Campaign finance reform bill increases lawmaker contribution limits

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Campaign donors would be able to double their contributions to state lawmakers under a campaign finance reform measure approved by the Senate Rules Committee Friday.

Senate Bill 96 also would increase disclosure for super PACs and nonprofits that get involved in campaigning.

The Senate Rules Committee approved the measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, in an 8-1 vote.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said he couldn’t support the bill with the increased campaign limits for lawmakers.

“I think adding on to the limits is the wrong way to go,” Steinborn said.

Current limits are $2,500 each for the primary and general election for non-statewide candidates such as legislators, and $5,500 per cycle for statewide candidates or political action committees. Before the 2012 election cycle, candidates could take unlimited donations from companies and individuals.

SB96 would change that to $5,000 per cycle for all candidates and PACs, with the amount adjusted for inflation after each election cycle.

Wirth said the increased legislative limits were part of a compromise in crafting the bill. He said it would make tracking contribution limits easier for the Secretary of State’s office.

The Santa Fe Democrat has introduced similar bills in the past, but they’ve never made it through the House.

“I think this is round six,” Wirth said. “Four times it’s passed through the Senate, the last three times unanimously.”

The bill is aimed at addressing unlimited donations and spending by independent groups such as super PACs and some nonprofits after the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United. That decision led to a shift in campaign cash from candidates and political parties to super PACs in New Mexico and across the nation.

But that court decision also allows states to require disclosure of independent spending and prohibit coordination between such spenders and candidates or political parties.

The bill defines coordination and requires reporting of any spending that mentions a candidate or ballot issue 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election. And it requires that advertisements disclose the name of the candidate or organization that paid for the ad.

But it doesn’t require super PACs or other independent spenders to specify spending aimed at a particular contest or candidate. While such groups must now report what they spend in aggregate, it’s impossible to know how much they spend supporting or opposing specific candidates.

The measure also requires both occupations and employers of contributors to be reported by candidates and committees. Now, only donor occupations are required.

The Secretary of State’s office is asking for $985,000 to improve it’s campaign finance reporting system in conjunction with SB96 and reforms approved by last year’s Legislature.

SB96 next goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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