Monday, July 23, 2012

Is "Tea Party, Inc." About to Be Exposed Here in Nevada?

Last Thursday, the radical right in Nevada was humiliated as Americans for Prosperity (AFP) had to abandon their own "tea party" in Las Vegas. However, something else happened Thursday that may end up causing even more heartburn for "Tea Party, Inc."... And finally give us an opportunity to learn who's actually funding them.

And strangely enough, AFP finally landed into trouble by wading into a DEMOCRATIC State Senate primary.

In a complaint filed Thursday, the Nevada Democratic Party asked Secretary of State Ross Miller to investigate whether the nonprofit organization must report the contributions it received to fund mailers attacking state Senate candidate Kelvin Atkinson, a Democratic assemblyman from North Las Vegas. [...]

If there can be “no other reasonable interpretation” than that the ad seeks the election or defeat of a candidate, then the producer must disclose the funding source for the ad.

“If you get in state races, you expose yourself,” said one Democrat familiar with the complaint.

In this case, AFP sent mailers into Atkinson’s district just before the June 6 primary election, with his picture and accusations that he worked for special interests and sought a $1 billion electricity rate increase.

Under federal law, AFP can do as much of this as it wants while disclosing as little as possible by simply leaving out terms like "vote for" and "defeat". However under Nevada state law, any organization using campaign advertising (including mailers) designed to influence an election is subject to disclosure requirements, regardless of what kind of language that organization uses in its advertising. Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) has been very aggressive in targeting these shadowy front groups, and he's making no exception for AFP.

So why did AFP do this? Honestly, I'm still trying to figure it out. Why did AFP wade into a Democratic primary in a super safe Democratic State Senate District?

When The Sun's Anjeanette Damon tried to figure out AFP Nevada's primary campaigns. In addition to repaying a favor to Pioneer Laughlin Casino owner and infamous "Chicken Lady" Sue Lowden by helping the pro Laughlin cityhood campaign that surprisingly failed in June, AFP also took sides against mainstream Democrat Kelvin Atkinson (and for perennial fringe candidate Katie Duncan) in a Democratic primary in a heavily Democratic and African-American district in West Las Vegas and parts of North Las Vegas. Because nothing about the latter campaign seems to make any sense, everyone has wondered why a "tea party" group would do such a thing.

But whatever the reason(s), wading into that SD 4 Democratic primary may ultimately cost Americans for Prosperity far more than an embarrassing loss on their scoreboard. Ultimately, this may cost them that ever elusive and mysterious donor list. And what makes this even worse for them is this may have national repercussions.

But AFP doesn’t appear to have organized a separate Nevada entity, which could mean donors to the national organization might have to be disclosed.

The potential has piqued the interest of advocates for campaign finance transparency.

“It all depends what state law requires,” said Paul Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C. “I’ll be interested in watching this one.”

Ryan said AFP’s tax-exempt status as a nonprofit could also be threatened if the Nevada group is proven to be engaging primarily in political activity.

Wow. Spending a little bit of "stupid money" on a Democratic Nevada Legislature primary may lead to the downfall of one of the Koch brothers' key astroturf front groups. Who would have ever guessed?

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