A bill allowing New Mexicans to see where some ‘dark political money’ comes from died in the House of Representatives Wednesday, the next-to-last day of the 30-day legislative session.
The death notice came a day after the Senate passed the legislation by a 36-0 vote.
“The advocates couldn’t come to agreement. We couldn’t come to agreement with them,” Republican Rep. Jim Smith of Sandia Park, a sponsor of Senate Bill 11, said.
Talks over what should go into the legislation broke down between Common Cause New Mexico and the Secretary of State’s office, Smith said.
Compared to other states New Mexico has lax campaign finance rules, and the legislation that died would have tightened some of those regulations.
For example, the bill would have required certain groups that currently don’t have to report where their money comes from to disclose the names of donors whose dollars are used by those groups for political purposes as long as those amounts are above certain dollar thresholds. Because these groups don’t have to disclose those names now, they are often referred to as “dark money” groups.
The bill is a response to the world in which candidates, political action committees and others find themselves after a duo of Supreme Court rulings removed barriers to money that has since flooded the nation’s political system
Very large donors increasingly are choosing to use so-called “dark money” groups to hide their contributions. These groups –501(c)4 “social welfare” nonprofits are a common incarnation – can engage in politics as long as it isn’t their primary function, determined by how much of their annual funding is applied to political activities. As long as they abide by those rules, these groups don’t have to turn over the names of all their donors.
The legislation relied on a opening in current federal rules: States can’t require “dark money” groups to disclose all their donors. But states can pry open the doors a little, which is what advocates had hoped New Mexico would do with this legislation.
That federal opening didn’t help anymore than it did in 2015. The same bill died in the final days of last year’s 60-day session.
Supporters had hoped to ride the wave of voter discontent following political scandals in 2015 that included the resignation of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran who pleaded guilty to six criminal counts, including two felony embezzlement charges in October. Duran’s criminal activity was directly connected to her campaign funds.
But voter discontent wasn’t enough.