Washington Supreme Cour Rules in Favor of “Democracy Voucher”

Free Speech for People

July 11, 2019 by Ed Erikson

The Washington Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the Honest Elections Seattle initiative (I-22), which created the city’s “democracy voucher” program. The public campaign financing program, instituted in 2015 and first used two years later, provides eligible Seattle residents with four $25 vouchers that they can use to support the candidates of their choice running for city office. Today’s decision in Elster v. City of Seattle upheld the legality of the program against a claim that it supposedly violated the constitutional rights of landowners.

“This is a huge victory for the people of Seattle,” said Ron Fein, Legal Director of Free Speech For People. “The democracy voucher program is a home run for both democracy and the First Amendment: it gives more people a political voice and encourages more people to run for office while silencing no one. The Washington Supreme Court rightly rejected the idea that empowering citizens is against the Constitution.”

“Today’s ruling is a victory for a democracy where the strength of our voices doesn’t depend upon the size of our wallets,” said Demos Senior Counsel Adam Lioz.  “Seattle’s innovative democracy voucher program helps ensure that a diverse range of residents drive local public election campaigns—not a narrow slice of the wealthiest donors, who are overwhelmingly white.  Seattle is a stronger, fairer democracy because of the voucher program. Cities and states across the country should move forward with similar programs now that the Washington Supreme Court has confirmed the clear constitutionality of empowering residents to direct limited public funding for election campaigns through ‘democracy dollar’ programs.”

Demos and Free Speech For People filed an amicus curiae brief defending the democracy voucher program on behalf of the coalition of local and national organizations that helped pass the initiative: Washington CAN!, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Every Voice, Fuse, LGBTQ Allyship, OneAmerica, the Washington Democracy Hub, Washington Public Interest Research Group, and Win Win Network.

The brief presented an empirical analysis showing that the democracy voucher program helped enhance both political equality and democratic self-government by enabling Seattle candidates, including women and people of color, to run for office without relying on wealthy (often out-of-town) donors.

Saturday, July 20 Panel Discussion a Huge Success

Those who battled the summer doldrums and midday heat to attend New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics’ Saturday, July 20 General Meeting were in for a special treat. The panel discussion featuring NM Senators Peter Wirth and Nancy Rodriguez and NM House Reps Andrea Romero and Daymon Ely was nothing less than stirring and scintillating. And so was the Q & A session that followed.

Our state elected officials candidly shared with us their feeling of satisfaction over the  success of the 2019 legislative session that was such a stark contrast with the immense frustration and disappointment that they had experienced in prior years. Freshman Rep. Andrea Romero expressed her exhilaration over being a contributor to the passage of 15 bills.  The panelists talked about the journey through the legislature of Senator Wirth’s campaign finance disclosure bills that brought additional levels of transparency to the campaign process, the tremendous success of the National Popular Vote bill that Senator Rodriguez had co-sponsored, and the passage of the early voting and same-day voting bills that will make exercising the right to vote so much easier for more New Mexicans.

They  also discussed some of the bills pertaining to other democracy reform issues that did not make it to the Governor’s desk.  Sen. Ely mentioned that he was disappointed that the open primaries bill he sponsored didn’t pass but said he believed it could do so in the near future.  Looking ahead to the 2020 and 2021 sessions, our panelists expressed hope for and confidence in the ability to secure adoption of legislation restricting the “revolving door” between the legislature and lobbying and increasing the reach of public campaign finance in the state to counter the effect of private large money donations.

Our panelists clearly enjoyed the opportunity to speak and exchange ideas with us constituents, and the audience was extremely appreciative for that opportunity.  It was something that we can and must do again. I want to thank again our panelists and the people who came to attend the discussion for making it such a special event.

— John House, President

Fair Elections Now Act to be Reintroduced in the Senate

The Fair Elections Now Act (the small donor focused public financing bill that was included in HR1) is being reintroduced by Senator Durbin next week. It will likely drop Tuesday or Wednesday.

Senator Durbin’s Fair Elections Now Act would help restore public confidence in the Congressional election process by providing qualified candidates for the U.S. Senate with grants, matching funds, and vouchers from the Fair Elections Fund to replace campaign fundraising that largely relies on large donors and special interests. In return, participating candidates would agree to limit their campaign spending to the amounts raised from small-dollar donors plus the amounts provided from the Fund.

This voluntary alternative would free participating candidates from the incessant, time-consuming money chase that has tainted public perceptions of elected officials and fostered abuses that undermine our democracy. Through a viable, competitive public financing system, the Fair Elections Now Act would allow candidates to instead devote their time to effectively representing their constituents and solving our nation’s critical problems.

The Fair Elections Now Act amends the Federal Elections Campaign Act of 1971 to establish a voluntary method for financing Senate campaigns. The Fair Elections system is composed of three stages:

To participate, candidates would first need to prove their viability by raising a minimum number and minimum dollar amount of small-dollar qualifying contributions from in-state donors. Once acandidate qualifies, that candidate must limit the amount raised from each donor to $200 per

For the primary, participants would receive a base grant that would vary in amount based on the population of the state that the candidate seeks to represent. Participants would also receive a 6-to-1 match for small-dollar donations up to a defined matching cap. After reaching that cap, thecandidate could raise an unlimited amount of unmatched $200 contributions if needed to compete against high- spending opponents, as well as contributions from small-donor People

For the general election, qualified candidates would receive an additional grant, small-dollarmatching, and media vouchers for television advertising. The candidate could continue to raise an unlimited amount of $200 contributions if needed, as well as contributions from small-donor People PACs. The candidate could also opt to request additional small-dollar matching funds in the period just before the general

The bill also creates a type of small-donor political action committee, known as a “People PAC.” In   contrast to traditional federal PACs that can accept contributions of up to $5000 per year from individuals  or Super PACs that can accept unlimited contributions, People PACs would only be permitted to accept contributions of $200 or less per election from individuals. People PACs would thus allow average citizens an opportunity to make their collective voices heard. Small donors would be able to aggregate their funds in a People PAC to make campaign contributions of up to $5000 per election to qualified Fair Elections candidates. Coupled with the Fair Elections public financing system, People PACs would elevate the views and interests of a diverse spectrum of Americans, rather than those of the traditional, wealthy donorclass.

Special rules would apply for runoff and uncontested elections. Participating candidates would receive enough funding to compete in every election, without having to spend most of their time raising money.

Fair Elections would not add a dime to the deficit. It would be financed by a 0.5 percent fee on federal contracts over $10 million, capped at $500,000 per taxable year.

At this critical moment in our nation’s history, our elected leaders in Washington must dedicate every available moment to solving our nation’s challenges. Our leaders must have the trust of the American people that their decisions will benefit all Americans, not just wealthy special interests.

Final NMMOP Legislative Update




HB 55 – National Popular Vote Compact, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart

Passed House 41-27 and Senate 25-16.  Signed by the Governor.

Bill enacts a Compact among the states to elect the President by the national popular vote, regardless of who wins the presidential election in New Mexico, or any other particular state. The Compact only takes effect once enough states with a collective number of 270 electoral votes (enough to elect a President) join the Compact.

SB 672 – Early and Auto Voter Registration, sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, Sen. Ivey-Soto, Rep. Linda Trujillo

Passed both housed along party lines.  Signed by the Governor.

A combination of HB 84, Auto Voter Reg at MVD; SB 50, State Agency Auto Voter Registration; HB 86, Election Day & Early Voting Registration; and SB 52– 3-Day Voter Reg.

Allows automatic voter registration at DMV and other state agencies, allows voter registration on election day. Election day provision will not take effect till 2021. Party affiliation changes are not allowed on election day in primary elections. Election day registrations require photo id.

SB 3 – Campaign Finance Reporting, sponsored by Sen. Wirth

Passed both houses, with some bipartisan support. Signed by the Governor.

SB 3 and SB 4 have been in the works for many years, both were passed last year and vetoed by Governor Martinez.

Bill amends the Campaign Reporting Act. It eliminates certain loopholes for independent expenditures, (i.e. those made other than by a candidate or campaign committee) by PACs (Political Action Committees) and others, e.g. requiring the source of last minute “hit” ads to be disclosed, and all political advertisements to identify whose paying for them. It would also simplify and bring into compliance other finance reporting rules, e.g., a person who makes an independent expenditure not otherwise required to be reported under the Campaign Reporting Act shall file a report with the secretary of state within: (1) three days of making the expenditure if the expenditure, by itself or aggregated with all independent expenditures made by the same person during the election cycle, exceeds one thousand dollars ($1,000) in a non-statewide election or three thousand dollars ($3,000) in a statewide election.

SB 4 – Campaign Public Finance Changes, sponsored by Sen. Wirth

Passed both houses, almost unanimously.  Signed by the Governor.

Bill regulates public financing of campaigns including matching funds; limits distributions of funds to candidates in uncontested races; clarifies penalty provisions.

1.The bill promotes publicly financed campaigns by creating a ‘public election fund’ for the purposes of: (1) financing the election campaigns of certified candidates for covered offices, i.e. any office of the judicial department subject to statewide elections and the office of public regulation commissioner; and (2) paying administrative and enforcement costs of the Voter Action Act.

  1. It helps to level the playing field involving privately funded candidates by financially supporting, within limits, candidates running in covered-offices elections who meet certain requirements. 

SB 668 – STATE ETHICS COMMISSION ACT, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart

Passed both houses unanimously.  Signed by the Governor.

Bill is a substitute for HB 4 and SB 619. It creates an independent, seven-member state ethics commission with a professional executive director and staff to investigate and adjudicate ethics complaints against public officials, government contractors, lobbyists, state employees, candidates and related individuals.

  1. Commission can enforce civil compliance of Campaign Reporting Act, Voter Action Act, Lobbyist Regulation Act, Governmental Conduct Act and other ethics laws.
  2. Commission can file court actions to force civil compliance.
  3. Commission can hold public hearings on ethics complaints.
  4. Commission can impose fines and recommend disciplinary action.

SB 191 – Lobbyist Reporting Requirements, sponsored by Sen. Ivey-Soto

Passed in both houses.  Signed by the Governor.

Senate Bill 191 amends the Lobbyist Regulation Act to change reporting requirements by lobbyists by requiring cumulative reporting of expenses incurred under $100 in addition to current requirements.


HB 57- Restore Felon Voting Rights, sponsored by Rep. Chasey


Original bill simply repealing cancellation of voter’s registration after felony conviction was defeated in committee.  Substitute bill would allow a felon to register to vote upon release from prison, although he/she may not have completed parole or probation.

HJM 12 – Study All-Mail Elections, sponsored by Rep. Chandler


calls on the Secretary of State to study the feasibility of conducting all mail elections in New Mexico and reporting to the appropriate interim legislative committee by December 1, 2019. 

HJR 6 – Allow for Runoff Elections, sponsored by Rep. Pratt


Proposes to amend the state constitution to allow runoff elections in every election other than municipal elections. The resolution is to be submitted for approval by the people of the state in the next general election (November 2020) or any special election called for that purpose. 

SB 410 – School Counselor Voter Registration Agents, sponsored by Sen. Soules

Was never scheduled; DIED IN SRC

Would have required all high school counselors to be Voter Registration Agents. 

HB 93 – Primary Election Participation by Decline To State Voters, sponsored by Rep. Ely


Would allow voters who “decline to state” a party (i.e. are not registered as Rep., Dem. or Libertarian) to vote in one of the parties’ primary elections.

SB 418 – Non-Affiliated Voters in Primary Elections, sponsored by Sen. Moores

Passed in SRC, heavily amended to remove major section which required parties to pay for their primary if they decided to limit the primary to their members; DIED IN SJC.

Would open primaries to DTS voters and voters affiliated with smaller parties. If major parties decide to limit their primaries to their own members, they must pay for and administer that primary election.  NMMOP did not take a position on this bill.

HB 131 – Post-Session Lobbying Reports, Sponsored by Thompson, Steinborn

Passed unanimously on House Floor; TABLED BY SRC

Amends the Lobbyist Regulation Act to require lobbyists or lobbyists’ employers to file an expenditure report with the NM Secretary of State within one week following the conclusion of a legislative session listing the legislation for which the lobbyist or lobbyist’s employer lobbied, and whether they supported or opposed each piece of legislation.

HB 140 – Employer Estimated Lobbyist Reports, sponsored by Rep. Thompson

Bill was judged dead in water early on, by Common Cause. Never got a hearing; DIED IN HSEIC      

Amends the Lobbyist Regulation Act to require lobbyists and lobbyists’ employers to file several expenditure reports with the NM Secretary of State during the course of every year as well as report political contributions and other related expenses. 

HB 169 – Public Corruption Act, sponsored by Rep. McQueen

Passed the House 65-0. DIED IN SPAC

Bill states that a public official who is convicted of or pleads guilty or nolo contendere to a public corruption offense shall, in addition to the penalties for the underlying offense prescribed in the Criminal Sentencing Act, forfeit service credit accrued pursuant to the Public Employees Retirement Act during all periods of service as a public official.

SB 303 – Public Corruption Act, sponsored by Sen. Moores, Rep. McQueen

Passed in SPAC; DIED IN SJC.

Identical to HB 169.

HB 462 – Sec. of State & A.G. in Voter Action Act, sponsored by Rep. Pratt et al.


Bill amends the Voter Action Act to include public campaign financing for office of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. Currently, public financing is only available for any office of the judicial department subject to statewide elections and the office of public regulation commissioner.

HB 428 – S Sec. of State in Voter Action Act, sponsored by Rep. McQueen, Rep. Ruiloba


Similar to HB 428, only considering SOS.

SB 416 – The Redistricting Act , sponsored by Sen. Moores and Sen. Tallman


The bill requires the Legislative Council Service to acquire appropriate information and data and develop programs and procedures in preparation for drawing congressional, legislative, public regulation commission and public education commission redistricting plans on the basis of each federal census and other guidelines set out in the bill. Said plan shall be introduced into the legislature for consideration. The bill further provides for a temporary redistricting commission to perform certain functions including conducting public hearings on the plan in different regions of the state.

SB 449 – Public Disclosure of Income Tax Returns by Presidential and Vice-Presidential Candidates, sponsored by Sen. Candelaria


Bill requires a candidate for the office of president or vice president of the United States to file with the NM secretary of state copies of the candidate’s federal income tax returns for the five most recent taxable years for which a return was filed with the IRS at least seventy days prior to a general election in order for a candidate’s name to appear on the general election ballot. Said returns would be made public on the secretary of state’s website.

HB 249, Native American Voting Task Force, sponsored by Lente

Unanimous support in HSEIC; tabled in HAFC (appropriations) with no discussion; DIED IN HAFC

Bill requires the Secretary of State to convene and support a Native American Voting Task Force.

HJR 4, Free and Fair Election Amendment Convention, sponsored by C. Trujillo


Calls on State to call for an Article V Convention, in order to create and enact amendment to the US Constitution regulating campaign finance. Was fiercely opposed by Common Cause, League of Women’s Voters, and other lobbying groups.