New state law limiting campaign contributions might not apply to inaugural funds
SANTA FE — Gov.-elect Susana Martinez plans to pay for her inauguration with private donations, but it’s uncertain whether a new state law limiting campaign contributions will apply to the money that’s raised.
Martinez spokesman Danny Diaz said no decision has been made by the incoming governor on how to structure her inaugural fundraising organization but she intends to disclose contributions that are accepted.
“Irrespective of how it is set up, and irrespective of whether it’s required or not to disclose, we will voluntarily do so,” Diaz told The Associated Press.
The day after the general election, a new law went into effect that caps contributions to candidates and political committees.
An individual or business can give $5,000 per election to a statewide candidate such as governor. New Mexico previously allowed statewide and legislative candidates and political committees to accept contributions of any amount.
However, the new law governs fundraising and expenditures for a “political purpose,” which is defined as “influencing or attempting to influence” an election or preprimary nominating convention.
Because of that definition, the state’s campaign finance law may not apply to money raised and spent for a governor’s inauguration, according to Steve Allen, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, which lobbied for contribution limits that were enacted in 2009 but only took effect this month.
“I think it probably should be covered. But given this language … it doesn’t seem to cover it,” Allen said after reviewing the law because of questions raised by the AP.
If businesses or individuals make large donations to pay for inaugural activities, Allen said, it could create the appearance that an incoming governor is “going to owe some favors.”
There are many unanswered questions about inaugural fundraising because of changes in state law since the last inauguration after Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson won re-election four years ago, said Sen. Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe lawyer and Democrat who’s sponsored campaign finance reform legislation.
“There are various shades of gray here,” said Wirth.
If inaugural fundraising isn’t covered by the campaign finance law, there’s no requirement for disclosure of contributions. If the law does apply, Wirth said, it’s uncertain whether money collected by a campaign committee can be properly spent for inaugural expenses.
The law restricts the uses of campaign funds, allowing expenditures for political purposes, some expenses incurred by legislators, donations to the state’s budget account, retiring campaign debts and donations to other candidates.
“The reasons we passed the campaign act was specifically to prevent these types of high-dollar donations. So if in fact the money is going through a campaign committee, then it seems to me there needs to be compliance with the new limits,” said Wirth.
Even if the campaign finance law doesn’t apply to inaugural fundraising, he said, some donors may face restrictions under a 2007 law that capped the value of gifts given to elected and appointed state officials, legislators and state employees.
The law imposes a $250 limit on the value of individual gifts and yearly cap of $1,000 on the combined value of gifts that can be given to any one state official by a lobbyist, their employer or government contractor.
Attorney General Gary King’s office declined to say whether the campaign contribution limits apply to inaugural fundraising.
King’s spokesman, Phil Sisneros, said an answer would require the office to prepare a legal opinion but those can be requested only by a state official, legislator or prosecutor.
Corporations, businesses and labor unions helped cover the costs for Richardson’s inauguration on Jan. 1, 2007, and the contributions were disclosed later that year by his re-election campaign committee.
Corporate sponsors and sales of tickets to inaugural balls paid for Richardson’s 2003 inauguration, which cost more than $400,000. There was no charge to attend Richardson’s 2007 inaugural ball.
Allen didn’t recall that inaugural fundraising was debated when the Legislature considered the contribution limits measure.
“The contributions limits bill that we passed in 2009 was a nice first step but it has to be one in a series of steps if we are going to be serious about getting a handle on this overall problem of the influence of money in politics in New Mexico,” said Allen.