CARSON CITY, Nevada — A Nevada judge has fined a Virginia-based group $110,000 for running ads supporting Brian Sandoval in the 2010 gubernatorial election without registering as a political action committee or filing financial reports.
The Nov. 13 ruling signed by Carson City District Judge James Wilson also ordered Alliance for America's Future to disclose within 30 days the names of donors who contributed to the ad campaign.
"The court's order was reasonable and welcomed, and I applaud all decisions that reinforce transparency in our election laws," Secretary of State Ross Miller, Nevada's chief election officer, said Tuesday.
The group with ties to former Vice President Dick Cheney supports Republican candidates and conservative causes. Alliance lawyers did not immediately respond Tuesday to email requests for comment.
Miller, a Democrat, sued the alliance in 2010 over ads spotlighting Sandoval, a former federal judge who stepped away from his lifetime appointment to challenge then-Gov. Jim Gibbons. Sandoval defeated Gibbons in the GOP Nevada primary and Democratic challenger Rory Reid in the general election.
The case has been bouncing around Nevada's court system since then. Three years ago, Wilson granted the secretary of state a preliminary injunction preventing the group from running political spots until it registered in Nevada as a political action committee.
Alliance lawyers appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, which in 2012 reversed the injunction because the election was over and the point was moot. But justices sent other arguments of the case back to Wilson.
"By running the advertisements," Wilson wrote, the alliance "engaged in political activity in this state without registering as a political action committee and thereby violated the law."
The alliance, according to court records, spent $189,000 on television ads that ran 320 times touting Sandoval. Lawyers argued that Nevada law requiring registration was unconstitutional and that the ads did not amount to "express advocacy" that would trigger reporting.
They also argued that the amount spent in Nevada was only about 2 percent of the $7.8 million the alliance received in donations in 2010, and therefore its Nevada campaign spending was incidental and not subject to reporting.
Wilson disagreed, saying that argument would produce "absurd results," allowing the group to spend all its money but avoid disclosure as long as it didn't spend more than 50 percent in any one state.