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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Senate Panel OKs Test for Campaign Finance

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE The Democrat-controlled Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday voted to support a pilot project for public financing of political campaigns, using the five-member Public Regulation Commission as the test group.
    The committee sent the bill, (SB 222), on to the Senate Finance Committee.
    Newly elected PRC commissioner E. Shirley Baca told the committee the public financing proposal has bipartisan support on the regulatory agency.
    Baca said public financing would "take away the perception of any conflict of interest" and level the playing field for PRC candidates.
    Candidates for the regulatory agency who agreed to cap spending and snub private contributions would get public money for their campaigns, under the practice. The pilot project would take effect in the 2004.
    The public campaign fund would cost about $300,000 a year. It would be paid for by regulatory fees collected by the PRC.
    To qualify for public financing, PRC candidates would need to collect $5 donations from a certain number of registered voters. The amount of public financing would be based on past PRC campaign costs.
    Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said enacting a pilot program for the PRC would be a good way to test public financing of campaigns in New Mexico.
    Meanwhile, an identical bill, (HB 420), sponsored by House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, was supported on a party-line vote on Tuesday in the House Voters and Election Committee, with Republican members voting in opposition.
    House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs, R-Albuquerque, said he opposes public financing of PRC races because it would force regulated companies to pay for the campaigns of candidates with whom they disagree.
    The campaign finance proposal for PRC candidates is backed by New Mexicans for Campaign Reform, a statewide coalition of nearly 30 groups, including Common Cause.