Sec­re­tary of state ready for court

Can­di­dates need info on dis­clo­sure plan, Toulouse Oliver ac­knowl­edges

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOYD JOUR­NAL CAPI­TOL BUREAU

SANTA FE — Sec­re­tary of State Mag­gie Toulouse Oliver said Wed­nes­day she’s pre­pared to go to court to de­fend pro­posed New Mex­ico cam­paign rules aimed at re­quir­ing more dis­clo­sure in po­lit­i­cal spend­ing.

How­ever, the first-term Demo­cratic sec­re­tary of state also ac­knowl­edged her of­fice will have to ed­u­cate can­di­dates and the gen­eral pub­lic about the rules’ im­pact when they are en­acted by the Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice later this year.

“There is a lot of mis­un­der­stand­ing about what’s cur­rently in statute, what the courts have de­cided and what this rule is try­ing to ad­dress,” Toulouse Oliver told re­porters.

Her com­ments came after the fourth — and likely last — pub­lic hear­ing on the pro­posed rules, which have been re­vised from their orig­i­nal form based on feed­back and could be changed again be­fore be­ing en­acted. That’s ex­pected to hap­pen by mid-Oc­to­ber.

The rules, which would be the first of their kind in New Mex­ico, have been touted as bring­ing more trans­parency to state cam­paign spend­ing laws, large parts of which have been struck down by courts.

How­ever, they have been greeted by sharp crit­i­cism from sev­eral con­ser­va­tive­lean­ing groups, who claim the rules would curb free speech rights and could lead to in­di­vid­u­als be­ing ha­rassed be­cause of their po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions.

Roughly 25 peo­ple showed up for Wed­nes­day’s pub­lic hear­ing at the state Capi­tol, which turned testy at times. At one point, a critic of the pro­posed rules bris­tled at a sug­ges­tion “paid op­er­a­tives” were lead­ing the op­po­si­tion to the pro­posed rules.

Many of those present who op­posed the rules were vol­un­teers with Con­cerned Veter­ans for Amer­ica, a Vir­ginia-based group that has sent roughly 20,000 mail­ers to New Mex­ico res­i­dents and launched a dig­i­tal ad blitz.

Sev­eral crit­ics have sug­gested le­gal chal­lenges could be forth­com­ing if the Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice im­ple­ments the rules, which are largely based on bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion that was ve­toed ear­lier in April by Gov. Su­sana Martinez.

“I be­lieve I have First Amend­ment rights that are slowly be­ing abridged,” said Le­land Thomas Tay­lor of Al­bu­querque.

But back­ers of Toulouse Oliver’s pro­posed rules say the sec­re­tary of state is on solid le­gal foot­ing, while also ex­press­ing con­cern about the in­flu­ence of “dark money” in New Mex­ico elec­tions.

“There’s not a thing in here that’s un­con­sti­tu­tional,” said Viki Har­ri­son of Com­mon Cause New Mex­ico, a group that sup­ports the pro­posed rules and worked with the Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice to help draft them.

Demo­cratic Party of New Mex­ico Chair­man Richard El­len­berg tes­ti­fied Wed­nes­day he be­lieves the sec­re­tary of state has the author­ity to en­act the rules, and said the party sup­ports in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments.

How­ever, El­len­berg also ex­pressed con­cern about sev­eral pro­vi­sions in the pro­posal, in­clud­ing a sec­tion deal­ing with al­low­able cam­paign debt that he said could cause con­fu­sion in the fi­nal fran­tic days of a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign.

The rules would re­quire groups ac­tive in New Mex­ico cam­paigns — but not co­or­di­nat­ing with can­di­dates — to dis­close their sig­nif­i­cant donors if they spend more than $2,500 on any sin­gle po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tise­ment for a statewide race or more than $7,500 to­tal in an elec­tion cy­cle. Those fig­ures would be lower for races or bal­lot mea­sures that are not statewide, in­clud­ing leg­isla­tive races.

New Mex­ico al­ready re­quires can­di­dates and po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tees to file re­ports dis­clos­ing the iden­ti­ties of all their donors, re­gard­less of con­tri­bu­tion size.

Sec­re­tary of State Mag­gie Toulouse Oliver

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