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Saturday, March 15, 2003

Gov. Signs PRC Campaign Funding Plan

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson signed a measure into law Friday for public financing of campaigns for state regulatory agency candidates starting in the 2006 elections.
    Richardson, who has opposed the use of taxpayer money to pay for campaigns, said he signed the legislation to allow New Mexico to experiment with public financing for certain candidates.
    The new law will apply to people running for the Public Regulation Commission, a five-member elected agency that regulates utilities electric, natural gas and telecommunications as well as insurance and transportation companies.
    "I do have trouble with the concept of public financing," Richardson said at a news conference. "Rather than not sign the bill, I put my objections away because I think this is true reform and I'm willing to consider reform in campaign finance as it affects other candidates and other races."
    Richardson said he considered the PRC, because of its wide-ranging powers over businesses, a "special case" that merited a test of public financing.
    Under New Mexico's new law, candidates for the PRC will get public money for their campaigns if they agree to cap their spending and not take contributions from private sources.
    Supporters say public financing lessens the influence of money in elections, allows more people to seek elective office and will help restore public confidence in the political system.
    "You know in politics, you buy access; you get access. And those contributions have a bearing on it, whether we like it or not," said Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque. "I mean if you vote consistently against certain industries, you know you're not going to get any money. I think all of us as elected officials have experienced that."
    Money for the campaign fund about $300,000 a year will come from fees collected by the commission on regulated industries such as utilities and insurance companies.
    To qualify for the public financing, candidates would need to collect $5 donations from a certain number of registered voters. The amount of public financing for a candidate would be based on average expenditures in past campaigns.
    Currently, state law prohibits commission candidates from accepting campaign contributions from regulated industries. All other campaign contributions to a commission candidate are limited to $500 per election.
    Enactment of the public financing law culminated a seven-year fight by a coalition of groups that sought to make campaign finance reform a front-burner issue in New Mexico. The coalition, New Mexicans for Campaign Reform, is made up of about two dozen organizations ranging from Common Cause-New Mexico and the League of Women Voters-New Mexico to the New Mexico Federation of Labor.