A conservative North Carolina think tank and government watchdog alleges two out-of-state environmental groups hid behind a nonexistent “shell” organization as it ran election ads against six Republican legislators.

The Raleigh-based Civitas Institute on Thursday filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections, charging that the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center collaborated to produce and place television ads for broadcast and direct mail in the Raleigh-Durham and Piedmont Triad markets. The ads criticized several lawmakers for their support of hydraulic fracturing ― or “fracking” ― for natural gas.

Specifically, the complaint alleges the two environmental groups used the identity of a nonexistent group, the “North Carolina Environmental Partnership,” in the legally required “paid for by” disclaimer in election ads.

“It is our contention that the NRDC, the SELC and this nonexistent ‘NCEP’…. have collectively and repeatedly violated state laws and may also be in violation of the state lobbying laws for failing to report solicitation ads they have aired and mailed,” Civitas President Francis DeLuca said Thursday during a news  conference.

In a letter to State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach, Civitas lawyer Roger Knight said there is no record of an organization called “North Carolina Environmental Partnership registered with the Secretary of State’s office, nor does any entity by that name have any registrations or reports filed with the Elections Board.

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