Public Financing, Ethics Funding, Election Laws, and Centennial Celebration, Oh My!

Common Cause New Mexico’s priority bills have been flying through committees during this past week’s 54th Legislative Session.

SB 267, District Judges in Voter Action Act, and SB 268, Legislators in Voter Action Act, both carried by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth. Both of these bills have been filed in past sessions, and driven by CCNM, to expand the state’s public financing system to eligible candidates for district judicial races, and the state legislature. Both of these bills will require receiving a message from the Governor to be considered in this budget-focused, short session.

SB 267 District Judges in Voter Action Act:

Why is it needed?

Currently, our state’s public financing system may only be used by candidates for our State Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Public Regulations Commission candidates. As the cost of judicial election campaigns continues to inflate, candidates are required to raise ever-increasing amounts of money which often makes the idea of running for office out of the question for many well-qualified 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, in order 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. By passing SB 267, we can work to ensure that our judges are protected from potential conflicts of interest and can focus their time on their court’s case dockets, and not raising large campaign funds to run their election.

SB 268 Legislature in Voter in Action Act:

Why is it needed?

Currently, New Mexico has an all volunteer, citizen legislature whom,  with each election cycle, face an increasingly high amount of campaign funds that they need to raise to be able to run for their unpaid legislative seat.  Just over a decade ago, our state legislators needed to raise between $10,000 – $50,000 to run a competitive campaign. Recently however, these amounts have risen to over $500,000 for some legislative races. This puts our citizen legislature in the uncomfortable position of spending a tremendous amount of time “dialing for dollars” each election cycle to raise more and more money from industry lobbyists and wealthy out-of-state interests, rather than spending time with many of their district’s constituents who may not be able to write large checks to help them fund their campaigns.  These large campaign donors and wealthy special interests also pose potential conflicts of interest for members of our legislature who find themselves with those same high-dollar campaign donors standing in their offices, asking them to vote for legislation to benefit their business. 

Over the past ten years, CCNM has heard from many former and current legislators who have told us that they wish they could qualify for our state’s public financing program. Not only would this encourage more of New Mexico’s citizens, who may not have ready access to well-heeled private donors to be able to run for office, but also give our current legislators freedom from having to immediately begin raising campaign funds as soon as our legislative sessions end.  By passing SB 268, our elected officials would have the ability to spend more time with their constituents and listening to their community’s needs. 

HB 2, General Appropriation Act of 2020, or better known as the Budget Bill, was passed through the House on Wednesday, February 5th. HB 2 passed the House this week with some funding for the State Ethics Commission, (SEC), however, the supplemental amount requested by the SEC for FY 2020 for funds needed to set-up an online case management system and for the hiring of hearing officers that is needed, has been reduced down to $200,000 from $385,000. While $200,000 is sufficient for the SEC to be able to operate, it will not allow for the full hiring needs for hearing officers. 

Additionally, serious concerns still remain with a lack of requested funding for their operations for FY 2021, as this amount will set the foundational budget for the SEC for the future. The Executive Budget Request for FY 2021 was $1,244,000, however, HB 2 was passed and sent over to the Senate with only $985,000 allocated in the budget. 

CCNM is committed to ensuring the State Ethics Commission has the resources necessary to be able operate, and our staff will continue to work with the Senate Finance Committee and members of the Senate to ensure the full-funding that is needed for the SEC budget request to that they may be able to meet the needs of New Mexicans and fulfill their obligation to the over 75% of NM voters who voted to create the ethics commission in 2018.

Tracking update for these bills:

  • HB229, Changes to Election Law, passed the House State Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs committee on Friday, February 5th, and is awaiting scheduling in the House Judiciary. 

Updates on legislation that CCNM is also supporting:

  • SB 4, Complete Count in 2020 Census, passed unanimously out of the House, and has been sent up to the Governor’s Desk to be signed into law. A huge win for New Mexico communities and ensuring our state gets full funding and representation!
  • SB 64, Public Records Pertaining to Certain Claims, passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 5th and was passed unanimously on the Senate Floor on Saturday, February 8th. 
  • SJR 2, Designee on Appellate Judges Commission, passed Senate Rules Committee on Friday, January 31st and is headed to Senate Judiciary. 
  • SM 4, Centennial of League of Women Voters, passed the Senate Floor unanimously, and has been sent up to the Governor’s Desk to be signed into law.  This memorial declares February 6th, 2020, “League of Women Voters Day” in the Senate to recognize its 100th anniversary and the significant role played by the LWV in educating citizens and advancing government accountability.

Coming up (so far) this week:

Senate Judiciary Committee

Monday, February 8, 2020 – 2:30 p.m. – Room 321

  • SJR 7, Public Records Pertaining to Certain Claims
  • SJR 5, Legislative Term Limits

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