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Editorial: Campaign finance bill lets you see who funds whom

Senate Bill 96, which passed by wide margins in the House and Senate with some bipartisan support, is another step toward letting the public know the names behind the “dark money” being poured into political campaigns at every level.

The bill requires political action committees, certain nonprofits and independent expenditure groups that spend more than $1,000 on most types of political advertising to disclose the names of their donors. That would let voters know who’s trying to get who elected and, in most cases, who they expect to back their agenda.

Public support for such disclosure is unquestionable: Polls conducted by Albuquerque-based Research and Polling over a four-year period consistently show New Mexicans favor increased disclosure requirements on independent political expenditures.

Opponents say the bill violates free speech rights because nonprofits will be forced to reveal the names of all their donors. But the bill applies only to nonprofits that contribute more than $1,000 to a particular candidate or issue. In reality, many nonprofits and charities avoid political contributions in order to preserve their IRS tax-exempt status.

New Mexico’s campaign spending guidelines have shifted dramatically in recent years, in part due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision – which cleared the way for unlimited spending by political action committees and opened the floodgates of essentially untrackable “dark money.”

SB 96 also doubles the current cap on campaign contributions for legislative candidates – from $2,500 per election cycle to $5,000 per cycle – but would slightly lower the maximum allowed donation for statewide candidates.

Introduced by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, (and co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Tijeras), SB 96 is awaiting Gov. Martinez’s signature. It appears to be a sensible bill that shines more light on our campaign financing system.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.