the shadows,” Dave Kallas, chairman of Nevadans for a Brighter Future, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
SGLF wants to know just how chatty Miller and Griffin have been in recent months, particularly whether any of their conversations have involved the conservative group.
The foundation has filed an open records request with the secretary of state’s office seeking copies of all public records of the official calendar and the daily schedule of Miller between March 21, 2013, and March 27, 2014. The group wants emails regarding the mention or discussion of SGLF by Miller or his staff, and any records related to the Miller’s use of state-issued equipment, including cell phones, bill records of such phones, text messages or any pictures stored between March 1 and March 27.
SGLF also has requested all communication between Miller and his former deputy of elections, as well as communication between Griffin and Miller’s staff.
Watchdog.org has received confirmation that the secretary of state’s office responded to SGLF’s request on April 9. Officials at the agency indicated they would need time to process the significant records request.
Miller and Griffin go way back, apparently to their days on the basketball team at Carson Middle School.
Griffin left the secretary of state’s office in 2011 to take a position as a lawyer in private practice. Miller gushed about his pal and his accomplishments at the state agency.
“His list of accomplishments is long,” Miller said in a statement at the time. “We will miss his wit and wisdom, and are grateful for his service to the state of Nevada in this very important capacity.”
While parting may be sweet sorrow, the two pals have kept in touch. They still like to joke together on Twitter.
Neither Miller nor his campaign returned several requests for comment. Griffin could not be reached for comment.
Matthew Walter, SGLF executive director, told Watchdog last week that Miller’s assault on the group’s First Amendment rights is a “disturbing trend” that transcends Nevada politics.
“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.
“People everywhere should be deeply concerned about this,” Walter added. “The fact that he thinks it’s OK to silence political dissenters should be chilling to folks in Nevada and across the country.”