Fixing Public Financing in New Mexico

Fixing Public Financing in New Mexico

Viki Harrison of Common Cause New Mexico gives the inside scoop on our latest victory in the fight to get money out of politics

We’ve just had a great victory in New Mexico, and I wanted to share our story. First, some background:

On June 27, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutionality of public campaign financing in the Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett decision. In New Mexico, we have three public campaign financing systems — a state system covering races for Public Regulation Commission and appellate judges, and two municipal programs in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

A candidate seeking public funds must collect $5 contributions from voters in their districts. If they reach a certain threshold, the state will give them a block grant to run their campaign so they don’t have to rely on deep-pocketed special interests. The Arizona Free Enterprise decision doesn’t change this..

The ruling did, however, struck down one mechanism used in some public financing programs, including ours. The Voter Action Act gives additional matching funds to publicly financed candidates when they are faced with a privately financed candidate who’s outspending them — but the Arizona Free Enterprise decision found this unconstitutional.

We developed an alternative to replace these matching provisions — a “fix” if you will. The new law would simply allow publicly financed candidates to accept small contributions of $100 or less, which would then be matched with additional public funds. This way, publicly financed candidates could still effectively compete with their privately financed opponents.

Common Cause New Mexico and Senator Peter Wirth of Santa Fe made fixing the public financing system in New Mexico a priority for the 2013 legislative session. Senator Wirth’s bill encourages small-donor fundraising while also making public financing more attractive to candidates. A robust public campaign financing system cuts the corrupting influence of private campaign contributions out of our democracy.

Senate Bill 16, entitled Public Campaign Financing Changes, passed through committee and both floors, and as of today, March 20, 2013, we are waiting for the Governor to sign the bill into law. We were thrilled to see advocates and legislators on both sides of the aisle show support for fixing our public financing system — getting money out of politics is truly a bipartisan issue.

The committee and floor votes were as follows:

Senate Rules Committee, 8-1

Senate Judiciary Committee, 9-0

Senate Floor, 33-7

House Voters and Elections Committee, 10-0

House Judiciary Committee, 11-0

House Floor, 68-0

How important is public financing? Very important — we need to get money out of politics! The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission declared it legal for corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections. Unless we do something, even well-intentioned politicians will have to kowtow to special interests or live under their threat of being outspent.

The Court’s action has unleashed a torrent of corporate and private money in our political process that threatens to drown out individual citizens’ voices. Join Common Cause and our Only People Are People campaign, and with your help, we can take back our democracy!