Campaign Finance Reform Needed in New Mexico

By Michael Kelley

November 10, 2020

On the national level, it looks like we will still have a divided Congress come January. Without surprise upsets in a couple of U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia scheduled for January 5, 2021, chances are good that the gridlock in Washington  that has persisted over the last two years will continue and that any federal legislation that could cure or at least mitigate some of the ills that inflict our democracy will almost surely be thwarted.

This situation leaves democratic reform-minded citizens and organizations with the option – actually the duty — of shifting their focus to faults in the democratic system that are much closer to home.

As the New Mexico Ethics Commission’s Director of Communications  Sonny Haquani pointed out in a October 25, 2020,  Albuquerque Journal article, so-called “dark money” spending in behalf of New Mexico’s political candidates is evading the law’s reporting requirements, leaving the public in the dark about who’s behind a lot of those nasty TV ads and some of the positive ones, as well.

Also, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported on October 4 that the New Mexico Ethics Watch, a government watchdog group, took its case for reform to the New Mexico State Ethics Commission, arguing that the law is “lax and confusing and leads to a lack of transparency that makes it difficult to accurately track the financial activities of candidates.”

“Lawmakers today would be embarrassed to pass a law this weak,” said Kathleen Sabo, New Mexico Ethics Watch’s Executive Director. Among the group’s findings: missing financial disclosure forms in many cases and guidelines for filling out the forms that are so vague they allow lobbyists to avoid reporting their earnings, the bills they are promoting, and whom they’re working for.

You can be sure that RepresentUs New Mexico will be active in this arena. Among our goals: changes to New Mexico state campaign finance law and rules to increase accountability and transparency in campaign finance reporting. This would include a bill to amend the state’s Campaign Reporting Act of 2006, to require more robust candidate finance reporting to better inform the public of the people and organizations behind political campaign contributions, the amount of those contributions, as well as who spent the money and how.

As weary as we may be from hard-fought campaigns on the federal level, this is a call to action to which New Mexicans not satisfied with the strength of the state’s democratic system should be willing to answer.