Nevada GOP joins fight against caps on campaign contributions

Tuesday, March 17, 1998

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A second federal court lawsuit has been filed against new campaign-contribution limits on Nevada ballot questions.

The court action was filed by the Nevada Republican Party in U.S. District Court following a similar lawsuit filed by medical marijuana advocates.

The state GOP and Executive Management Resources Inc. have launched an initiative to require union leaders to get the consent of each member before spending dues on political campaigns.

Lawyers for the two organizations said in their suit, filed March 13 in Las Vegas, that they both want to make contributions in excess of $5,000 if allowed.

But a Nevada constitutional change approved by voters in 1996 capped contributions at $5,000 per person or organization for any ballot question campaign.

The lawsuit names Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, who recently issued an opinion stating that the limits on spending for or against ballot questions are constitutional, and violations would be punishable as a misdemeanor.

Potential penalties include fines up to $1,000 or six months in jail for violations of the limit.

Also named was Secretary of State Dean Heller, who sought Del Papa’s legal opinion.

The GOP action, like the lawsuit filed earlier by advocates for marijuana for medical purposes, says the threat of punishment amounts to First Amendment and 14th Amendment violations and chills the right to political expression and association.

Both lawsuits ask for a temporary order, followed by a permanent injunction, to stop enforcement of the limit.

Del Papa says such lawsuits may be premature because there’s no actual ballot question yet.

She said the $5,000 limitation is on campaigns for questions once they’ve qualified for the ballot. That means higher amounts can still be contributed in helping to finance the signature-gathering process that leads up to qualification.

Advocates of both the marijuana and union contribution initiatives must collect 46,764 signatures by this summer to get their proposals on the ballot. Voters would have to approve the plans this November and again in November 2000 before the Nevada Constitution could be revised.

Nevada union leaders have labeled the GOP initiative an effort to “eliminate the unions from the political field.” They’ve launched still another initiative to ensure they have authority to decide how to spend union dues. Their plan also provides for fuller campaign finance disclosure in Nevada.