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New rule on political spending takes effect

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A new rule aimed at requiring more disclosure of political spending took effect Tuesday, after months of sharp-edged debate about whether New Mexico should join 47 other states that already make independent expenditure groups that spend money on election-related advertisements report at least some information.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver rolled out the rule in June, just two months after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation that would have changed state law to require more disclosure.

The first-term Democratic secretary of state faced opposition from several national groups that argued the rules would curb free speech rights and could lead to individuals being harassed because of their political donations. Critics also suggested a lawsuit might be filed if the rules were implemented.

The Secretary of State’s Office made several changes to the rule after holding four public hearings over the summer, and Toulouse Oliver decided to forge ahead last month and has said she’s prepared to go to court to defend it.

“This new rule will bring much-needed guidance to New Mexico’s campaign finance reporting system and shine a light on some of the dark money plaguing political campaigns,” she said Tuesday. “New Mexico’s voters deserve to know who is spending money to influence their voting decisions, and this is a step in the right direction.”

The rules will require nonprofits and other 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.

The rule, which is the first of its kind in New Mexico, has been touted by backers as bringing more transparency to state campaign spending laws, large parts of which have been struck down by courts.

However, opponents have launched well-funded attacks against the rule.

One Virginia-based group called Concerned Veterans for America, which is backed by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, sent roughly 20,000 mailers to New Mexico residents and launched a digital ad blitz.

“The secretary has ignored the legislative process and hundreds of New Mexicans in her effort to force this flawed measure into law,” Dan Caldwell, the group’s policy director, said this week. “Requiring citizens to report their personal information to the government just for supporting a cause will limit the free speech rights of New Mexicans across the political spectrum.”

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State’s Office will post guidelines for complying with the new rule by the end of this week, a spokesman said Tuesday. Groups will then be able to report the newly required donor information on an already existing public database.

Before the new rule was adopted, New Mexico had been one of just three states – Indiana and South Carolina are the others – that did not require persons or groups to disclose independent expenditures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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