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New campaign spending rules to take effect

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver

SANTA FE – Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver forged ahead Friday with new rules aimed at requiring more disclosure of New Mexico political spending, setting up a potential court showdown.

In adopting the rules, the first-term Democratic secretary of state announced they will take effect Oct. 10 – in time for the 2018 election cycle – and said they’ll strengthen state campaign spending laws that have been largely riddled by court rulings in recent years.

“For too long, our campaign finance disclosure laws have been vague and confusing, and this rule will provide much-needed guidance and clarity,” Toulouse Oliver said. “The rule will also help to shine a light on the dark money that has been plaguing our state’s campaigns.”

The Secretary of State’s Office held four public hearings on the proposed rules this summer – two in Santa Fe and one each in Albuquerque and Las Cruces – and received hundreds of emails and other written comments.

Several national groups have argued the rules would curb free speech rights and could lead to individuals being harassed because of their political donations. They’ve also suggested a lawsuit might be filed if the rules were implemented.

Dan Caldwell, policy director for Concerned Veterans of America, a Virginia-based group backed by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, accused Toulouse Oliver on Friday of ignoring the concerns of those who opposed the rules.

“Make no mistake: If implemented and left unchallenged, this measure will freeze open debate in New Mexico and expose many citizens to harassment and intimidation over the causes they support,” Caldwell said.

However, backers of the secretary of state’s plan have maintained that Toulouse Oliver is on solid legal footing, while also expressing concern about the growing influence of “dark money” in New Mexico elections.

Bureau of Elections Director Kari Fresquez said some minor wording changes were made before the secretary of state adopted the rules, which are largely based on bipartisan legislation that was vetoed earlier this year by Gov. Susana Martinez. She also said the Secretary of State’s Office will put together guides for candidates and add an online link for disclosure reporting in the coming months.

“We have a little bit of work to do,” Fresquez told the Journal.

The rules will require groups active in New Mexico campaigns – but not coordinating with candidates – to disclose their significant donors if they spend more than $2,500 on any single political advertisement for a statewide race or more than $7,500 total in an election cycle. Those figures would be lower for races or ballot measures that are not statewide, including legislative races.

New Mexico already requires candidates and political committees to file reports disclosing the identities of all their donors, regardless of contribution size.

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