The reason we have campaign finance reporting is so voters can know who is trying to influence both the election and also the activities of those in office after the election is over.
If, for example, a business owner pours thousands of dollars into a candidate's campaign, and that candidate goes on to win the election and later proposes legislation that would favor his political benefactor, voters can be informed of those dealings and decide for themselves if the elected official was unduly influenced by campaign donations.
Unfortunately, such reporting requirements do not exist in school board races.
Certainly, those races tend to be lower key and less costly. The recent board elections in Las Cruces and nearby districts were conducted without a great deal of obvious spending by any of the candidates.
But in campaigns where little money is traditionally spent, the potential is even greater for one large donor to skew the process. And, if that were to happen, voters would never know who is behind the scenes pulling the strings. State law does not require candidates running for school board seats to comply with the same reporting requirements as those running for county commission, state legislature or other such positions.
The "School District Campaign Reporting Act," introduced this session by Rep. James Smith, would bring a greater degree of transparency to school board races. It would require four reports during the election cycle, but would only apply in school districts with more than 12,000 students.
The bill is working its way through the committee process, and has yet to make it to the House floor. It's passage would result in better, more transparent elections.
We're aware that school board members are not paid, and that it can sometimes be difficult to recruit high-caliber candidates to run. Some will argue this will further restrict the pool of candidates willing to step forward. It is for that reason the bill is limited to those running in the larger school districts.
This comes as the city of Las Cruces is in the process of improving its own rules governing campaign finance reporting and expenditures, following a revelation that former Mayor Bill Mattiace had used funds left over in a campaign account to help a family member pay personal expenses. While it was not illegal, it did raise eyebrows.
It's certainly true that most local campaigns for school board or city council are run on a shoestring budget. But even in these races, there must be some level of campaign finance reporting required.