Second-day Session Shake-up

Second-day Session Shake-up

Common Cause New Mexico reports on the new House committees, and Executive Director Viki Harrison is interviewed about the impact of Citizens United.

The new House majority began shaking things up with committees and committee assignments today, beginning with a 9:00 a.m. hearing held in the House Rules and Order of Business Committee.

HR1, introduced by the newly elected Floor Leader Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Albuquerque) proposes to rename and/or replace most of the committees in the House, as well as propose new meeting times of all House Committees. On a party line vote of 10-8, House Republicans voted to change “House Voters and Elections” to the “Government and Indian Affairs” and the “House Tax and Revenue” to “House Ways and Means” as well as changes to most of the chamber’s other standing committees.  

Common Cause New Mexico voiced concern that folding the dedicated “Voters and Elections” committee into a broader “Government Affairs” committee could lengthen the process in hearing complex voting issues. Voting and election law is the cornerstone of our democracy, and one in which all political parties has a vested interest in ensuring its timely and proper consideration.  

The resolution to change the committees and rules changes is expected on the House floor as early as tomorrow and must be approved by 2/3 (two-thirds) of the members of the House in order to pass.

Yesterday marked the 5-year anniversary of Citizen’s United and today, CCNM’s Viki Harrison spoke about the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision to the media.

Since January 2010, when the court ruled 5-4 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations, trade associations, labor unions and other groups have a constitutional right to spend any amount they want to influence elections, political donors from both sides of the aisle have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in political candidates’ campaigns and elected officials.

Preliminary reports from the Center for Responsive Politics peg the amount of “dark money” spent in contests nationwide in 2014 at $216 million – all without the pesky necessity of disclosing who the donors to these non-profit PACs were.  

Millions of dollars have since poured into political arena and have transformed our political campaigns into fundraising contests. Today’s candidates have to devote more time and energy to drumming up big-dollar donors than to spend addressing the challenges facing our state, communities and citizens.

This cash infusion has been tremendously damaging in New Mexico, as we struggle with a stagnant economy, underperforming schools and an ailing child-welfare system.

The justices insist that money equates to free speech and political spending is protected by the First Amendment. But Citizens United has simply produced more paid speech – television commercials, internet ads, mass mailings, billboards, faux documentaries – all opportunities for the wealthy and well-connected to convert their cash into political power. The decision gave that handful of Americans a license to grab their bullhorns and shout down the rest of us.

We can do better, and millions of us are trying. As of last year, more than five million people have signed petitions demanding a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United and again give Congress and our state legislatures the ability to put sensible limits on political spending. Voters or legislators in 16 states and about 500 localities, with a total population of more than 120 million, also have called for an amendment; one of several draft amendments introduced in Congress, got 54 votes – a clear majority – last September in the U.S. Senate.

The amendment would simply restore laws in place before Citizens United; it expressly protects freedom of the press and bars any attempt to restrict the content of one’s speech. The reasonable spending limits it would permit would make it possible to ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard but no one is able to drown out other speakers.

That about covers it today, folks! Tune in tomorrow for more updates!