GOP challenges state campaign contribution limits


The Roundhouse in Santa Fe (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

The Republican Party of New Mexico and others have filed a lawsuit challenging the state law that limits the size of campaign contributions.

The lawsuit seeks to void the $5,000 limits placed on donations to political parties, from national parties to state parties, from state parties to county parties, from parties to candidates or candidates’ political action committees, and on contributions made for the purpose of forming independent expenditures. It doesn’t challenge limits on the size of donations individuals can make to candidates.

“Today we filed a lawsuit to protect New Mexicans’ right to freedom of speech,” state GOP Executive Director Bryan Watkins said in a news release. “We are confident that we will be successful in this case, as cases from around the country have found in favor of protection of freedom of speech, including a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.”

Read the lawsuit here.

The law in question was enacted in 2009 and took effect following the 2010 election. It limits contributions to non-statewide candidates for office to $2,300 per election from any entity except a political committee, which can give $5,000 to non-statewide candidates. It limits contributions to statewide candidates for office, political action committees and political parties to $5,000 per election from individuals and groups.

The GOP lawsuit challenges the limits on several points, but the underlying issue – freedom of speech – comes largely in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. More than once the lawsuit claims a provision in the law is “unconstitutional because it burdens and chills First Amendment speech and associational rights without adequate justification and is not properly tailored, thereby failing constitutional scrutiny.”

Steven Robert Allen, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said the GOP will likely prevail on at least one point in the lawsuit: It’s pretty clear that states can’t limit the size of contributions to groups creating independent expenditures.

“So they’re probably right on that point,” he said.


Disclosure debate

However, Allen had some negative things to say about the attorney bringing the lawsuit on behalf of the state GOP – James Bopp Jr. from Indiana, a conservative who has been behind other efforts to undo campaign finance and disclosure laws and worked as a legal adviser to Citizens United in its case against the FEC.

“He’s got a vision for the United States that I personally find terrifying,” Allen said. “Part of what he wants to accomplish is to create a complete lack of transparency in campaign finance.”

“At the very least, for a democracy to function, we need to have transparency over that type of money,” Allen said. “If this guy accomplishes what he wants to accomplish, it would be difficult for me to even label the American government a form of Democracy anymore.”

Allen added that Bopp’s involvement in the state GOP’s lawsuit is indicative of “a national strategy to dismantle our campaign finance laws in the United States.”

The GOP lawsuit doesn’t seek to undo any state disclosure laws. Watkins said Republicans “believe information about contributors should be publicly available on the Internet, so New Mexicans can easily access donor information.

Watkins also alleged that it’s “liberal special interest groups in New Mexico” who have sought to work around finance laws “by forming nonprofit and charitable organizations to shield their donors and activities from the public.”

Law had bipartisan support

The GOP news release points out that the contribution-limit law was passed “by the Democrat controlled Legislature and signed by former Governor Richardson,” but it fails to mention that every GOP senator except Rod Adair, R-Roswell, voted in favor of that 2009 bill. The effort to impose contribution limits took years, and though support wasn’t unanimous (17 House members and 1 senator – Adair – voted against the final bill), it was widespread and bipartisan.

There are several other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Adair and Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque. Also listed as plaintiffs are the Republican parties of Bernalillo and Doña Ana counties, the PACs New Mexico Turnaround and New Mexicans for Economic Recovery, former state GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, Santa Fe resident Howard James Bohlander, and Hobbs resident Mark Veteto.

Update, 5:05 p.m.

Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the 2009 contribution limit bill, wrote this in an e-mail:

“This challenge, if successful, would open the floodgates to special interest cash from outside New Mexico and dwarf the effect of small donors to local campaigns. The days of Tom Delay and his massive transfer of funds from K-Street and national Republican organizations to state and local ones would be back – in spades. Although Tom Delay is now in jail, in 2010, the Republican State Leadership Committee spent nearly $20 million on state legislative races, taking control of 20 legislative chambers around the country (‘Republicans Ramp Up Redistricting Efforts,’ Washington Post,  Aaron Blake,  5.31.2011). They were unsuccessful in New Mexico and now want to use national money to try again to crowd out the voices of ordinary New Mexico voters.”

16 thoughts on “GOP challenges state campaign contribution limits

  1. IP,

    My mistake – it was not California, it was Maryland.
    And James O’Keefe who was involved in the taping of the ACORN video was arrested for an unrelated felony but pled to a misdemeanor of entering a federal building under false pretenses. I do not condone breaking the law to promote the greater good – that is my guess why they did that at the Senator’s office. I think that one of the people that helped him had a dad who was an acting US Attorney

    But I keep this in mind that several notable figures have been arrested for felony actions and several have been sued for the actions that they deemed worthy to defeat the evil that they saw happening. Whoever gets to decide the greater good always has a reason to break the law.

  2. Mr. Spear:

    The “undercover prostitution sting” you speak of involved individuals within ACORN rather than the organization as a whole (who were never charged with a crime and who have now filed a civil suit for defamation), was performed by a private individual with a history of selectively-editing videos to create his argument when little evidence exists in his favor and who has since been convicted of Federal crimes by attempting to tap the phones of a United States Senator, had absolutely nothing to do with President Obama, and I have no idea why you’re trying to blame Governor Brown for not prosecuting in California an incident that happened in Maryland. Thank you for proving my point that you’re nothing more than a parrot of the right.

  3. IP,

    We both know that whoever holds the keys to the prosecution decision making will be criticized if a person that they are aligned with does not get prosecuted. GWB was criticized; BHO was and is being criticized.

    Interesting – you claim that conservatives ran ACORN out of business. ACORN was receiving public and private funding. If an organization was as successful in helping people and legal as you claim it to be, it would be still in existence as we know it. Just one of the illegal activities that I am thinking of is the undercover prostitution sting. I realize the results of the undercover sting were deemed unusable due to the fact that the tape was secretly made selectively edited. But who was the Calif. AG at the time that made that call? That would be current California Gov. Jerry Brown. And who were the other officials rendering their opinions as to the actions of ACORN? All appointees of BHO.

    My biggest problem with ACORN was the federal funding that it received on one hand and then the partisan political activities that it did on the other hand.

    Back to the main point … I do not mind free speech with private money. I do mind free speech being advocated with federal money and with certain union monies.

  4. Speaking of campaign finances, any word on Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s investigation/possible prosecution regarding politicians not filing or incompletely filing their campaign contributions which is required by law? I believe some New Mexican politicians may be hiding ill gotten gains by grouping monies with campaign contributions. I also believe some individuals may be running for Office just to make a living off of campaign contributions and fundraisers. It would be a good idea to look into fundraising techniques to assure they are done legally. One must question why a politician would run for Office more than three or four or five times only to lose but then to still keep running. To me, that in itself appears to be a criminal operation. Please if anyone has an update on Duran’s investigations, a post would be appreciated!

  5. Mr. Spear:

    Considering that conservatives spent over a decade wasting taxpayer money investigating ACORN until they ran the organization out of existence, but were unable to prove that the group violated the law even once, I’d say that question answers itself. It is fairly clear that you have spent so much time cultivating a talent for parroting the right’s knee-jerk anti-citizen talking points that you have actually rendered yourself incapable of even comprehending the positions of people who have the temerity to disagree with you.

    Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t make it illegal. Indeed, considering the level of rationality you have typically displayed, I’d say that your disagreement is probably a pretty good indicator that something is very likely a good idea.

  6. IP,
    Bizarre or not – it is the law of the land which is capable of being overturned by amendment.
    In regards to your question …
    How can I ever forget about some of those unions who force their woekers to support positions that have nothing to do with labor practices? BTW, my list is longer than yours with organizations engaging in obviously illegal activities (but unprosecuted because Holder is the AG). How many ways has ACORN broken the law? We may never know.

  7. I am aware of that, Mr. Spear; that doesn’t mean that anyone capable of elementary logic agrees with Buckley, Citizens United, or any one of half-a-dozen other bizarre rulings that imbue small green pieces of paper with equal – if not superior – rights to living, breathing human beings. Let me ask you something; doesn’t it seem strange to you that any time someone on the left complains about Citizen’s United, Freedom Works, the Family Research Institute, the Eagle Forum, Club for Growth, American Crossroads, or any one of literally hundreds of corporate-backed, anti-populist, right-wing big money organizations who openly buy elections in this country, the right responds by shouting about George Soros… and no one else? Does the apparent disparity never occur to you lot?

  8. Democracy isn’t a one-way street. If the electorate cares so little or is so lazy to not do the research, attend the meetings and read the platforms and their votes can be purchased through the influence of big money then they deserve the government they get. I’m starting to hear a lot of whining that seems to be suggesting that we should be handed the correct information, unadulterated, with an easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy choice. It doesn’t work that way. It is the responsibility of those enjoying the abundant benefits of a democracy to do the work.

    So what if the SCOTUS allows billions of tainted money into the debate? If a voter isn’t smart enough to discern the BS from fact then perhaps democracy isn’t a good fit. Perhaps handing that voter the results of what those who bother to engage and participate choose is a better course.

    One of the advantages of having an economy in the tank (except for the banks and Wall Street) is that folks start to take a little more interest in the government policies that impact their pocket books and daily lives. This seems to be the case more and more. Hopefully, with folks taking a closer look at their lame, lazy, self-absorbed and corrupt politicians that are doing literally nothing to help average voters they (we, actually) will realize where we are as a country with those we currently have in charge of much of our government and vote accordingly. There will always be those who can be fooled into thinking they have a place at the table with the billionaires because this is a “democracy” and will vote against their own best interests. But, more and more we see the populace peeling back the onion of obfuscation and understanding better who the elected officials are batting for and which team they really are on. And it ain’t ours.

  9. Mesillero, ACORN doesn’t exist – the GOP took it down. Besides, it never had anywhere near the funding that Dick Armey’s so-called “Freedom Works” has and never influenced elections in the degree that right-wing organizations and the Supreme Court has.

  10. Sorry IP,

    In its 1976 opinion of Buckley v. Valeo, the SCOTUS decided that money is a form of speech. BTW, did George Soros help fund any of your candidates or causes in NM in the last election cycle?

  11. MelHop:

    In what way is money the same as speech? Equating the entirely artificial concept of currency with naturally-endowed free thought and free expression is, by definition undemocratic and anti-citizen, because it guarantees those with more money louder voices. Money is not speech. Period.

  12. How irresponsible can the “elected official” from Albuquerque be? If she is an elected official, she should at least get her facts straight. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is not in jail. A simple google search could have shown her that. Two, the ruling from the Supreme Court was Iron cast upholding the freedom of speech in this country. And guess what, it’s not the first time that the court has ruled this way – long BEFORE this current court. While I am definitely in favor of disclosure I am MOST in favor of free speech. I’m also interested in the facts, not political bias.

  13. Interesting article. I am not a fan of outside money, or inside money buying any state politicians. Is a matter of fact, I’m not a fan of any money buying any politicians. In the UK, there is a system in place that pretty much excludes the big boys from buying politicians. Perhaps we should take a hard look at that. I am pretty sure that our founding fathers did not envision the mess we have now on our hands. It seems ridiculous that a person wanting to run for President has to start running one day after the innaguration just to raise money. It is totally out of control. Now, bring that down to the state level and see what we are tyring to avoid. It’s a good idea but the fact that out of state money is seemingly exempt from the rule is worrisome. I don’t want somebody in Virginia deciding who should one of the next State Senators from here in New Mexico. Right now, in the NM state senate there already are some carpet baggers. We don’t need outside money telling us how to run our state. This is a topic that requires much more discussion.

  14. That’s the only way elitists can push their agenda, by buying it, then brain washing there sheep to argue for them. Pathetic.

    It is interesting to note that this legislation only limits New Mexican political organizations . In other words out of state (federally registered) non-profit special interest groups, from ACORN to Crossroads GPS, can spend unlimited amounts of money in our elections, completely drowning out the voices of New Mexican groups.

    This was no mistake: this is how elitists push their agenda. By limiting the voices of New Mexicans, they allow out of state groups an enormous financial advantage in any election. The gall they have in calling it “ethics legislation” disgusts me.

  15. What’s the matter the GOP doesn’t like the rules so they want to change them? Can’t get the grafted donations from slime ball corporate funders?

    Look if your morals and dogma are so righteous, just deal with the rules and you should win by a landslide. Right?

    Of course, you and your lot will never see it this way, and just wait for all the justifying excuses show up to explain how this is a “free country” and people should be able to contribute whatever the want.

    That’s the only way elitists can push their agenda, by buying it, then brain washing there sheep to argue for them. Pathetic.

  16. Heath,

    With the potential of out-of-state interests to flood our election cycles with campaign funds aimed at purchasing more corporate puppets like the one in my federal district, it would appear that rather than just Las Cruces, it is now our entire state that is under attack by outside money.

    Even worse, we now have a President who previously served as a Professor of Constitutional Law, who has committed the extrajudicial execution of American citizens using military weapons. Posse Commitatus? Sixth Amendment? Executive Order 1233? Do any of those terms ring a bell, Obama?

    In summation, we may soon be living in a nation where the highest bidder will be able to purchase all of our local representatives even before they enter office, and where anyone bold enough to disagree with this system may possibly find themselves isolated in solitary confinement incommunicado for years, or simply murdered under the assumption of guilt.