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SANTA FE – A group that sent out political advertisements targeting several progressive Democrats in the run-up to the June primary election has been ordered to disclose its donors.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver recently directed the Council for a Competitive New Mexico to make the disclosure within 10 days or face possible civil penalties.
The group reported spending more than $134,000 on campaign mailers, radio ads and phone calls in May and early June in support of five incumbent Democratic senators, with some of that money also being spent on mailers that targeted four of their primary election opponents.
However, the Council for a Competitive New Mexico did not disclose its funding sources for the campaign-related expenditures, which is required in most cases under a 2019 state law.
Four of the incumbent senators – Richard Martinez of Ojo Caliente, Clemente Sanchez of Grants, Gabriel Ramos of Silver City and John Arthur Smith of Deming – ended up being ousted in the June primary election.
Despite their defeats, a complaint was filed in August by Neri Holguin, the campaign manager for two of the progressive Democrats who were targeted by the campaign ads.
One of those candidates, Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City, said the group should be required to abide by the law.
“I strongly believe in playing by the rules,” Correa Hemphill said. “It’s upsetting when people and groups don’t.”
Chevonne Alarid, who’s listed as the president of the Council for a Competitive New Mexico, did not respond to a Monday question about whether the group plans to comply.
New Mexico’s campaign finance laws were updated by the 2019 legislation that required more disclosure from independent expenditure groups, or those that spend money on political ads but do not coordinate with candidates or campaigns.
That law was also cited by the state Ethics Commission in a separate case announced Monday involving a group that has spent money on campaign mailers urging voters to support a proposed constitutional amendment overhauling the Public Regulation Commission.
In that case, the group called Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers had initially declined to file an expenditure report with the Secretary of State’s Office.
But after being faced with possible legal action by the state Ethics Commission, whose members authorized the action, the group last week filed a report disclosing $264,193 in spending on the mailers.
However, the settlement agreement does not require the group to disclose its donors.
Ethics Commission Executive Director Jeremy Farris said that’s because a provision in the 2019 law allows some contributions to be exempt from the reporting requirement and a court battle over the issue could have dragged on for months.
“Our state’s campaign reporting and disclosure laws ensure New Mexicans know basic facts about special interests seeking to influence their votes on identified candidates or ballot questions,” Farris said in a statement Monday.
The listed officer for the Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers on its disclosure report is Jon Goldstein, a former state Environment Department secretary who now works for the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund. Goldstein said in an email that the group was seeking to inform voters by sending the mailers.
“The expenditures of our committee were for educational purposes, and we have followed all applicable state laws,” he said.
The proposed constitutional amendment would transform the oft-maligned PRC from a five-member commission whose members are elected to a three-member appointed commission.
If approved by voters in November, the constitutional amendment would allow the governor to appoint PRC commissioners from a list of nominated candidates, starting in 2023.