Lawsuit targets new NM law on disclosure

SANTA FE – Two nonprofit advocacy groups – including the Rio Grande Foundation – filed a lawsuit Friday challenging a new state law that requires more disclosure of dark-money political spending.

The disclosure requirements, they argue, violate their donors’ First Amendment rights to anonymous free speech and freedom of association and would chill advocacy efforts on important questions of public policy.

The New Mexico-based Rio Grande Foundation and the Illinois Opportunity Project of Chicago are the plaintiffs. Both groups say they promote liberty and freedom.

“This law will silence important perspectives by discouraging our citizens from supporting issue-advocacy groups that promote thoughtful, rigorous debate around issues vital to our state,” Paul Gessing, president of Rio Grande Foundation, said in a written statement.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat and New Mexico’s top election officer, expressed confidence in the legality of the new disclosure law. The lawsuit names Toulouse Oliver as defendant.

It’s “disappointing that these groups are seeking to roll back the strong accountability measures New Mexico now has in place,” Toulouse Oliver spokesman Alex Curtas said.

The lawsuit centers on Senate Bill 3 – legislation approved this year to strengthen New Mexico’s disclosure requirements for political spending by dark-money groups.

The new law applies to nonprofit organizations that don’t normally have to disclose their donors the way candidates and political action committees do.

Under Senate Bill 3, the groups must report their spending – and the source of contributions to pay for it – when they spend above a certain threshold near an election. They also must put a sponsorship label on their materials.

The Rio Grande Foundation said it would be forced to violate its supporters’ privacy by registering with the state and disclosing donors. The libertarian-leaning foundation conducts issue advocacy and plans to mail a legislator scorecard to voters before the 2020 general election.

Senate Bill 3 was backed by Toulouse Oliver and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe – both of whom argued it was an important transparency step that would make more information available to voters.

Toulouse Oliver had earlier issued some the disclosure requirements through an administrative-ruling making process. They were later codified into law through Senate Bill 3.

The 12-page lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court.

The Rio Grande Foundation and Illinois Opportunity Project, which was involved in a landmark 2018 case regarding mandatory fees for non-union public sector workers, are asking a judge to block enforcement of parts of the new law and declare that they violate constitutional rights.

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