Public has a right to know
The League of Women Voters believes that methods of financing political campaigns and public offices should ensure the public’s right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, maximize fiscal accountability and transparency, and allow maximum citizen participation in the political process.
On the basis of this position, the League of Women Voters strongly believes that the city should not adopt the proposed amendments to Section 9-2.6 of the city’s campaign code, which would eliminate the requirement that some expenditures for independently sponsored campaign communications in issues campaigns be reported to the City Clerk, and that those reports should be made available to the public. Many important issues can appear on city ballots, such as charter amendments and tax questions. The public has a right to know who is expending funds for advertising or other types of campaign spending in such issue campaigns.
The adoption of these proposed amendments would leave the public in the dark about who is advocating for or against a particular issue. As we saw in the last special election, the amounts spent on such advocacy can be considerable.
Additionally, the adoption of these amendments might have unintended consequences that would further mislead voters. Groups that, under the current law, register as political committees might instead organize as independent committees in order to avoid having to report the source of their funds. It would not be that difficult to do. Even in candidate elections, if there were issues on the ballot that were identified with particular candidates, an independent committee could be formed whose actual intent would be to influence the candidate election.
The public has a right to know who is trying to influence their elections. The more transparency there is about campaign financing for all types of campaigns, the more informed the electorate. An informed electorate always has been the goal of the League of Women Voters and should be the goal of city government.
Hannah Burling is chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County Action and Advocacy Committee.