COMMENTARY: When special interest money overwhelms the voices of individual Americans, we wander farther from the original ideals of our democratic republic. Thus it is critical that we the people demand more transparency in the funding of our elections.
While under the yoke of Citizens United, we must re-establish accountability to the political campaign process and work together to shine a light on the escalating political campaign spending by corporations, labor unions and special interests that holds undue influence over governmental policy.
Take Back Our Republic is a conservative campaign finance reform organization that advocates for nonpartisan, commonsense disclosure of political contributions. We also believe in the individual’s right to both privacy and free speech. That’s why we support New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s proposed rules and regulations addressing campaign finance reporting.
It is well within the rule-making authority of Secretary Toulouse Oliver’s office that she provide necessary reforms and increased clarity to New Mexico’s Campaign Reporting Act statute. Moreover, it is the secretary of state’s statutory obligation to protect the integrity and fairness of our elections.
Case in point: Governor Martinez recently vetoed SB 96, legislation passed in the 2017 legislative session that would have fixed the unconstitutional language currently in the statute and required increased disclosure of political funding given by individuals and groups who spend big money in New Mexico’s political races. SB 96 was not, as many opposition groups would have you believe, an assault on of the privacy of the “little guy” who expresses his or her voice through political contributions within the prescribed limits. Rather, this legislation was an effort to expose dark money given at levels that far exceed the threshold of required reporting — the money given to tax exempt organizations so the sources can remain undisclosed.
SB 96 passed the state Legislature with bi-partisan sponsorship and overwhelming support in both the House and Senate. According to recent polls, increased disclosure of this “dark money spending” enjoys tremendous support (92 percent) among New Mexico business leaders and — even more importantly — is supported by nine out of 10 Land of Enchantment voters.
The secretary of state’s proposed rules to address these statutory loopholes accurately reflect the will of the people. When public support is the catalyst for bipartisan legislative support, it is clear indication of true representative democracy in action. These rules are a positive step toward rebuilding the public’s trust in government. They help reclaim our responsibility as citizens to make the electoral process work for us.
Those groups in opposition to disclosure like to use the catchy phrase “Transparency is for government; privacy is for people.” We couldn’t agree more — which is why we point out that the privacy of any individual or group who gives within the legally prescribed threshold is fully protected; their personal information remains undisclosed. But in order for us as citizens to have any expectation that government will be transparent, we must have transparency into the dark money spending that exceeds current disclosure threshold maximums — the money given to organizations that fund campaigns and attempts to buy influence with our elected officials.
Advocates for disclosure do not solely want to highlight the dark money flowing into local campaigns from political mega donors like George Soros and the Koch brothers. We do, however, believe any well-funded political organization must be held accountable for its electioneering activities, the same standard that is applied to individual citizens. Mega donors should not be able to “launder” their political contributions through tax exempt organizations that are clearly using that funding to sway our elections and influence our politicians.
Advocates for disclosure know that transparency in our electoral process is even more crucial at the municipal and state level, as the amount of money spent to influence local elections is also on the rise. New Mexican voters deserve to know exactly who is spending the dark money to attempt to influence the outcome of a local campaign, because it is a clear indication of whose interests might ultimately be served if a particular candidate is elected or ballot measure is passed.
States with higher levels of corruption spend more on budget items that benefit special interests while spending less on education, public welfare, health and hospitals. Since government is the single largest employer in New Mexico, it stands to reason that citizens deserve to know the sources of special interest money that pays for political campaigns in New Mexico.
There are two kinds of groups opposed to disclosure — those who don’t understand it, and those who do. Those who understand but oppose increased disclosure do so because they want to continue to avoid the reasonable scrutiny that would allow the electorate to see who is actually behind political messaging, especially the pivotal messaging that takes place in the last 30 days of an election. In short, they want to continue their manipulation and influence over our elections without having to disclose who finances their activities.
We at Take Back Our Republic say: enough is enough! Campaign finance reform is not a partisan issue. It is not designed to work to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or ideology. It is not about the government imposing more regulation, or trying to gain more access to our personal lives.
Campaign finance reform is driven by citizens who know our democracy is strongest and most effective when we remember that our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. That means we the people must demand transparency that will empower us to make informed, self-governing decisions when we vote.
Take Back Our Republic believes the rules and regulations proposed by the secretary of state create necessary, nation-leading disclosure measures that benefit each and every New Mexican.
Doug Nickle is a University of California, Berkeley graduate and former Major League Baseball pitcher. He now works to enact democracy-restoring reforms that increase voter empowerment and participation in our political process. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.