Legislature passes campaign finance reform years in the making

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It’s now up to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez whether New Mexico’s campaign finance disclosure laws will be modernized.

The Senate agreed to House amendments to Senate Bills 96 and 97 Tuesday.

The House approved the two measures Monday night.

SB 96 has the greater impact, aiming for more disclosure from independent spending groups during campaigns. But it also doubles the donation limits for legislators to $5,000 for each primary and general election cycle.

SB 97 refines and clarifies state law on public financing, which applies to  judges and public regulation commissioners.

Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez said in an email the governor doesn’t yet have a position on the measures.

“As with any bill, they’ll need to be analyzed and reviewed,” he wrote.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver issued a news release urging Martinez to sign the measures.

“This is a huge advancement for our work to increase transparency in New Mexico’s campaign finance reporting,” she said in the statement. “These bills will go a long way to inform New Mexico voters just who is financing political campaigns and how much is being spent.”

But Paul Gessing, executive director of the Rio Grande Foundation said he hopes Martinez vetoes SB 96.

“We’re definitely concerned about this particular piece of legislation,” Gessing said, noting that it might require disclosure of donations to nonprofits that are politically active.

Several lawmakers who spoke against the measure in the House met with Gessing and two national political experts at a reception before Monday’s debate, Gessing said. The two spoke at a luncheon Tuesday on “how the political left is working to squash debate.”

“The definition of independent expenditure is so broad that it would cover many activities that have no relation to express advocacy for or against a candidate,” Gessing wrote in an email.

If the bills are signed, Toulouse Oliver said her office will begin drafting rules to enforce the new laws. No regulations govern the current Campaign Finance Act.

For Wirth and other supporters, the House vote in favor SB 96 was several years in coming.

The bill is, in part, a response to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited contributions and spending for independent campaign expenditures that aren’t coordinated with a candidate or political party.

New Mexico law has been unclear about what groups need to report such contributions and spending. The law also lacks a definition of coordination, which is included in SB 96.

It requires disclosure of independent spending up to 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.

While the Senate passed similar measures in the past several years, they never made it to the House floor until Monday.

“This is something that we have been working on for so long,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause.

Wirth described his mixed feelings about the increase in contribution limits for lawmakers.

“I’m really torn,” he said. “I carried the bill that put the limits on in 2009 with (former) Sen. (Dede) Feldman. So when I first ran there were no limits at all.”

But, he said, the increase was a compromise.

“There was a lot of push to just eliminate the limits all together.”

Martinez has three days to sign the bills or let them become law without her signature.

“Let’s hope the governor signs it.”

One thought on “Legislature passes campaign finance reform years in the making

  1. This is a good start! We need this! Legislatures also need to close that loop hole where only expenditures over 100 spent on legislatures by lobbyist need to be reported. I am not wanting to limit how much is spent on members of the legislature is spent I just would like to see every penny accounted for. As for Paul Guessing I would not listen much too, he wanted tax break after tax break which he got and now look at the mess we are in!

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