The Albuquerque Journal, November 24, 2019
Letter to the Editor
“We need a 28th Amendment on campaign financing”
With the 2020 general election ramping up, many people wish there was more sanity, less deception, and less big money in our elections. We want a truly representative government, but what can any of us actually do?
In recent municipal elections, Santa Fe and Las Cruces both utilized Ranked-Choice Voting, which contributed to more civilized campaigns and greater voter engagement (to rank candidates, one must look into all of them, not just our “favorite”).
Public campaign financing was also well-utilized. Locally, good things are happening. But at the federal level, and in many states, Big Money influences elections too much.
Over 80% of Americans — of all persuasions — agree that our electoral system is out of control. Billions of dollars pour into campaigns from corporations, unions and the wealthy. Special interests direct large sums of money into political campaigns expecting something in return; they usually get it. Everyday citizens lose their voice in the process.
A 28th Amendment would overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which gave constitutional rights to corporations and struck down laws limiting campaign spending, with increasingly frightening consequences.
In October, over 300 Americans met in Washington, D.C., for the National Citizen Leadership Conference (NCLC). Voters, organizational leaders, constitutional scholars and members of Congress from all 50 states met to drive forward a 28th Amendment, allowing Congress to regulate campaign spending and financing.
Several colleagues and I attended from New Mexico. On NCLC Lobby Day, we met with staff from the offices of Udall, Heinrich, Haaland and Torres Small, and met in person with Ben Ray Luján.
Our conversations were fruitful and we are following up. Over 140 meetings took place that day, with Americans from across the nation urging their congressmembers from both sides of the aisle to support a 28th Amendment.
The good news is that legislation has already been introduced. HJR 2, SJR 51 and HJR 48 all call for campaign finance regulation.
Congress needs to hear from their constituents that we want our democracy back.
To get involved in the 28th Amendment movement, go to americanpromise.net or www.nmmop.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Santa Fe New Mexican, November 23, 2019
Letter to the Editor
I am deeply appalled by money influencing our politics, changing the narrative of our democracy. Eight out of 10 Americans agree that our political system is out of control from billions of dollars flooding our campaigns. This is an American issue, not a partisan issue.
New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics members recently attended the American Promise National Citizen Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., bringing together everyday voters, leaders and constitutional scholars from all 50 states. They were discussing a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that would overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case concerning campaign finance. A citizen lobby day was held so attendees could meet and urge members of Congress to join in support of this initiative. Become empowered — become involved.
Santa Fe New Mexican, November 18, 2019
Letter to the Editor
“Money determines who wins elections”
I am discouraged by the role that virtually unlimited money plays in elections; the candidate who spends the most money usually wins. Large contributors have undue influence on elected officials. I was very pleased that recent candidates for the City Council relied primarily on public funding for their campaigns, not on large individual or corporate contributions.
If all candidates in every election relied on public financing, it would even the playing field significantly. Unfortunately, public financing is not always available. There are many organizations working toward the goal of ensuring limits on contributions and requiring full disclosure. Among them is a national organization, American Promise, and a local group, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (NMMOP.org). I encourage all concerned citizens to take action toward these goals.
Santa Fe New Mexican, October 6, 2019
Letter to the Editor
Do you know that four out of five New Mexico members of Congress are co-sponsoring legislation to restore our democracy by overturning the Citizens United case? Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution 51, Democracy For All; Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., is co-sponsoring. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland are co-sponsors of companion House bill, House Joint Resolution 2. Please write or call your representative and senators, thanking them for cosponsoring; encourage them to work across the aisle to increase cross-partisan support for these bills. Call or write Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. Ask her to join the New Mexico team, by co-sponsoring HJR 2.
Seventy-one percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats want limits on campaign spending, according to the Pew Research Center. Any chance for meaningful change must cross party lines. Ninety-one percent of Americans agree money in politics is a problem; only 9 percent believe we can do something about it. That leaves a huge majority who believe there is nothing we can do. This is not a functional democracy. Get involved locally: email@example.com.
Santa Fe New Mexican, July 21, 2019
“Money, politics and the opioid crisis”
By John House
The death toll from the decades long U.S. opioid crisis is not just a human and societal tragedy of enormous proportions, it is a symptom of a corporate culture that puts profit above all else, even the lives of our own children. It is also a blatant example of a systemic failure by our government to put the public good above the interests of wealthy individual interests.
The opioid crisis took off in the late 1990s, after pharmaceutical manufacturing companies like Purdue Pharma assured Congress and the medical community that their new opioid-based prescription pain medications were safe and not addictive. Greenlighted by the drugmakers, medical professionals prescribed and pharmacies dispensed opioid pain meds in greater and greater quantities. So-named “pain clinics,” some legal, others not even regulated by law in some states, sprung up all over the country, dispensing drugs like OxyContin, hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl to just about anyone and everyone who asked for them.
According to statistics cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of deaths annually attributable to opioid overdose in America ballooned from a few thousand in 1999 to 70,237 in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports on its website that today, more than 130 people in the United States die every day after overdosing on opioids. Opioid overdose is now the leading cause of death in the U.S. among people between the ages of 18 and 50. Nearly everyone in America either has a family member, friend or knows someone who has died from an opioid overdose or suffers from chronic opioid addiction.
The ongoing U.S. opioid crisis is the latest, egregious, heartbreaking example of the corrupting influence of special interest money upon government. As revealed by a shocking joint investigation and article first published by the Washington Post and a video segment aired in 2017 on CBS’ 60 Minutes titled “The Whistleblower,” both the administrative and legislative branches of the federal government were co-opted by major drug distribution companies to aid them in their mission to proliferate opioid-based drugs despite their knowledge of gross abuse. When the DEA’s enforcement arm, the Diversion Control Division, pressed giant drug distribution companies Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen to stop suspicious (overly large or frequent) orders, as they are required to do by the Controlled Substances Act, the distributors ignored them and continued to ship.
After the DEA persisted and prosecuted and secured fines of over $341 million against them, the distributors used their money and influence to pressure the DEA to slow down prosecution of cases against them. And it did. Next, the drug industry lobbied Congress, spending over $106 million asking for protection from “overzealous” DEA enforcement.
In 2014, U.S. House Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., sponsored a bill to eliminate the Diversion Control Division’s most effective enforcement tool — the ability to freeze shipments of suspicious drug orders. The bill passed Congress by consent (no one opposed it) and was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2016. Our government was apparently asleep. DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Mulrooney later wrote in a Marquette University law journal article that the new law would make it virtually impossible for the Diversion Control Division to enforce the law against the big drug distributors.
For now, the can has been kicked down the road to the American judicial system. Lawsuits brought by city, county and state governments against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and other Big Pharma culprits are all over the news. Too little and too late: No amount of money paid to state and local governments could ever make up for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and families destroyed. What the scope of government should be in protecting the American people from national disasters like the opioid epidemic is subject to wide-ranging debate. Nevertheless, it is obvious that facilitating the problem and protecting and allowing the instigators to do their dirty work isn’t it.
When elected officials choose to serve the large corporations and wealthy special interests who fund their campaigns over the people who elected them, and when they and high-level administrative officials divert or cripple government in exchange for the promise of lucrative company jobs or lobbying contracts after they leave office, it is a monstrous betrayal of the people by government.
Until our campaign finance and lobbying laws are reformed to regulate money spent upon political campaigns and in influencing elected officials, the voices of ordinary citizens will continue to be drowned out by the more influential voices of the rich and powerful. Unfortunately, although many on Capitol Hill do support changing the current campaign finance and lobbying systems, a majority of them are not motivated to do so. Why should they be? As campaign winners, they are the direct beneficiaries of this most undemocratic system of electing our federal representatives. Since it is unlikely that Congress will act on its own, the American people will have to stand up en masse and demand reform.
John House is a Santa Fe resident and president of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics.
Santa Fe New Mexican, July 20, 2019
Letter to the Editor
“Keep Big Money Away”
The movement for a Constitutional Amendment continues to gain momentum. An overwhelming majority of Americans, on all sides of the political spectrum, now agree that unfettered campaign money undermines our democratic process ofchoosing our elected officials. This has greatly diminished confidence in democracy itself.
I applaud our representative’s for standing up to special interests. New Mexicans should contact Ben Ray Lujan and DebHaaland and thank them for supporting HJR2 and encourage them to work with other member of Congress to support the Resolution.
Santa Fe New Mexican, July 19, 2019
Letter to the Editor
The city of Santa Fe has passed a resolution calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, allowing limits on campaign contributions and expenditures, effectively reversing Citizens United and helping to restore U.S. democracy.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and Counselors Chris Rivera, Carol Romero-Wirth and Renee Villarreal carried the resolution. In January, Santa Fe County passed a similar resolution, sponsored by County Commissioner Anna Hansen. Both resolutions were led by New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and New Mexico American Promise Association.
In 2018, New Mexico passed House Joint Memorial 10, titled, “Pass Fix It America Constitutional Amendment.” Although amending the Constitution is a long and arduous process, the next amendment will be the 28th, indicating that 27 amendments have been achieved previously, including the First (free speech), Second (bearing arms), and 19th (women’s vote, 1920). Congress must act now to restore our democracy to We The People. To join local democracy reform efforts, email ishwarisollohub12@gmail. com.
Silver City Daily Press, February 11, 2019
by Rick Lass
The cancellation of an election is always a concern for people who live in a democracy. This year’s town election is no exception. But it also provides the opportunity to update some election practices and hopefully increase participation in future elections.
The order signed by the mayor concludes “This Order in no way limits the Town of Silver City’s authority to amend its territorial charter or to alter its form of government or laws in the future as authorized under State law.”
I think that is a great idea. Voter turnout is incredibly low in town elections. In 2017 and 2013, fewer than 2% of voters bothered to express themselves at the voting booth. In 2016, the last contested mayoral election, that percentage was 15%. That’s an improvement over 2%, but when 85% of registered voters choose not to vote, it is hard to say it was a truly democratic decision.
One likely flaw in the system is that we elect councilors from districts. Ask the next ten people you see if they know which council district they are in. Chances are that most won’t know the district number or who their councilor is. In a town as small as Silver, there is no reason to divide the electorate that way. The Council makes decisions that affect every resident, shouldn’t every eligible voter get a choice on all four of the councilors, just as all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote for the mayor and municipal judge? Going to ‘at-large’ elections has the added benefit of eliminating the temptation of gerrymandering during the redistricting process.
And the timing of the election, the heart of the current matter, is equally to blame. The Local Election Act aims to ease that problem by encouraging municipalities to combine their elections with school boards and other elected offices, like the Soil & Water Conservation District. By combining all of these onto a single ballot, voters don’t have to remember when the municipal elections are, when the school elections are, when the Conservation District election is- does anyone even remember when the GSWCD last held an election?
While we are looking at reforming our election code, why not look to some modern improvements that could increase both candidate and voter participation.
1) Public Campaign Financing- As a former candidate myself, I can state unequivocally that the worst part of running for office is asking for money. And most people agree that one of the poisons of democracy is the influence of money on politicians. What if candidates had only to raise a certain amount in small donor contributions and would be eligible to receive public financing for their campaigns?
2) Ranked Choice Voting- In a democracy, majority rules. But with multiple candidates in a race, a winner can be determined who does not have the support of the majority of voters. Ranked Choice allows voters to make first, second, and third choices when voting, and then tabulates an ‘instant” runoff if no candidate has a majority of votes. Las Cruces has just adopted this system for its municipal races.
3) While we are at it, let’s give residents more ability to control government decisions by implementing a framework for initiative, referenda, and recall. Too often, a town council is not responsive to people’s needs and desires (especially when they know only a small percentage will be voting at the next election). Citizen Initiatives give people the power to put questions directly on the ballot without having to go through the council, Referenda give people the opportunity to vote on unpopular decisions of the council, and Recall allows voters a chance to remove a counselor who is acting unethically or is grossly out of step with constituents. Of course, we don’t want to make any of these extraordinary steps too easy, or too difficult.
A rewrite of the charter could also look at other reforms, like mail-in ballots, making voter registration easier, expanding the number of election day polling places, and more. I strongly encourage the town to create a charter review commission to move municipal elections to November of odd years, as Hurley, Santa Clara, and Bayard have done, and to modernize how residents of Silver vote. To not do so would be a disservice to the citizenry and to democracy.
Rick Lass has been working on election reforms in New Mexico since 1995. He looks forward to the day when all eligible voters enthusiastically cast ballots in every election.
Santa Fe New Mexican, December 9, 2018
Letter to the Editor
“Serving the people”
Richard Block’s opinion (“Open primaries are nuts,” My View, Dec. 2), makes sense if elections and democracy are narrowly defined as a two-party competition. But research reported by Harvard Business School boldly suggests that competition in politics is not in the public interest. Michael E. Porter, co-author of the report, “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America,” states, “Politics is an industry that sets its own rules. Over time, it has shaped the nature of competition to advance the interests of political parties and their industry allies rather than serve the public interest.”
Co-author Katherine Gehl adds: “The parties focus on serving their partisan supporters and special interests, not the average voter.”
Interestingly, this study’s key strategies for reform include “instituting nonpartisan top-four primaries.” I encourage anyone interested in opening their mind about political reform to read this fascinating study.I
Santa Fe New Mexican, September 28, 2018
Letter to the Editor
“Step up and turn up voter turnout”
I treasure democracy; I’ve also taken it for granted. With big money undermining elections, and corruption running rampant, I realize I must step up and participate — preserve the democracy I love before it’s too late.
With midterm elections Nov. 6, it’s time to do our homework. There are many important races; namely, U.S. Congress, New Mexico governor, and many state and local seats, amendments and bond questions. Research candidates and issues — vote for those you like best. Volunteer for a candidate. Send donations if you can.
Over 80 percent of Americans believe we need to limit the undue influence of money in politics. If we really expect to get big money out of politics, we need to step up and support our candidates with small money. To see your ballot, go to Ballotpedia.com or to www.sos.state.nm.us/Voter_Information/voter-information-portal.aspx
Santa Fe New Mexican , September 8, 2018
“Public funding of candidates is good for democracy”
by John House
We should thank Milan Simonich for pointing out a flaw in the city’s public campaign finance system in his column in The New Mexican (“Public aid for candidates is a money pit,” Ringside Seat, Aug. 27), with his example of a person with several DUI convictions, $1.5 million in tax liens and a bankruptcy filing who ran for a City Council seat in 2014 qualifying for public campaign funding.
Unfortunately, his solution is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This is because of the overly narrow scope of his investigation. Public campaign finance cannot be fully understood at the microlevel. It must be looked at through the wider lens of campaign finance in general and its effects upon our democracy.
As a result of several disastrous U.S. Supreme Court cases over the last 40 years, including Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the federal, state and local governments have been stripped of their authority to effectively regulate private campaign finance contributions and expenditures. Consequently, during that period, the amount of money spent in elections at all levels has grown exponentially with an overwhelming amount of it being dark-money gifts from wealthy individuals, corporations and special interest groups funneled through tax-exempt “charitable” or “social welfare” organizations. The result has been anything but democratic.
Candidates are forced by this corrupt system to look to big-money donors to obtain large amounts of campaign money to be able to have a viable chance of winning. It is estimated that elected officials must spend between 30 percent and 50 percent of their time soliciting contributions for their re-election campaigns, time that would be much better spent doing the people’s business. Not only common sense but also a recent Princeton University study tells us that under such a system, the average citizen’s chance of having his or her voice heard and getting government to respond is virtually nil.
Systems of public funding are an important tool in the effort to counteract the detrimental effects of big money in politics. It works by helping lesser-known party candidates and outside individual candidates who are not beholden to big moneyed interests compete against the big donor-funded candidates that otherwise would be able to compete. Simonich characterizes Santa Fe’s public campaign funding law as a crackpot idea cooked up by misguided local officials playing at “social engineering.” Far from it. The presidential election campaign fund has been around for almost half a century. Three states — Maine, Connecticut and Arizona — have public campaign funding laws, and public funding has and continues to be employed successfully in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and nearby Albuquerque.
The requirements for running for city office and for obtaining public funding to do so are minimal on purpose. The goal is to encourage minor party, new party and independent candidates to run for office. That is good for democracy. Perhaps Santa Fe’s requirements for eligibility to receive public funds could be tightened to better curtail possible fraud and waste. Nevertheless, we don’t want to go overboard in that regard and make them too restrictive, such that quality candidates with new views and perspectives who are not backed by wealthy donors or big party machines are discouraged or prevented from running for public office.
John House is Vice President of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, an American Promise Association citizen leader and a member of Indivisible Santa Fe.
Santa Fe New Mexican, January 6, 2018
“Whose government is this, anyway?”
by John House
It seems that almost every day we are reminded that our federal government is no longer “of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln reverently described it in his 1863 Gettysburg Address. Rather, we see evidence repeatedly that our current government serves not the will of the people, but the will of wealthy individuals, large corporations and special interests. Two recently reported events underscore this tragic betrayal of our forefather’s vision of a democratic republic.
An article in The Santa Fe New Mexican (“Uranium firm sought cut of Bears Ears monument,” The Washington Post, Dec. 9), revealed that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) had spent substantial sums lobbying to get the monument declassified so that it could have “easier access to the area’s uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill.” Its lead lobbyist was Andrew Wheeler, who, not surprising for the Trump administration, “is awaiting Senate confirmation as the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy secretary.” Yet the country was “reassured” concurrently by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Utah Republicans that “questions of mining and drilling played no role in President Donald Trump’s announcement … that he was cutting the site by 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent.” Of course not.
Another example appeared in an article by The Washington Post (“The FCC just voted to repeal its net neutrality rules, in a sweeping act of deregulation,” Dec. 14). The article states, “The “3-2 [FCC] vote, which was along party lines, enabled the FCC’s Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, to follow through on his promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules, which required Internet providers to treat all websites, large and small, equally.”
Now internet providers will be allowed to vary internet speeds and access to content based upon price. The beneficiaries of this drastic reversal in principle and policy are, of course, internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, not the hundreds of millions of U.S. internet consumers.
The deleterious influence of “big money” in U.S. politics is certainly not new. Over the course of the 20th century and at the beginning of this one, Congress, in response to various scandals, repeatedly enacted laws to regulate campaign finance, prohibiting contributions by corporations and labor unions and imposing reasonable limits on individual donations and expenditures.
Unfortunately, all that good work has been entirely undone by the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision in cases such as Buckley v. Valleo, Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, and by lower courts in decisions based upon them. As a result, the pace at which torrents of money, much of it “dark,” i.e. unreported, from wealthy special interests gush into our elections has accelerated exponentially. The scandalous, unreported donation to President Richard Nixon’s campaign from an insurance company executive in 1972 that prompted the significant reforms enacted in the 1974 amendments to the Federal Elections Campaign Act was $2 million. By contrast, the Koch brothers alone amassed $889 million to spend in the 2016 elections.
Americans must face the bitter realization that we no longer live in a democratic republic but a plutocracy, an oligarchy or a combination: a “plutarchy.” The rich and powerful few are in control. If we ever want to take our government back and have it truly represent, work for and answer to all the people, we must eliminate the overwhelming influence that wealthy individuals, large corporations and special interest groups have upon our elections. Citizens United v. FEC and the other disastrous court decisions that have put a stranglehold upon Congress’ ability to establish meaningful campaign finance reform must be overturned.
There is only one viable way to accomplish that necessary goal: Congress must pass and two-thirds of the states’ legislatures must ratify a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution that requires Congress, the states and local governments to impose realistic, effective limits and restrictions upon, and require full and complete disclosure of, all campaign contributions and expenditures.
Today, the idea of passing a constitutional amendment sounds like a difficult task, but it is neither impossible nor even remarkable. Eleven of the 27 constitutional amendments were ratified in the 20th century, the last in 1992, only a quarter-century ago. For it to become a reality, “we, the people” must mobilize and unite. Fortunately, we do not have to start from square one. Eight bills for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics have been introduced before our 115th U.S. Congress, one of them by our own Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Eighteen states, New Mexico included, have passed resolutions in support of such an amendment, and 42 more resolutions are pending. Several national organizations — Move to Amend, American Promise, Free Speech for People, Reclaim Democracy, United for the People and New Mexico’s own New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics — are dedicated and working diligently toward achieving that end.
So get out there. Join one or more of the organizations working toward the passage of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics, roll up your sleeves and start working. Talk to your federal, state and local representatives and tell them you strongly support this burgeoning national effort and that you want them to actively work for it, too. Then, keep it up until the job is done and our democratic republic has been restored.
John L. House is a director of the board of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a New Mexico nonprofit corporation.
Santa Fe New Mexican, October 21, 2017
“City needs more –not less–transparency”
By Debra Helper
Councilor Carmichael Dominguez’s proposal (“Santa Fe mulls proposal to halt ballot initiative finance reports,” Oct.13) to remove a campaign disclosure requirement to avoid lawsuits challenging that requirement is illogical and undermines our power as voters.
A crucial power we, the people, still retain is the power to vote. Transparency is key to an informed vote. In today’s post-Citizens United era, one in which unlimited campaign donations and spending have been allowed, we need transparency more than ever. Whether one agreed with the soda tax or not, the knowledge that each side was funded by millions of dollars from outside interests (Michael Bloomberg of New York on the pro side and global soda companies on the anti side) helped one understand where the ads and biases were coming from, thereby informing one’s vote.
If Dominguez truly and solely wants to prevent such lawsuits, I invite him to support the effort toward passing a 28th constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United — the 2010 Supreme Court decision that wrongly declared that money is speech and corporations are people.
In this context, billionaire donors (like Mr. Bloomberg), multinational corporations (like soda companies), unions and super-PACs argue they should be allowed unlimited influence since money is deemed a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, corporations demand First Amendment rights — a constitutional right our Founding Fathers intended for persons, not business constructs — because they have been deemed persons. Such outsized influence drowns out the voice of the vast majority of U.S. citizens. An effort to overturn Citizens United and return power to all the people of the United States is what is needed.
There is a grass-roots, nonpartisan effort underway to overturn Citizens United, but it will require time and effort. Nineteen states (including New Mexico) have passed legislation indicating support of a 28th Amendment, so real progress is being made.
In the meantime, however, we need transparency to know who is buying our officials and influencing our elections. The right to free speech is paramount, but it is not by definition a right to anonymity of speech. Voters have a right to know not only how much is being donated and spent, but who is donating. In accordance with the wishes of a majority of voters, this year the New Mexico Legislature passed legislation to increase transparency of campaign donations, but Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the legislation.
New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (www.nmmop.org) is a grassroots nonpartisan organization dedicated to getting big money out of politics and increasing transparency while also protecting the power of the vote.
We are allied with a grassroots nonpartisan national organization, American Promise (AmericanPromise.net), working to pass a 28th Amendment to return power to all the people of the U.S., thus not limiting power to a minority with vast amounts of money used to influence politicians and elections. Please join in this effort.
Debra Helper is a concerned citizen of Santa Fe.
Santa Fe New Mexican, July 22, 2017
“A threat to democracy persists — campaign financing”
By Laura Atkins
I attended the hearing on July 13 in Santa Fe on the proposed campaign finance disclosure rules issued by the office of the Secretary of State. As expected, there were people representing groups strongly for and against the new rules. Though many of those who testified in favor of the rules thought the proposed contribution limits to be too low and the reporting requirements too onerous, they believe in the principle that large sums of money spent by a handful of wealthy people on campaigns and advertising distort our democracy and diminish the voices of citizens to the point where most of us aren’t heard at all.
The arguments against disclosure were articulated by experts. Privacy concerns were one of their key arguments — that if donors were disclosed, it would subject them to harassment. Maybe so, but as one person stated, if these donors have the courage of their convictions, they should be proud to state them. Their secretive behavior suggests that they know that their proposals are not in the best interest of the country, so they hide behind a curtain of anonymity.
One reason that politics is so divisive today is the extreme positions presented in political advertising being promoted by the very same donors who wish to remain anonymous. More transparency might serve to civilize the debate and force partisans to base their arguments on facts, which would be far more educational to the citizens than ultra-partisan grandstanding.
Another argument by those opposed to the disclosure rules postulates that issue ads and attack ads serve to educate the citizens, and that without these ads, citizens would not have the information they need to make informed decisions. This argument hinges on speculation that disclosure would have a chilling effect on free speech, and that this would deprive citizens of a point of view. This holds no water. Most of the ads that these groups pay for are at best half-truths, and at worst, “alternative facts” and outright propaganda. The purpose is not to educate but to deceive. They seek to brainwash citizens so that they might be persuaded to vote against their own interests. With so much fake news and conspiracy theories floating around, the last thing people need is propaganda paid for by those who are out to buy our political system. This does not promote free speech or democracy.
The new disclosure rules will let New Mexico voters know who is trying to influence their votes. However, the rules may be tested in court, and some of them could be overturned. Until we have a federal constitutional amendment to correct Citizens United and allow Congress and states to set limits on dark money spending for political campaigns, this threat to democracy will persist.
Laura Atkins is a concerned citizen working to protect our Constitution, democracy, and American values and ideals.
Santa Fe New Mexican, March 18, 2017
“Working Together to get Big Money Out of Politics”
by Laura Atkins
Most Americans agree that the endless amount of money flowing into our political campaigns is one of the biggest threats to democracy. While this has been a concern for along time, as indicated by numerous attempts to regulate campaign spending, it became much worse after the 2010 Supreme Court’s citizens United decision that resulted in astronomical amounts of money pouring into political campaigns.
Recently, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics has been meeting in Santa Fe to deal with this basic problem in our political system. NM MOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Open Secrets, corporations, super PACs, unions and other “social welfare” groups spent $1.68 billion on the election in 2016. This only counts expenditures that are required to be reported; money spent on issue ads from social welfare organizations are not reported. In 2016 a record total of $2.6 billion was spent on the presidential race and $4.3 billion on congressional races. These are only elections at the federal level—countless additional money was spent for state and local elections. This flow of PAC and special interest money corrupts our legislative process and drowns out the voices of ordinary citizens.
This is clearly a bipartisan issue. Polls have shown that nearly 80 percent of Americans would like to see some type of restrictions on campaign spending and the elimination of dark money flowing into campaigns. The corrupting influence goes both ways. For example, here is New Mexico, Sen. Martin Heinrich stated in a recent post that his race in 2012 cost nearly $7 million—one of the most expensive in New Mexico history. Why? Because outside interest groups emboldened by the Citizens United ruling, flooded New Mexico airwaves with attack ads against him. In 2016, another outside special interest group spent more than $99,000 on ads opposing Rep. Steve Pearce, while his campaign and leadership PAC raised $1.8 million.
This raises the question—what can we, the majority of citizens who oppose unlimited campaign spending, do about it? An important step would be to require a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. Yes, it is very difficult to amend the Constitution, as it should be, but it has already been amended 27 times.
Many of these amendments started as grass-roots movements that grew until lawmakers could no longer ignore the will of the people. Right now there are several nation-wide grass-roots movements supporting a 28th amendment. New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics is part of this movement. The group is affiliated with a national group, American Promise, which is coordinating this effort. On April 1, our group is sponsoring a free, 3-hour training on the 28th Amendment Initiative conducted by American Promise. For more information about New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and to register for the training, write email@example.com.
Laura Atkins is a concerned citizen working to protect our Constitution, democracy, and American values and ideals.