Campaign-disclosure bill loses GOP supporter
A bill aimed at fixing problems with the state’s campaign-disclosure law was amended slightly by a House committee on Tuesday and sent to the floor for a vote, but it’s been so changed from its original version that it has lost one of its top supporters.
“Right now, the bill inhibits people from political speech,” Gentry said. “What is sacrosanct is the ability to engage in that political speech, and I have extreme concerns that we may be limiting that.”
In fact, Gentry was so disappointed in the state of Senate Bill 11 that he said he’d vote against it “or amend the hell out of it.”
Several amendments to the bill were offered yesterday in the House Voters and Elections Committee, but none that would have appeased Gentry passed.
As NMPolitics.net reported last week, changes to the bill, many requested by the Attorney General’s Office, have added language about donations that critics say is vague and confusing, and requirements that nonprofits use separate bank accounts for donations or be forced to reveal donors’ names. An amendment also changes the tracking period from election cycles to calendar year.
That calendar-year provision is one problem many have with the current version of the legislation. For example, current law allows donations of up to $2,300 for the primary and general election cycles for legislative races, but the bill now would allow $2,300 per year.
“This means we’d be inserting more money into politics,” said Gentry, who would prefer the law remain at $2,300 per cycle.
Martinez backs longer disclosure period
Another part of the disagreement centers on the window of time before an election when independent expenditures are most likely to be aimed at influencing the election. The original bill had a shorter window: 30 days before a primary. If groups wanted to run ads or send mail, they’d need to disclose information about the money involved. But a Senate committee nearly doubled that window to 58 days.
Where did they get that number? It’s 30 days before the first vote can be cast in a primary — early and absentee voting opens 28 days before the primary.
The interim committee, nonprofits, Gentry and one of the bill’s primary architects, Steven Robert Allen (formerly of Common Cause), all say the longer window threatents to impact groups that only want to talk about issues, not impact an election.
But House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, disagreed.
“The truth of the matter is, most of the game — in the (state) House and the Senate — is in the primaries. There are 70 House seats, and of those 70, only about 10 of them, maybe 15, are competitive,” Martinez said during Tuesday’s hearing.
“All we’re saying is if you are going to play in the primaries… it shouldn’t be so secretive. It should be more transparent,” Martinez said.
Wirth says Current version is better than nothing
Martinez’s view stems from a dispute about whether mailers nonprofits sent three months before the 2008 primary were about policy issues before the Legislature or electioneering. The groups said the mailers weren’t electioneering, but a handful of lawmakers whose constituents received the mailers lost their seats. That controversy led to a failed attempt by the AG and secretary of state to force the nonprofits to register as political committees.
That attempt to force the nonprofits to register as political committees led to a court ruling that New Mexico’s definition of a political committee is “constitutionally infirm.” The bill attempts to address that issue plus others created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. Many fear an influx of undisclosed election spending this year unless the law is fixed.
The worst-case scenario, Wirth said, is that the bill passes as it is. Sure, he’d like to see it improved, but without any update to the campaign finance law, candidates and voters will be worse off.
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