Letters to the Editor and Op-Eds by Volunteers and Friends

The Albuquerque Journal, May 19,  2021

Letter to the Editor

 “Thanks Senators for Helping Rebalancing Federal Bench”

I WANT to thank Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján for partnering with Joe Biden on his strategy to rebalance the federal courts by appointing lawyers with more diverse professional experience to be federal judges.

Federal district judges who formerly acted as prosecutors or as corporate lawyers are overrepresented. That means that if you step into a courtroom as a worker trying to stand up for your rights or as someone accused of a crime, the judge likely has experience working for people like your opponents rather than experience representing people like you. Research shows that those types of judges are more likely to rule against workers.

President Biden recognizes we need a more balanced system, and he’s asked senators to recommend judges with experience as civil rights lawyers and public defenders.

In recommending Margaret Strickland of Las Cruces for a federal judgeship, Heinrich and Luján have identified someone with experience representing real people who have had their civil rights violated. Her experience as a public defender and civil rights lawyer means she’ll understand the legal needs of real people, and her appointment will be an important step toward rebalancing a court system where the little guy too often goes unheard. In addition, Strickland has worked on more than 70 criminal jury trials and as a leader in New Mexico legal associations.

Congratulations and best wishes to Strickland for the recommendation by our outstanding U.S. senators and for her career on the federal bench.

JOHN HOUSE
Santa Fe

The Santa Fe New Mexican, May 7,  2021

Letter to the Editor

In 2021, we’ve seen more than 349 bills introduced in the legislatures of 47 states attempting to suppress the vote in communities of color. The reasoning behind these attacks is clear: Those who support them believe if you won’t vote for them, you shouldn’t vote at all. Congressman John Lewis shed his blood and dedicated his life to ensuring that all Americans, especially voters of color, were able to participate in American’s electoral process.

On Saturday in over 120 cities around the country, people will gather to honor John Lewis’ legacy and to ignite massive public support for critical reforms to our democracy. Together, we will demand Congress pass both the For the People Act (S. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4). In Santa Fe, join us at noon for a rally at the intersection of South St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road to get into some “good trouble.”

John House
President, RepresentUs New Mexico
Santa Fe

The Santa Fe New Mexican, Aprl 11,  2021

My View

“We can fix our broken political system”

By Bob Perls

We all know the political system is broken. Our leaders are not producing solutions to the issues we care about. No one is listening, just talking past each other.

But what if the system is working the way it was designed to work? What if politicians are operating very rationally and logically based on incentives of the political system in place?

That is what many of the smartest observers of our dysfunctional mess of a political system think. Instead of blaming the politicians, we should blame the system and focus on changing it to get the outcomes we desire.

One element of the broken system: closed party primaries.

According to a recent report by the Unite America Institute, only 10 percent of Americans are electing most of Congress. That’s because there is little competition in too many general elections — because of both gerrymandering and self-sorting of the electorate along partisan lines — making partisan primaries the election of consequence.

As a result, we get more extreme politicians who are appealing to these primary voters. An elected official’s main concern is to avoid getting “primaried” by someone further left or further right. So, our elected officials over time track further to the edges of political discourse seeing no incentive to compromise or coalition build, and we end up with gridlock nationally and at the state level.

Don’t despair! There are two solutions that can fix the system and allow our elected officials to vote their conscience, coalition build and be more effective. Three states have already adopted one of them and one state both of them. New Mexico does not have to reinvent the wheel.

First, we make primaries nonpartisan so that all candidates run together in a single election open to all voters. Candidates can still label themselves with a party or no party, but they all have to talk to all voters to get past the first round of public elections, not just the party regulars.

Second, the top four vote-getters move on to the general election, in which ranked-choice voting will be used to choose the winner. It’s simple, like going to an ice cream shop. If your

first choice chocolate is sold out, then you order your second choice, vanilla, and if that is sold out, your third choice might be coffee.

Political parties should be players in the political marketplace, not the rule-setters, and creating nonpartisan primaries puts the voters in charge, not the parties. The parties can and do still endorse their candidates, but they don’t control who can vote in a public election as they do today in New Mexico.

Alaska just passed major election reform in 2020 with nonpartisan primaries and the top four vote-getters going to the general election, where ranked-choice voting will be used. Nebraska, California and Washington have nonpartisan primaries with the top two going to the general, and Maine uses ranked-choice voting in its general election. Santa Fe and Las Cruces use rankedchoice voting for their local races.

We can fix the system. Join us. New Mexico Open Elections is a nonprofit based in the Albuquerque area dedicated to putting voters first. We already have sponsors and a draft bill to fix the system and will introduce the bill next session. We need your help and support.

Bob Perls is a former New Mexico state representative, U.S. diplomat and founder of New Mexico Open Elections.

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican, Aprl 11,  2021

My View

“Closed primaries are hurting our democracy”

by Jarratt Applewhite

New Mexico is one of only 10 or so states in the nation with closed primaries. It also has one of the highest ratios of unopposed races in its general elections. That’s not a coincidence — here as almost everywhere, primary elections are the only races that matter.

Our unique two-party democracy needs to be opened up to recapture the vibrancy it had before it devolved into its current dysfunctional, hyperpartisan form. We extol the virtues of competition in many undertakings, but allow our political system to minimize choice. More candidacies would generate more participation, as it does in locales with open primary formats, particularly when those elections are nonpartisan. We need more primary voters almost as much as we need more primary candidates.

Like me, over 300,000 New Mexico voters choose not to affiliate with a major party even though doing so denies us access to the primary ballot. Indeed, we are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, particularly among younger voters. Our taxes pay for these private elections just like those of party members. Most people recognize that this is inherently unfair, and many also realize it is not right to ask us to associate with a major party just to have the right to vote.
Many major party voters may not realize that they, too, would benefit from replacing closed primaries with fully open nonpartisan ones. The polarization of our politics is rooted in the fact both Democrats and Republicans use the same optimized system in which only a small portion of their members can control the outcome of their primaries. The mechanics of their low-turnout setup attracts disproportionately more partisan voters — moderate voices tend not to participate. In congressional elections, the only way to unseat an incumbent is to run to their right or their left. It’s become a verb. Officeholders don’t fear opponents from the other party; they fear being “primaried.”
If more voters could vote for all candidates across all ideologies (and rank their choices if they wanted to), choices would multiply and turnout would increase. Moderate voices would return. Party members would enjoy having more choices from their own party.

This national problem is the root of the systemic failure and devolution of our duopoly. I have been proud to be associated with Unite America, one of our most important democracy reform organizations, almost since its inception.

I urge you to read its new report, “The Primary Problem,” at uniteamerica.org/reports/ the-primary-problem#main and/ or watch its new video at youtu. be/6W4G82iwwJU. This important document is a comprehensive overview of this topic with impressive documentation.

Jarratt Applewhite is a longtime New Mexican who has worn a number of hats, including being elected to the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education, co-chairing the first a≠ordable housing task force and participating in the founding of an array of local enterprises.

Jarratt Applewhite is a New Mexico rancher,  horseman and democracy activist.  He was the independent candidate for Representative of New Mexico Dist.  50 in 2018.

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican, March 2,  2021

My View

“Political reform is still possible during this legislative session”

by John House

The outcome for House Bill 79 at the House Judiciary Committee virtual hearing last month was stunning. HB 79 is a bipartisan bill that would put an end to the closed primary system in New Mexico, one of only nine states left to perpetuate it.  To vote in New Mexico primary elections, one must register and vote as either a Democrat or Republican. How is that fair to minority party members and independents?  It isn’t. It’s a preliminary contest among primary candidates that benefits the two major parties only. Rep. Greg Nibert, a Republican representing District 59 from Roswell, basically admitted that during the hearing.

But do the Republican and Democratic parties pay for these closed primaries? No. New Mexico taxpayers, including those not allowed to vote in them, pay for them. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of New Mexican voters who prefer not to identify themselves with any party are denied their constitutional right to vote. What happened to no taxation without representation?

Constituents who attended the virtual committee hearing, when polled, voted 92 percent in favor of the bill. Nevertheless, the committee vote resulted in a 6-6 tie. Pretty far from 92 percent. All four Republicans voted against the bill. Six Democrats voted for, but two voted against. Who were the two Democratic representatives who voted against? Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, a Democrat from Santa Fe, and Rep. Matt McQueen, a Democrat from Galisteo.

Why would Egolf and McQueen vote against a bill that would correct the improper disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of New Mexicans? I believe the answer is simple: because it benefits them. A hint of an explanation might come from their connection to the partisan practice of gerrymandering.
Egolf has unabashedly defended partisan gerrymandering on several occasions. Recently, he has made public his opposition to House Bill 211, a bill that would eliminate self-serving partisanship from the redistricting process. It benefits him to be able to manipulate his voting district to make sure that it contains a majority of his own supporters, so he will be reelected.

McQueen is the beneficiary of one of the most gerrymandered districts in the state. It is so oddly configured that its outline ironically resembles the shape of a howling coyote.

On Jan. 6, I watched in horror as an angry, violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol with the intent to prevent the certification of the results of the Electoral College vote for the presidency of the United States. The reality of how perilously close our republic came to tumbling on that day hit me hard. I believe the vast majority of us at that moment became galvanized with the firm conviction to protect and defend our representative democracy, not just in Washington, D.C., but also here in New Mexico.

That’s why it’s essential to back important legislation before the Legislature right now to protect and strengthen democracy. Several bills are receiving much support, but HB 79 and HB 211 (and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 199) are facing opposition.

Fortunately, HB 79 is not dead. HB 211, after passing unanimously in the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, also remains alive. Please call, make a virtual appointment to speak with and/or write Egolf and McQueen, especially if you reside in one of their districts, and tell them you love democracy more than you love them.

Tell them that you are against the closed primary system that takes away the right to vote from tens of thousands of your neighbors. Tell them that you are against partisan gerrymandering. Tell them you want them to support HB 79 and HB 211. Their contact information is available through the legislature’s website, nmlegis.gov.

John House is President of RepresentUs New Mexico.

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican, October 31,  2020

My View – Editor’s Pick

“Protect democracy by protecting the vote count”

By John House

On Tuesday, November 3, or perhaps for days or weeks thereafter, Americans still might not know the final results of the 2020 presidential election. Hopefully, no matter who wins, the loser will gallantly concede and the transition of power will be normal and peaceful. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has indicated that he might not accept the election results if Democratic candidate Joe Biden is the winner.

During a July 19 interview, when asked if he would concede the results if he lost to Biden, the president replied: “I have to see. I’m not just going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no.” Later in the same interview, he suggested he might reject the results if he loses because he believes that vote-by-mail would taint the election. Attorney General William Barr, without citing evidence, later echoed that theme, although Christopher Krebs, the head of the president’s own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has said that he is confident “that your vote is secure.”

In addition, the president’s recently appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy ordered critical changes to the U.S. Postal Service, ending overtime pay and removing nearly 700 mail-sorting machines and large numbers of external mailboxes. When called before Congress on Aug. 24, DeJoy vowed to reverse such actions and said that making sure mailed ballots are delivered would be his top priority. Yet, the next day he ordered postal police officers to stop investigating theft that occurs away from postal property. In addition, the president has made remarks that could encourage his supporters to engage in voter intimidation.

All this leads to the probability that this election will not just be contested in the courts. The signs lead to possible interference with the counting of ballots and other, even more egregious acts of interference, such as Republican legislatures in states won by Biden sending to the Electoral College a slate of electors to vote for Trump.

If an election-based power grab does not come to pass, the system will have worked and we can go back happily to our daily lives. If not, it will be up to us to play our part in protecting the legitimate election results and seeing that a proper transition of power occurs.

What can people do in the event of a political power grab? What we cannot do is sit by and watch our democracy stolen from us. We must act. We must exercise our right to peaceful civil disobedience to make it clear that the American people will not accept a stolen election.

Fortunately, Choose Democracy and other nonprofit groups have researched, planned and prepared for such an eventuality. They offer a variety of information and resources to help people across the country effectively and peacefully organize and demonstrate. The Transition Integrity Project and Hold the Line have produced thoughtful analyses and planning documents that can be found online. Protect the Results offers a guide that allows people to enter a ZIP code and sign up for events nearby.

Smart Elections’ Count the Vote initiative and Choose Democracy also are providing a series of valuable recorded training sessions. RepresentUs offers six steps to save the vote at https://represent.us/6-steps-to-save-the-vote.

New Mexico state and local organizations, including RepresentUs New Mexico, Indivisible Santa Fe and Count the Vote-NM also are actively working with these national organizations and will be coordinating local events and actions to bring about an organized, peaceful, popular and firm stand in support of our democracy.

John House, a resident of Santa Fe, is president of RepresentUs New Mexico.

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican, September 19,  2020

My View

“We’ve got this — now get to work”

By Jarratt Applewhite

It’s exciting to be alive at a time when more and more people realize that our democracy isn’t working and that it needs to be revitalized. There are so many good ideas about how to improve our elections, draw our political jurisdictions and get more of us to engage.

There is an overarching issue that must accompany any change in order to effect the transformation we deserve: reducing the corrosive effect of money. Our legislators can’t represent us properly if they are beholden to special interests and if they have to spend a huge amount of their time fundraising. We deserve candidates who aren’t rich and to be protected from ones who have a fortune.

Sept. 17 marked Constitution Day. Let’s remember that when that document was ratified in 1787, power was accorded to us — not to the wealthy. Reclaiming our inalienable authority will be hard because the Constitution itself has been degraded by recent Supreme Court decisions and must be amended. Thankfully, the effort to effect this change is well underway in every corner of our country.

Please let your voice be heard. Our political leaders need to understand that their constituents are keenly interested in reducing the amount of money our elections require and the power of big donors. Take a few minutes to let them know how you feel.

There are many groups involved in this effort. The vast majority are impressive. Here are two: American Promise (americanpromise.net) has created a robust national effort to pass a constitutional amendment. Its Santa Fe chapter is quite active. RepresentUs (represent.us) has built a massive campaign to pass its comprehensive Anti-Corruption Act.

Check it out by watching videos of Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Douglas and other luminaries strutting their democracy-reform chops. Its New Mexico affiliate (nmmop.org) is very busy. You’ll enjoy hanging out with the people doing this work — even, sadly, at a distance.

Jarratt Applewhite, a longtime activist, has lived in New Mexico for half a century. He resides in Lamy.

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican, September 15,  2020

Letter to the Editor

“Get money out”

by David Burling

The U.S. Constitution was written to establish and protect our democracy. Although the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, a wealthy company successfully argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and that the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. As a result, in addition to direct campaign contributions from wealthy contributors, political candidates rely more on unlimited, independent campaign expenditures by their supporters than on their individual constituents to get elected.

In fact, the candidate with the most funding wins 94 percent of the time. We have a duty to protect our democracy by passing a constitutional amendment to limit money’s influence on our political system. Numerous independent organizations are promoting this goal across the United States, including the local chapter of American Promise (americanpromise.net), and RepresentUS New Mexico, which you can join and support. Help make this amendment a reality by contacting our representatives, federal and state, to support this change.

David Burling is Chair of the Campaign Finance Committee of RepresentUs New Mexico.

 

The  Los Alamos Reporter  and the Los Alamos Daily Post, September 14, 2020

Letter to the Editor

“Support Campaign Finance Reform”

September 17, 2020, two hundred and thirty-three years after the adoption of the United States’ Constitution, Americans will observe Constitution and Citizenship Day. During those 233 years we have had twenty-seven amendments to our Constitution. As a representative democracy we are in need of another. We need an amendment which will reduce the influence of money in our elections.

This ‘election season’ the influence of political spending continues to be very pronounced. Sources of dark money cannot be traced. Political action committees, whether receiving their funds from in-state individuals and corporations or out-of-state entities, operate independently of candidates.  Special interests with seemingly unlimited wealth make media purchases supporting and opposing candidates.

If we are to have a democracy where each individual’s vote is equal to another’s, the sources of money in our elections have to be transparent and must be reduced. Many organizations are working toward reform of our election financing, among them American Promise, a national cross-partisan nonprofit with a New Mexico chapter, Common Cause, and RepresentUs-New Mexico. Passage of legislation to curb the influence of money in federal elections and clarify that constitutional rights are only for people, not corporations, is essential.

If you, like me, are dismayed with the amount and influence of money in our elections please contact your local, state, and national representatives and tell them that you support campaign finance reform through a Constitutional amendment and also through legislation at the county, state, and federal level.

Adelaide Jacobson
Los Alamos

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican, September 14,  2020

Letter to the Editor

“Remember and protect”

by Herb Faling

The U.S. Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788, and established the premise of “Government for and by the People” and became the governing document of our great nation. In an effort to form a more perfect union, it has been amended 27 times. Seven of those amendments were to correct Supreme Court rulings that diminished the rights of American citizens.

Once again, we find ourselves at a crossroad. The Supreme Court has given undue influence to those who can afford it. In a series of rulings that culminated in Citizens United, the court has defined citizenship to include corporations and special interests, and money as speech. As a result, political candidates, in addition to relying on contributions from wealthy donors, lean more heavily on unlimited, independent expenditures from dark-money PACs and super PACs than from their constituents.

It is up to us to address this issue by joining with the many national and local organizations, including American Promise and RepresentUS New Mexico in supporting a constitutional amendment to limit the influence of money in politics.

Herb Faling of Santa Fe is a member of the Campaign Finance Committee of RepresentUs New Mexico.

 

The Albuquerque Journal,  Monday, August 31, 2020

Guest Column

“Help NM redistrict in 2021 without gerrymandering”

by Kathleen M. Burke

At Fair Districts New Mexico our goal is to make the 2021 redistricting process fair – “fair” as in reflective of the wishes of the electorate, as opposed to fair in the eyes of select politicians. This organization is frequently asked, paraphrased, “What makes 2021 any different from every other year in which redistricting has come and gone, behind closed doors, with little to no public input?” In short, this year and next, substantial portions of the electorate, party affiliation aside, are watching closely.

This is a banner year for redistricting in New Mexico. Across the political spectrum, the electorate has engaged and the electorate is watching. Such tremendous public outcry to place redistricting in the hands of the people has never before happened in New Mexico.

On July 27, a statewide redistricting webinar hosted by Retake Our Democracy drew 213 registrants. Albuquerque’s Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Mark Moores received accolades for speaking frankly about gerrymandering in a large venue and in a way not heard before in New Mexico.

To date, we continue to discover tremendous knowledge and commitment to redistricting reform among our Legislature, most recently at the bipartisan Women’s Legislative Caucus, whose executive committee has stated its caucus’s support.

New Mexico organizations statewide are staking their interest in redistricting reform, too. Twenty prominent organizations have joined Fair Districts New Mexico in support of redistricting reform in the 2021 cycle. Some partners comprising Fair Districts New Mexico: New Mexico Ethics Watch, League of Women Voters of New Mexico, Save Our Western Way of Life, NAACP Doña Ana County, New Mexico First and the American Civil Liberties Union New Mexico. Nationally, we are partnered by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Election Reformers Network and the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

The groups that have joined this effort are not seeking any party advantage, but rather are driving to place the responsibility of redistricting in the hands of the people, where it belongs. These groups, and an increasing number of legislators, want to right a wrong which has led to disempowerment for far too long.

It is not a stretch to say that gerrymandering in our state has oftentimes fit the criteria of institutional racism. Native Americans and Hispanics alike have suffered the effects of gerrymandering in New Mexico. Without sufficient reform, they will continue to. This is a wrong to be righted.

In 2021 the Legislature again grapples with redistricting, presenting the opportunity in New Mexico to right a wrong inflicted upon Americans even since long before New Mexico was a state; since the founding of this country. The U.S. Congress at that time probably hadn’t even an inkling of what a New Mexican might be, one day, much less the tenacity of one.

The N.M. Legislature holds the power to right this wrong in 2021, putting an end to the infliction of gerrymandering upon New Mexicans.

Kathleen M. Burke is Project Coordinator for Fair Districts For New Mexico.

 

The Albuquerque Journal, Friday, July 3rd, 2020

Guest Column

“NM lawmakers should set new redistricting criteria”

by John House

At least since 2018, the platform of the Democratic Party of New Mexico has included the intention to end gerrymandering, the practice of creating or “drawing” voting districts (boundaries of electoral constituencies) in a way to favor a political party or incumbent politician(s).

Item 15 of the section of the 2020 platform entitled “Ethics, Elections, and Politics” states, “We will … end gerrymandering by creating and giving authority to an independent non-partisan redistricting commission, separate from the legislative process, that will prevent the drawing of political boundaries favoring one party over another or favoring incumbents.” The Republican Party of New Mexico’s issues statement on its website does not address gerrymandering.

For lovers of democracy, ending gerrymandering is a very important goal, for gerrymandering subverts the right to vote. For those unfamiliar with the process, the drawing of voting districts or “redistricting” occurs every 10 years after the national census. In theory, it is done in order to keep the districts reflective of the population within them. In practice, in the majority of states in which the state legislature does it, the party in power often draws them to its political advantage, in order to retain and even increase its political control. Put in the simplest of terms, what that does is allow elected officials to choose who their voters are in their districts, instead of the voters choosing their elected officials. No single party is guilty of this manner of “rigging the system;”both Democratic- and Republican-dominated state legislatures engage in it.

Since 2016, there have been six pieces of New Mexico legislation proposing either to amend the state Constitution in order to vest the authority and task of redistricting in an independent commission, or to study how to best reform the redistricting process. The Democratic Party has had control of both houses of the Legislature, except in 2015-16, when the Republicans took control of the House. Sadly, each piece of legislation aimed at ending or grappling with the undemocratic practice of gerrymandering has failed, whether introduced in the House or the Senate. The Legislature’s website designates it as “API,” which means “action postponed indefinitely.”

We must take politics out of the redistricting process. The Brennan Center for Justice, the National Conference of State Legislatures, independent scholars and state agencies have proposed fair and purposeful criteria for drawing voting districts. The various suggestions include several or all of: 1) equal population; 2) racial fairness; 3) compactness; 4) geographical contiguity; 5) encourage competition; 6) preservation of communities of interest; 7) preservation of political subdivisions and prior districts; and 8) nonpartisan fairness. The 10 states that have created independent redistricting commissions have adopted redistricting criteria similar or identical to these.

In 2020, House Memorial 8 proposed that the Legislative Council establish a task force to study redistricting, and to suggest new rules and guidelines. Despite the death of HM 8 in the past session, it is my understanding that the Legislative Council is still considering establishing the task force.

Whether the Legislature does the job itself or leaves it to a task force, it should not involve a gargantuan effort to develop a good set of redistricting criteria. Since model criteria have already been developed and utilized in other states, New Mexico need not reinvent the wheel.

Due to the Legislature’s half-hearted at best past efforts, it is too late to amend the state Constitution to create and empower an independent redistricting commission in time to do the redistricting this cycle. But it is not too late to establish the criteria to be followed in the process.

It’s time for Democratic state legislators to walk the walk to match the party platform’s talk. Republican state legislators should also get behind this since they and their constituencies have been the primary victims of gerrymandering due to decades of mostly Democratic control in the state.

John House of Santa Fe is President of RepresentUs New Mexico.

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican, March 8, 2020

Letter to the Editor

by Stephanie Mendez and Janie Thelin

“Prevent presidential abuse”

Issues raised during the impeachment of President Donald Trump will have long-term effects on our democracy. With our current political rules in place, we cannot fully prevent presidential abuse of power now or in the future.

That’s why we need to enact the “For the People Act,” House Resolution 1, awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate. The bill addresses voting rights, money in politics, redistricting, government transparency and ethics — reforms that will give everyday people a more powerful voice in politics.

With today’s nonstop headlines focusing on Trump’s ongoing and distracting assaults on the rule of law, we cannot lose sight of the fundamental reforms needed to protect our democracy. We must encourage our lawmakers and other leaders to keep HR 1 at the top of our shared priorities. We the people deserve it and must demand it.

Stephanie Mendez and Janie Thelin are members of Indivisible Santa Fe.

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican,, February 27, 2020

Letter to the Editor

“Can’t be bought”

by Debra Helper

Tired of negative news coming out of Washington, D.C.? Appalled by the huge sums of money being spent on campaigns? Here’s positive bipartisan news. Ten years after the Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission decision allowed unlimited campaign contributions without transparency, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties heard House Joint Resolution 2 and House Joint Resolution 48 supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. This important step should convince legislators on both sides of the aisle to do what 75 percent of Americans want; return control of government to all people, not just wealthy donors.

Campaign finance reform would allow our elected officials to spend time working for constituents rather than chasing wealthy donors to fund campaigns. Join the effort to overturn Citizens United! Go to NMMOP.org  and americanpromise.net.

Debra Helper is a member of the Campaign Finance Committee of RepresentUs New Mexico.

 

The Santa Fe New Mexican, January 23, 2020

Letter to the Editor

“Fighting back”

by Laura Atkins

Jan. 21 was the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that opened political campaigns to unlimited donations and spending. According to Public Citizen, individuals have donated nearly $3 billion to super PACs over the past decade. Almost half, $1.4 billion, came from just 25 megadonors.

More than 2,200 corporations donated a total of $313 million to 500-plus political entities for the purpose of influencing elections. In every election cycle since Citizens United, campaign expenditures have increased, even in New Mexico. Our government is for the money, not for the people.

We the people are fighting back. American Promise and its local affiliate, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, are making progress on a grassroots level to amend the U.S. Constitution to allow campaign donations and expenditures to be limited. For more information please see: nmmop.org/ and www.american promise.net.

Laura Atkins is a director of RepresentUs New Mexico. and a member of its Campaign Finance Committee.

 

Santa Fe New Mexican, January 15, 2020

Letter to the Editor

“Move democracy forward”

by Ishwari Sollohub

New Mexicans who care about restoring democracy are planning an event marking the 10th anniversary of Citizens United, the disastrous Supreme Court decision that in 2010 ended over 100 years of effective regulation of campaign contributions and expenditures, determining that money is speech and corporations are people. The event also celebrates the fact that all five of New Mexico’s Congress members, and numerous other state-elected officials, now sponsor/support legislation reversing Citizens United. New Mexico is one of 20 states to formally call on Congress to amend the Constitution, through a state resolution. Be proud to be a New Mexican!

Join New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and Indivisible Santa Fe at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20, at the Santa Fe Center for Progress and Justice, 1420 Cerrillos Road. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and possibly other members of Congress or staff will be presenting. Learn about strategies to move this movement forward and specific actions each of us can take. Contact ishwarisollohub12@gmail.com.

 

The Albuquerque Journal, November 24, 2019

Letter to the Editor

by Ishwari Sollohub 

“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 ishwarisollohub12@gmail.com.

Santa Fe New Mexican, November 23, 2019

Letter to the Editor

“Get involved”

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.

Charlotte Schaaf
Santa Fe

 

Santa Fe New Mexican, November 18, 2019

Letter to the Editor

“Money determines who wins elections”

by David Burling

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.

David Burling is a member of the Campaign Finance Committee of RepresentUs New Mexico.

 

Santa Fe New Mexican, October 6, 2019

Letter to the Editor

“Get involved”

by Ishwari Sollohub

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: ishwarisollohub12@gmail.com.

 

Santa Fe New Mexican, July 21, 2019

Commentary

“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 Represent Us New Mexico

 

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.

Herb Faling
Santa Fe

 

Santa Fe New Mexican, July 19, 2019

Letter to the Editor

“Reforming Democracy”

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.

Ishwari Sollohub
Santa Fe

 

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

Ishwari Sollohub
Santa Fe

 

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

Ishwari Sollohub
Santa Fe

 

Santa Fe New Mexican , September 8, 2018

My View

“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

Commentary

“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

My View

“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

My View

“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

My View

“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. NMMOP can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

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 breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Laura Atkins is a concerned citizen working to protect our Constitution, democracy, and American values and ideals.