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Fledgling effort to regulate dark money starts in New Mexico

SANTA FE – New Mexico may take part in a fledgling effort to regulate and possibly limit the role of money in politics through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as legislators in a handful of states consider a pledge to help Congress with ratification.

New Mexico lawmakers are considering a nonbinding resolution called a “memorial” to urge Congress to restore greater federal and local regulation of political spending that influences elections and governance. The memorial also would pledge support for a constitutional amendment to end partisan gerrymandering.

The effort seeks to reverse Supreme Court actions including the 2010 Citizens United decision, which cleared the way for unlimited independent spending on elections.

“This is a simple way to say to Congress, ‘Pass this and come back to the state to ratify,’ ” said Rep. Linda Trujillo, D- Santa Fe, who is sponsoring the measure along with Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.

Memorials do not require the governor’s signature. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez last year vetoed state campaign finance disclosure rules that came under criticism as an infringement on free speech from several conservative-backed groups.

The newly proposed memorial includes brief instructions for separating political spending from free speech guarantees, and reclaiming federal and state authority to “regulate the role of money in elections and governance to ensure transparency, prevent corruption, and protect against the buying of access to or influence over representatives.”

Heather Ferguson, legislative director of the New Mexico chapter of the watchdog group Common Cause, noted that New Mexico and at least 19 other states already have asked Congress to overturn the Citizens United decision. The new initiative aims to start from scratch with specific, uniform instructions, she said.

“This takes it that one step further,” Ferguson said. “Here is not only a request but also a directive on how to do it.”

The effort is backed by Common Cause, a national group that concentrates on government accountability issues, and Take Back Our Republic, a group focused on campaign finance reform with offices in Alabama, Texas and Virginia.

Similar legislative measures are scheduled for introduction in a few states, including Alabama and New Hampshire.

John Pudner, executive director of Take Back Our Republic, said the goal is to gain a foothold in a geographically diverse selection of states.