Gov. Susana Martinez, who has touted herself as a champion of transparency, on Friday vetoed a piece of legislation that would have required greater public disclosure by those who spend big money in New Mexico political races.
The governor vetoed Senate Bill 96, a goal long sought by good-government groups and those who wanted greater information on the influence of money in politics.
“While I support efforts to make political process more transparent, the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances,” Martinez wrote in her veto message.
One of the legislation’s sponsors, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, responded to news of the veto Friday morning.
“I am disappointed but not surprised that the Governor would side with the Koch brothers and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and ignore the 90% of Republicans and Democrats in New Mexico who support campaign finance transparency. This is one more responsible bipartisan bill to add to the 2019 ‘to do’ list.”
ALEC is a national Republican group that crafts model legislation for state legislatures around the country.
Viki Harrison, of Common Cause New Mexico, which has lobbied state lawmakers to pass reform for years, expressed disappointment and challenged the governor’s interpretation of the legislation.
“This language was very narrowly drawn,” Harrison said. “It is absolutely constitutional. It has been vetted against case law from across the nation, including our own 10th federal circuit. The only charity who would ever have to report are those ones that are trying to skirt the law and put out sham ads before an election. We are sorry that the governor is vetoing something that 92 percent of New Mexicans want.“
Critics of the legislation, however, celebrated Martinez’s decision to kill the legislation, saying it preserved contributors’ privacy when they donate money to nonprofits involved in the political process.
Bradley A. Smith, chairman of The Center for Competitive Politics, which touts itself as the country’s largest nonprofit defending First Amendment political speech rights, lauded Martinez for siding “with the First Amendment by vetoing this poorly written bill.”
“The purpose of disclosure laws is to allow people to monitor their government, not the other way around,” he said in a statement. “If this complex bill would have become law, only groups that could afford lawyers could safely speak out about elected officials. We should make it easy for groups of all sizes to exercise their free speech rights.”
Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation, commended the governor, too .
“When public dollars are at stake, taxpayers should have a clear understanding of what is happening with their money,” Gessing wrote in an email. “When it comes to individuals engaging in the debate over important policy issues, however, those individuals should be able to do so without having their names entered into government databases and being made public, potentially with serious repercussions.”
SB 96 would have updated the Campaign Finance Act to address the proliferation of unlimited election fundraising and spending by independent groups since a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision. It would have required any groups making independent campaign expenditures before primary or general elections to report the source of their money.
The bill also would have doubled campaign contribution limits for lawmakers to $5,000 each for primary and general elections. That means House candidates could have raised $10,000 from a single donor over two years, while Senate candidates could raise $20,000 over four years.
That was part of a compromise with some lawmakers who wanted to lift such limits and allow lawmakers to return to taking unlimited cash from donors.
Attempts in years past to pass similar legislation cleared the Senate but stalled in the House. This year, however, the House approved the measure in a bipartisan 41 to 24 vote.
Republican Rep. James Smith, who sponsored the legislation with Wirth, said during the House debate the changes are needed to clear up inconsistencies in laws approved in 2009, before the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. the FEC. That decision allowed unlimited contributions to political action committees and spending as long as there is no coordination with candidates or political parties.
SB 96 defines such coordination, and requires disclosure by nonprofits that mention candidates within a certain time frame before a primary or general election.
The story will be updated as we get more information.