Lawmakers discuss campaign finance reform
ALBUQUERQUE — The amount of money being spent on New Mexico politics by nonprofits and other independent groups is growing, but top elections officials told lawmakers Monday their hands are tied when it comes to ensuring transparency given that the state’s campaign finance reporting laws are outdated.
Officials with the secretary of state’s office indicated they would support proposed legislation outlined by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, during an interim legislative meeting in Santa Fe.
Wirth wants to close loopholes within the state’s campaign finance system by addressing the reporting of campaign contributions from independent donors, defining coordination between candidates and outside organizations, and clarifying allowable expenses for candidates.
Similar efforts have failed in previous years. Wirth pointed to pushback from groups on both sides that feel they would be constrained by having to report their donors and spending.
“We’ve tried really in the course of the journey to not pick sides, winners or losers, but to put in place — finally — definitions and rules that I think quite frankly benefit all of us and benefit most importantly the voter who’s trying to figure out … where this money is coming from,” he told his fellow lawmakers.
New Mexico is among the states that have been working to revamp campaign laws to require greater disclosure following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which critics blame for a flood of “dark money” into campaigns.
Political spending by independent groups and nonprofits in New Mexico more than doubled to $14 million over a six-year period and about $2 million was spent in October 2014 alone, according to the open government advocacy group Common Cause New Mexico.
Viki Harrison, the group’s executive director, said public pressure for more transparency has been building and she’s hopeful the time has come for the disclosure of “big money in politics.”
House Democrats also have floated campaign finance reform and ethics proposals for the upcoming 30-day session.
Since the session is dedicated to budget and finance issues, it will be up to Gov. Susana Martinez to add other items to the agenda. Her office said Monday no final decisions have been made.
Calls for campaign finance reform in New Mexico also are being fueled by the case of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who was accused of funneling campaign donations into private accounts and falsifying reports with her own office. Duran reached a plea agreement and submitted her resignation in October. She’s scheduled to be sentenced in two weeks.