Toulouse Oliver revises campaign spending proposal

July 27, 2017 GMT

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver on Tuesday tweaked proposed campaign finance rules that have turned what is typically a low-key regulatory process into an unusually pitched battle over money in politics.

The changes Toulouse Oliver proposed mostly clarify wording in the policy in response to concerns about broad interpretations of the proposed rules. Toulouse Oliver so far has received some 300 public comments on her initiative, most of them supportive.

Proponents say the policy change would shine light on political groups that are now able to spend virtually unlimited sums to influence elections without disclosing their donors.

“We are continuing to work towards greater transparency and disclosure in political campaigns because New Mexicans have a right to know who is paying for the TV commercials and ads that are trying to influence their vote,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Her opponents are digging in, too.

“Our grass-roots activists will continue to push back against this anti-free speech measure until it is dead,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director for a conservative group, Concerned Veterans for America.

Under Toulouse Oliver’s proposed rules, a group that spent money on advertising or other communications to influence an election would have to file a report with the Secretary of State’s Office identifying itself. If it spent more than $3,000 on an election, the group also would have to identify some of its bigger donors.

The revised proposal would raise the threshold for reporting spending intended to influence statewide campaigns to $7,500 from $3,000, differentiating between the race for governor, for example, and the race for a county commissioner’s seat.

Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said the change would enable the public to know who’s behind campaigns.

“We’re trying to make sure the public and the media have access to information about the large donors,” Harrison said.

Setting different reporting thresholds for statewide races makes sense, Harrison said, given that campaigns for governor or attorney general tend to cost more than races for a seat in the Legislature or county clerk.

But the rule would still require such groups to disclose donors who give more than $200 for political purposes.

Groups such as Concerned Veterans for America argue that requiring groups to disclose the donors behind political ads would stifle advocacy on controversial issues and violate the privacy of contributors.

Toulouse Oliver first proposed the rules in mid-June. Much of the first draft mirrored a bill that cleared the state Legislature this year with broad bipartisan support only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Some Republican lawmakers have nonetheless criticized the proposal, saying Toulouse Oliver should not try to impose the rules through her regulatory authority but should instead leave campaign finance reform to the Legislature.

Groups opposing the reforms have launched an advertising campaign against them. And some organizations have threatened to sue if Toulouse Oliver imposes the rules, as she plans to do in early October.

But Toulouse Oliver says she has found overwhelming support for the proposal. Her office says 88 percent of the 327 written comments it received on the rules were supportive.

And rules would help fulfill a campaign promise Toulouse Oliver made as she ran for secretary of state last year on a platform of greater transparency in elections flooded with money after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Citizens United v. the FEC.

The Secretary of State’s Office will accept comments on the proposal until 5 p.m. Aug. 29 at sos.state.nm.us. The office will hold another hearing on the proposal from 9 .am. to noon Aug. 30 at the state Capitol.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.