One speaker described “dark-money” spending in elections as a disease, and others said their First Amendment rights are at stake.
The provocative testimony was part of a public hearing Tuesday on Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s proposal to impose new disclosure requirements on nonprofit and advocacy groups that spend big sums of money in New Mexico elections.
Nine people spoke in favor of the proposed rules and five spoke against them during the 90-minute hearing, held in Downtown Albuquerque at the city-county government center.
Much of the discussion centered on dark money – or donations to groups that spend to influence elections, but don’t have to disclose their donors.
The rules proposed by Toulouse Oliver would require dark-money groups active in New Mexico campaigns to disclose their donors if they spend more than $1,000 on political advertising during an election cycle.
Gallup resident Michael Daly, speaking in favor of the rules, characterized undisclosed campaign donations as akin to “syphilis … destroying our democracy.”
Requiring disclosure when someone spends at least $1,000 is “not only reasonable, but called for, given the flood of money in politics today,” Daly said. “Someone that vested in an election, it’d be nice to know who they are.”
Tom Greer, a Belen business owner and state field director for Concerned Veterans for America, said disclosure would open people up to harassment simply for donating to a small cause they believe in and have a “chilling effect.” The new rules should be crafted through the legislative process, he said, not handled by administrative rules issued by the secretary of state.
“This proposal is an attack on our First Amendment rights, which include privacy,” Greer said.
Concerned Veterans for America, a Virginia-based group, is backed by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.
Large chunks of the rules proposed by Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, are based on a bipartisan bill passed by the Legislature this year and vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican.
The debate is expected to continue today with a hearing in Las Cruces.
Toulouse Oliver said she hopes to issue new campaign rules in the fall, in time to cover the 2018 primary and general elections.