New Mexico

New Mexico adopts political disclosure rules for dark money

By MORGAN LEE Associated Press - SANTA FE — New disclosure rules for political spending took effect Tuesday in New Mexico that require independent groups that spend heavily to influence the outcome of elections to name their contributors — under certain circumstances.

The rules were designed by Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to help voters understand which individuals and special interests are paying for political advertising outside of direct campaigning by candidates. The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision allows donors to give as much as they'd like as long as candidates aren't controlling how the money gets spent.

New Mexico's "dark money" disclosure rules apply under specific circumstances, leaving room for nonprofit organizations to run issue-oriented ads well before election day without disclosing individual financial backers, said Viki Harrison of the campaign-finance watchdog group New Mexico Common Cause.

"While it can be frustrating not to know where the money is coming from, as long as it's not around elections or electioneering, that's their right" to keep contributions confidential, Harrison said. "They can run issue ads any time. That's what nonprofits do."

Disclosure requirements apply when explicit endorsements are made and when groups spend more than $2,500 on a statewide election or ballot measure, or $1,000 for non-statewide elections that include state legislative seats.

The rules change as election day draws near to include almost any mention of a candidate or ballot measure if it is within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days off a general election, said Joey Keefe, a spokesman for the New Mexico Secretary of State's office. New Mexico's primary election for state and federal offices is schedule June 5.

The disclosure rules have come under criticism as an infringement on free speech from several conservative-backed groups, with some arguing that Toulouse Oliver overstepped her authority. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in April vetoed a bill containing many similar provisions that had broad, bipartisan support among lawmakers.

As he runs for governor in 2018, Republican Congressman Steve Pearce has accused a group of five nonprofit groups of waging a collaborative "dark money" attack against him.

The "Step Up Steve" initiative from environmental and liberal advocacy groups — with related radio, newspaper and billboard advertising — has focused attention on Pearce's public statements about the management of public lands and his voting record in Congress on those issues.

Harrison of Common Cause said such ads that stick to public policy issues and the voting record of a public official do not fall under the new disclosure provisions — unless they were to take place close to election day.