Let’s Expand Judicial Public Campaign Financing!

Public financing is one of the most effective ways to protect our judiciary from special interests and dark money, and also helps reduce conflicts of interest in the courtroom.

We have a top priority bill headed to its first committee hearing TODAY, Wednesday, February 3! Please contact members of the Senate Rules Committee and ask them to support SB 160 to provide a public financing option for District Court candidates.

The Judicial Candidates in Voter Action Act (SB 160, sponsored by Sens. Katy Duhigg and Peter Wirth) would expand the state’s public financing program (the Voter Action Act) to district court judges. Public financing is one of the most effective ways to protect our judiciary from special interests and dark money, and also helps reduce conflicts of interest in the courtroom.

Public financing for judges is also a commonsense solution to ensure fair, impartial courts, and an inclusive democracy, promoting diverse candidates to run for office.

SB 160 would:

  • Remove the Public Regulation Commission qualifying candidates from the Voter Action Act and replace with District Court Judges.
    • Would NOT require an additional funding source, as the fund is currently supported by unclaimed property, and the fund has not been depleted. 
  • If passed, New Mexico would be considered a leader in judicial reform, and expanding public funds to district courts would make New Mexico the first state to invest in lower courts.  
  • Companion bill SB 266, Staggering of Judicial Terms, the enabling legislation by the voters in 2020, would also ensure that all district court judges would not be accessing the fund during the same cycle.

Why do we need this?

  • As the cost of election campaigns continues to increase, candidates are required to raise so much money that running for office is out of the question for many well-qualified New Mexicans. This includes candidates running for elected judicial positions.
  • Candidates who do run are often obligated to raise campaign funds from individuals and corporations, but at the same time, ensure that they do not know exactly which donors contributed to their judicial campaigns, to protect them from potential conflicts of interest and to comply with judicial ethics.  
  • This continually puts members of our judiciary in the precarious position of raising money from donors and then turning a blind eye at fundraising events when donor checks are handed to their campaign treasurer.
  • Judges and candidates for judicial office WANT public financing. This also allows judges to focus their time on their court’s case dockets, not on trying to raise large campaign contributions

According to 2021 data from polling conducted by Research & Polling, Inc., sponsored by Common Cause New Mexico:

  •  (51%) of NM voters support paying expanding public financing to other judicial races, so that they can focus on their court’s docket, and not being put in a precarious position to fundraise while running for office. 
  • Support for expanding public financing has increased each year and is non-partisan:
    • 57% of Democrats 
    • 45% of independents 
    • 45% of Republicans

SB 160 would be just one step in the right direction to ensuring New Mexico’s judiciary is free and fair. Judges want public financing; New Mexicans want public financing for public courts.

We also invite you to a virtual rally in support of Automatic Voter Registration, hosted by our partners OLE: Organizing in the Land of Enchantment!

While the current automatic voter registration system in New Mexico is a step in the right direction, it still leaves some potential voters behind.

Back-end of automatic voter registration (SB 14 Sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez) will help break down existing barriers that make registering to vote cumbersome. Our goal is to ensure people of color and under-represented communities are not disenfranchised and are able to make their voices heard in the political process.

Please contact members of the Senate Rules Committee on behalf of SB 160.

Please also join us to learn more about improving AVR to include all eligible New Mexicans.

Thanks for your advocacy!