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Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Plot to Poison the Ethics Reform Well in New Mexico

Ethics reform foes: Sen. Michael Sanchez, Rep. Ken Martinez

Oh, I know. We're all supposed to be thrilled because the NM Senate Rules Committee, Chaired by Sen. Linda Lopez, FINALLY acted yesterday on one of the major ethics and campaign finance reform bills that have been logjammed there for weeks. Hallelujah, the SRC passed its substitute bill for limiting campaign donations by a vote of 7-0 -- even though it won't take affect until 2011 if enacted, and the limits will sunset two years after that. Were they shamed into passing it? You decide. Of course it's still got a long way to go for final passage and time is ticking down on this 60-day Legislative Session, which ends at Noon on March 21. The bill is headed next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There have been complaints galore about the slow-as-molasses-in-January pace of the SRC in dealing with key ethics bills. Repeatedly, they've been placed on the Committee's agenda, only to be waylaid by long, drawn-out discussions on other less vital bills and wayward topics like antelope herd management -- and delayed again and again. Even worse, the Committee didn't begin it's work until two weeks into the Session.

The Plot Thickens: In addition to the foot dragging, we've had talk floating around the Roundhouse that the status quo defenders intend to stop any meaningful ethics bills that start moving by rolling them into one omnibus measure and adding in a poison pill provision that would kill the legislation.

The poison pill bill, aimed at stifling the efforts of nonprofits to keep New Mexicans informed about lawmaker voting records and campaign donors, has now been introduced. Just before the deadline for bill filing, Senators Michael Sanchez and Ken Martinez -- long-time ethics reform foes -- tossed the potentially lethal measure into the hopper. Quietly.

Enter the Politician Protection Act of 2009: HB 891, the innocuously named Election Communication Contribution Reporting bill, would require that nonprofits -- not privately owned entities like SunCal or energy companies or health insurance corporations -- refrain from disseminating any information about elected officials or candidates during a ten-month period running from late January through November in election years. I'm not kidding.

Check out this MUST READ, hit-the-nail-on-the-head post on Clearly New Mexico about the bill, which they call the Politician Protection Act of 2009 -- and rightly so.

HB 891 would require nonprofits that engage in so-called “electioneering communications” to report their organizational donors to the Attorney General. Conveniently -- for the foes of transparency and reform -- "electioneering communications" are defined as any advertisement or mailing that simply mentions a candidate (including an incumbent elected official) during the ten-month period specified. Note that regular Legislative Sessions and Special Sessions occur within that time frame.

What would this mean in the real world? The Clearly New Mexico post explains,

If a domestic violence group or a LGBT group or the Catholic Church sends out a mailing to supporters asking them to contact their legislator about a bill – during the legislative session –those groups and the Church will have to disclose to the Attorney General every single one of their donors who give over $5,000. The United States Supreme Court has ruled definitively that disclosure requirements are an infringement of free speech, plain and simple.

But if a SunCal, or a coal company, or any business trying to get a tax break from the state does the same thing at the very same time, they won’t have to report a single thing about their annual finances.

Talk about bad legislation introduced for all the wrong reasons. Again quoting from Clearly New Mexico:

Coming from two smart attorneys like Martinez and Sanchez, this bill could not be more poorly conceived. It is constitutionally defective on its face. It violates the First Amendment Free Speech rights of nonprofits — as upheld by a consistent series of federal court decisions over the last several years.

What's Going On: It should be clear by now to anyone paying attention that the big dollar donors and their allies in the legislative leadership are on the warpath against any meaningful ethics reforms and any attempt to let New Mexicans know what they're doing. After all, such actions might limit the ability of campaign donation recipients and their generous campaign donors to work together to thwart the will of the people in favor of the interests of the inside players. They obviously want to work in the dark as much as possible, freely scooping up dinero and jamming bills through that line the pockets of the financial interests they serve.

How can we stop them from killing ethics reform bills and pushing through the poisonous HB 891? We need to swamp them with calls and emails that let them know we know what they're up to and that we won't allow it.

Take Action NOW to Stop Ethics Reform Foes: It's incredibly important that we contact Rep. Ken Martinez, Sen. Michael Sanchez, Sen. Linda Lopez, our own Representative and Senator, and every other Democrat in the Legislature that hasn't gone on record as supporting ethics reform. Tell them that:

  • you won't take no for an answer on meanngful ethics and campaign finance reform;
  • you oppose any attempt to muzzle the educational communications of nonprofits;
  • you'll work to oust any legislator who votes to water down or defeat reform or enact unconstitutional measures designed to "chill" the free speech of nonprofits.

Tell them in no uncertain terms. Do it now.

Note that HB 891 has been assigned first to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. Please contact Committee members and urge them to vote no on this bill. Maybe we can stop this thing before it gains any momentum.

To see our previous posts on this topic, visit our archive.

March 5, 2009 at 01:34 PM in Ethics & Campaign Reform, NM Legislature 2009 | Permalink


The public if finally getting the picture via the blogs, news reports and webcasts. The more light we shine on these bozos the faster we can stop this crap.

Posted by: JJ | Mar 5, 2009 3:05:06 PM

It is truly like shining a light in a dark closet with cockroaches! They really do not want the people to know what they are up to. The suncal tidd is just the tip of the iceberg.

Posted by: mary ellen | Mar 5, 2009 4:24:40 PM

I think we should first start off by getting this post renamed the "Politically Partisan, Disingenuous Hackery Post of 2009."

I thought "progressives" were all about honest and open campaigning and elections. If these "non-profits" were truly acting as 501c3 non-partisan groups, then they would have sent "informational pieces" out about all of the incumbents in the Legislature, not just the ones being opposed by candidates led by former Soltari-ite Neri Holguin (oops, did I let the cat out of the bag about how this "non-partisan" political action plan was coordinated? Can we expect to see more "informational pieces" about all of the mayoral candidates not being represented by Holguin in 2009?)

And among the other reasons this post is disingenuous is the one thing no one has mentioned yet. These "informational pieces" have a call to action. "Call Senator So-And-So and tell him what for!" That's another place they crossed the line from “providing information” into political activism. No mention of any other candidates out there, just these three that had to be targeted. If this was a real "information campaign" then why didn't the groups in question present this same information about all of the incumbents? Why not provide a “report card” on all of the candidates out there?

This is not a case of First Amendment violations, unlike the red herring you've thrown to us. It's about forcing faux non-partisan, yet incredibly politically-motivated, "non-profits" to act like the politically-motivated "non-profits” they are, instead of hiding behind the shield that truly non-partisan non-profits (such as the American Cancer Society, the Humane Society, etc) benefit from. If the Center for Civic Policy and other politically driven "non-profits" want to get involved in electoral politics, they are more than free to do so. They just have to play by the same rules that other political groups are expected to. Gosh darn it all, those pesky “ethics” rules might strike again!

Plus, I'm not even going to address how these regurgitated talking points are completely hypocritical when it comes to your demands on other organizations who, say, differ from you on TIDDs or other important legislation. I guess you expect one set of rules for groups you agree with, and a harsher set of rules for those you disagree with, since they’re against you.

Huh, "either you're with us, or you're against us." Now who does that remind me of?

Posted by: Benson | Mar 5, 2009 11:47:03 PM

So who gets to define what's political and what's not? You?

Posted by: teedee | Mar 6, 2009 9:19:21 AM

I see one of the defenders of the power bloc working to keep information about government and what government officials do out of the hands of the people is out spreading misinformation again. The lack of logic, facts and reason in your comments is stunning.

It seems clear to me that the laws governing nonprofits were followed to the letter by the nonprofits being attacked by the forces for crooked government. The laws have been in place for many years and thousands of groups around the nation similar to those being attacked here have been operating according to those laws, just as the nonprofits here did. I guess that's why the forces for the status quo want to change the law, which seems to me an admittance that no laws were broken.

The nonprofits being attacked disseminated information about voting records and campaign donations on a number of elected officials of both parties - not just the three you refer to. They did it to let people know how these officials voted in the legislative session. According to the facts in the public record, they did it according to the timetable laid out in the law so that they weren't doing anything in the period before the election when such activities are not allowed.

It is perfectly within any nonprofit's rights to urge citizens to call government officials and ask questions based on public information.

Contrary to what you claim, information on a diverse group of legislators was distributed, including a number not in the Albuquerque area, so your accusation isn't based on the facts.

Not all political activity is partisan. Urging constituents to call their elected officials about their voting records and campaign donations is not partisan. It nourishes the very basis of responsible citizenship.

There are political nonprofits and nonpolitical nonprofits. That does not mean that political nonprofits are partisan. They support and encourage good government and active citizenship, which is truly American in nature.

As for SunCal and their TIDDs, I understand they are currently breaking the rules of lobbying, refusing to report their massive expenditures for TV advertising being aired DURING the legislative session in the timely fashion required by law.

You are mixing apples and oranges comparing nonprofit advocacy-education groups with lobbying groups acting on behalf of for-profit corporations at the legislature and during the legislative session. You know that, but I guess it's important to you to try to confuse the public.

Posted by: barb | Mar 6, 2009 9:27:42 AM

I agree with barb 100 percent.

teedee-the laws that govern nonprofits already define what's partisan political action and what's not. It's not a matter of opinion.

Posted by: Old Dem | Mar 6, 2009 9:38:07 AM

How can these lawmakers look at themselves in the mirror? It might not happen this session, it might now happen next session. But we will get these bills passed eventually and we will work hard to defeat any senator or rep who sides with the crooks.

Posted by: Valencia County Voter | Mar 6, 2009 11:40:49 AM

Benson's "call to action" argument is complete rubbish. Urging constituents to call their legislators is not "electioneering." That's the operative term in question here. And where in current law, regulation, or court decision does it say that grassroots groups are prohibited from communicating with the public about legislative matters unless those communications go to EVERY legislative district? (NM has 112 btw.) Just the expense of such an absurd requirement would effectively freeze out free speech completely.

Posted by: luis | Mar 6, 2009 12:28:39 PM

The interesting thing about this whole situation is that it is the same tactic used by Republicans in the U.S. Senate to try and prevent some ethics reforms from happening there (you can find more info here: http://www.pass223.com/about/).

It smacks of duplicity - rather than get their own house in order, lawmakers are seeking to protect themselves and prevent meaningful (and lawful) participation by non-profits.

Posted by: Avelino | Mar 6, 2009 1:34:49 PM

@teedee, old Dem is right on one thing. The rules to determine what’s political action or not are already on the books . You might have heard of this little organization called the IRS, they take care of it.

Unfortunately, Old Dem then blows it when he says he agrees 100% with Barb, but I’ll address that in a moment.

@luis “rubbish?” Well let me put it to you another way. The IRS has made it very clear that any action impacting a candidate by a 501(c)3 is prohibited activity. The call to action to call one senator over another violates this prohibition.

According to the IRS Web site:

“On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”

Ya following me here, camera guy? To answer your other question about where in law it says that? Again, check in with that little group called the IRS. If a non-profit is going to accept the special donor protections of a non-partisan 501(c)3, then there are certain, pesky, little ethical rules they have to abide by.

@avelino, you’re right. It does smack of duplicity, but it’ll be OK. I’m sure these non-profits will get their act together and follow the restrictions they agreed to. Maybe they just didn’t realize what they were expected to do (except for the fact that the IRS provides information to help guide these groups on what can and can’t be done.)

@barb I’m a defender of the current power bloc? Huh, that’s funny, since I’m not being paid, nor do I benefit from their actions at all (but don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story). Think of me as more of an “Action Alert Truth Squad.”

“The lack of logic, facts and reason in your comments is stunning.”

As is your political hackery, obfuscation of the facts and regurgitating of bogus talking points. Ya know, it’s so nice to see you living up to Mark Bralley’s description of “political demonization” on here.

The laws dictating non-profit activity come from the federal government, primarily the IRS. The IRS has been very clear in stating that while 501(c)3s can produce voter guides and town hall meetings and the like, they can’t publish material that goes out of its way to oppose a candidate or favor one candidate over another. And I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you that sending out politically themed “hit pieces” complete with “Call Senator so and so to tell him he’s wrong on X, Y, and Z” fall under that prohibition.

In case you didn’t notice, there’s a big difference between hit-themed ads and a voter guide.

“There are political nonprofits and nonpolitical nonprofits.”

Yes, the latter one is a 501(c)3 with additional protections and restrictions, and the former is a 501(c)4, or a 527. The problem is you’re trying to combine the two, when they each have separate requirements and restrictions on activities. Among them being the fact that 501(c)4s have to disclose their donor lists, while 501(c)3s don’t, which appears to be a real sticking point with these “non-profits.”

If CCP, et al. were indeed operating as 501(c)4’s or 527s they would have more leeway to continue the actions they did.

Currently it appears they violated the rules for a 501(c)3. And that’s not just from me, I checked in with a friend who worked at a democratic political non-profit when this issue raised its head before and he even confirmed to me what these “non-profits” did probably violate those restrictions.

Sending out hit-piece themed pieces were not done to inform the public, but to achieve a certain political end. That violates the IRS rules set down for 501(c)3s. No matter how much you try to spin or obfuscate it.

“You are mixing apples and oranges comparing nonprofit advocacy-education groups with lobbying groups acting on behalf of for-profit corporations at the legislature and during the legislative session.”

Not me lady. Eli Lee said in his own post:

“But if a SunCal, or a coal company, or any business trying to get a tax break from the state does the same thing at the very same time, they won’t have to report a single thing about their annual finances.”

So he’s trying to lump SunCal in with his group, in the hopes that the people who don’t like SunCal will stand up and defend CCP.

He’s using SunCal’s actions to justify his own. An interesting gambit, but bogus as all hell – since SunCal didn’t sign on to certain 501(c)3 restrictions, they have their own, which you brought up before (so SunCal should be punished for possible violations, but CCP shouldn’t? That’s an interesting interpretation of the facts. But then again, what do the facts have to do with this, huh?)

Then of course there’s the whole apples, oranges, and hamburger mixing you’re doing by lumping 501(c)3’s, (c)4s, and 527s into the same group to justify your point of view.

“You know that, but I guess it's important to you to try to confuse the public.”

And we end with more political demonizing. If only it were true Barb. You appear to be the one lying to the public, by lumping in all non-profits under one umbrella in order to protect the ones you support to obfuscate the issue at hand. However, I think those of us in the “reality-based world” can see the difference, once we look at the facts.

Posted by: Benson | Mar 8, 2009 4:39:25 PM

Let me jump in here. Benson, you're still spouting BS. You're simplifying and slanting and omitting like crazy. If what you say is true, why should the opponents of open government be trying to pass laws in the NM Legislature to "rein in" nonprofits or force them to follow the rules designed for PACs? Wouldn't the IRS be all over them already?

Instead, we have vigilante lawmakers who are angry that the public has a right to know what they are doing and how they are voting. Why? Because they have much to hide.

Your "arguments" ramble all over the place and pick and choose what you are citing. If anything or anyone is being "demonized" it is the public's right to know and nonprofits' right to advocate and educate.

Benson's point of view is expressed in much the same way as the other opponents of clean and open government do it. It's full of innuendo, bad logic, missing and distorted "facts" and insults.

Benson and his ilk in the NM Senate are trying to smear the forces that work on behalf of people and protect the sleazy operations that have gone on in Santa Fe for decades. They like it that way.

Posted by: JM | Mar 9, 2009 9:18:30 AM

Benson hits the nail on the head with this one and even has the facts to stand behind what he’s defending. Nice work. Agreed 100%!

Posted by: katrina | Mar 9, 2009 2:59:16 PM

Why isn't the IRS after nonprofits that are being attacked by the crook element here in NM if Benson "has the facts"? Because he's full of crap, that's why. Hey Benson, are you paid by Sun Cal or is it someone else?

Posted by: Ha Ha | Mar 9, 2009 5:23:00 PM

@JM Interesting. You talk of the non-profits and their right to advocate but you never address what kind of advocating you are talking about. There’s issues advocating and political advocating. There is a difference, and that’s one of the cruxes of the problem.

I go back to the information presented on the IRS’ Web site (emphasis mine): “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or INDIRECTLY participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (OR IN OPPOSITION TO) any candidate for elective public office.”

Political advocating masked as “issues advocating” and then using a 501(c)3 to impact these elections. (again, it’s that “or in opposition to” clause.) That’s where they screwed up. It would have been better had these 501(c)3s worked together through a separate 501(c)4 or 527 to push their political advocacy. It would not have had the same protections for donors, and that appears to be one of the sticking points. They tried that kind of tack before with IMPAC (wasn’t that a 501(c)4?) and the for-profit Soltari, and they appear to have worked quite well.

Also, let me get this right, someone else on here compares legislators to “cockroaches,” yet I’m the one being insulting. Gotcha.

@Ha ha. Actually you’re wrong on your assertion of working for SunCal. I’m just a working stiff who is fed up with this obfuscation on both sides. (or did you forget the Swift Boat for Vets BS already?)

Let me ask you both a couple of questions (not that I expect an answer): is this a case with y'all where the ends justify the means? You like these groups and therefore are willing to give them a pass? Because these exceptions can apply to religious groups (and we saw their impact on domestic partnership), the Swift Vets, the NRA, you name it. That's why this pisses me off.

Posted by: Benson | Mar 11, 2009 5:59:25 PM