A Republican candidate for attorney general is suing his better-funded primary opponent for raising campaign funds from entities he oversaw while in office.
Attorney Craig Mueller, who is challenging former Assemblyman Wes Duncan in the state’s Republican primary for attorney general, filed a racketeering suit Wednesday in Clark County District Court alleging Duncan raised more than $56,000 for his campaign from business, gaming and utility companies he technically oversaw in a regulatory role while employed with the attorney general’s office in 2017.
“Defendant Wes Duncan solicited campaign contributions from business and entities over which he had direct disciplinary and regulatory authority during a period that he was actively capable of exercising such authority in an adverse manner against said businesses and entities,” he wrote in the suit.
In a response letter sent Wednesday, Duncan called the suit "frivolous" and noted that he hadn't yet been served with the lawsuit, stating Mueller's "demonstrably false statements about alleged criminal violations are undoubtedly defamatory."
"This kind of stunt is beneath the office that we are both seeking, and as an attorney practicing law in this state for 25 years you certainly know better," he wrote. "The disturbing aspect is that you obviously do not care and are willing to use the legal process to promote your clearly failed campaign."
Duncan promised to seek compensatory and punitive damages from allegations made by Mueller during the campaign with "unrelenting effort," and threatened to counter-sue Mueller personally for damages if he did not withdraw the complaint.
"Our letter speaks for itself, but rest assured if Mr. Mueller follows through with this frivolous lawsuit then we will take every available civil litigation action, including whether a complaint should be filed with the state bar," Duncan campaign advisor Jeremy Hughes wrote in an email
The suit is being brought under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and asks the court to enjoin Duncan’s campaign from using the funds raised while in office, a fine three times the amount raised and for forfeiting the campaign contributions raised while he was employed in office.
Duncan jumped in the race for state attorney general in November, but reported raising more than $190,000 before making the announcement and while he was still employed as a top deputy to Attorney General Adam Laxalt. In all, he reported raising more than $417,000 over the course of 2017.
“We raised the bulk of the money and worked hard on the campaign after we left office,” Duncan told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in April.
There’s nothing in state election law that prohibits elected public officers from raising funds while in office, as long as they don’t engage in political activity during normal work hours.
“As far as just being a public officer and fundraising, there’s no prohibition on that,” Nevada Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Wayne Thorley said. “It goes on all the time.”
Updated at 12:06 p.m. to include a response from Duncan.