In a bad omen for transparency and accountability, “dark money” groups are spreading in New Mexico like fleas on an old dog.
Two fliers were recently sent out by a new nonprofit “social welfare” group, New Mexico Competes. Its members have ties to Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration and the Republican Party. Its executive director, Sara Lister, is a former deputy cabinet secretary in the Martinez administration.
A flier the group mailed last week took aim at Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks, accusing him of “putting up roadblocks to education reform.”
As a tax exempt 501(c)(4) New Mexico Competes does not have to publicly disclose its donors. And like other organizations of its kind, it has declined to do so. On the other hand, political action committees, or PACS, are required to report donations and names of donors.
“Dark money” groups are springing up from both sides of the aisle.
Democrats formed New Mexico Prosperity, another 501(c)(4), earlier this year. It is run by a former director of the New Mexico Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and internal documents show its goals include pushing progressive agendas and targeting Martinez.
GOAL Advocacy is another social welfare organization formed to push conservative positions. It is headed by a former staffer to Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, and Pearce’s campaign committee gave it $10,000.
In recent years, the liberal Center for Civic Policy has targeted lawmakers by pointing out their voting records on issues. As a 501(c)(3), it also does not have to disclose its donors, although previously it has disclosed some. It has argued successfully in federal court that its efforts are educational and are not electioneering.
About the only limit on “dark money” groups is that they must work toward the “common good,” but that definition is exceedingly broad under the law. New Mexico Competes says its efforts are geared toward “voter education, registration, and issue advocacy.”
These groups are wielding increasing influence on the political landscape – thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which basically said corporations, organizations, unions and others can spend as much as they want as long as they don’t coordinate their activities with candidates.
But no matter the political bent, Americans deserve to know who is behind the money these groups are spending to influence public policy.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.