Foundation’s argument for donor secrecy is laughable


Editor’s note: This is in response to Paul Gessing’s Aug. 7 column, “Why the Rio Grande Foundation is suing Santa Fe.”

COMMENTARY: After reading your recent column, I wish I could be the first to tell you that your argument doesn’t pass the laugh test. I mean that quite literally, as I chuckled while reading your claims and looking at the website you linked to.

Art Terrazas

Courtesy photo

Art Terrazas

What you have done, through your actions, is prove why campaign finance and transparency laws are necessary. Organizations like yours are able to skirt them while still engaging in campaign activity without having to meet any of the standards of accountability.

It defies any sense of logic to believe the statement that your group “never expressly advocated for or against the soda tax” when, in the next sentence, you wrote, “the Rio Grande Foundation has consistently fought against higher taxes and bigger government.” I do not think I have ever seen anyone write such a blatant contradiction and expect to be taken seriously.

True, you don’t seem to have said or written, “We are against this soda tax and you should vote against it,” but it is disingenuous to say you never advocated against the tax. The website and video you cite uses the following words and phrases when describing the proposed tax: “truly terrible,” “harmful,” “regressive,” “bad,” “expensive” and “disaster.” When asking about the soda tax, the video actually poses a question, “Do we want this to happen in Santa Fe?” and answers it by saying “no way.”

Your website also encourages people to vote in the election after presenting the tax in a negative light. Just because you don’t use the words or phrase “we ask you to vote ‘no’ on the tax” you are able to operate as an “educational” group and are not subject to finance laws. You are, however, able to paint the proposed tax in a negative light anyway.

Your rationale and actions are part of the reason people have disengaged from politics and totally lost faith in the system. You’re practicing theater of the absurd here. Simply choosing to use different words doesn’t change the fact that you are engaging in campaign activity.

You think you should get a pass just because you didn’t say the magic words in the right sequence?


I also have to take issue with you when you have the temerity to compare yourself with the NAACP in 1958. You know why the NAACP didn’t want to disclose its donors? Because it jeopardized their lives. Not their business, not their profit margins, not their public perception. Their lives. James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were killed in 1964 just for volunteering to help register African Americans to vote. Churches were being bombed.

You think that whatever boycott your donors might face is comparable harm? It’s not even in the same universe.

And let’s talk about your donors, because they are really what this argument is about. Firstly, state and federal campaigns are legally obligated to report in-kind contributions. Goods or services delivered to a candidate or PAC have to be listed as in-kind donations and attributed fair market value. Because, though they were given, they still have monetary value and therefore provide campaigns with resources.

I do not know why this must be explained to an organization that allegedly espouses free-market principles, but we’ll let it go for now. The question is, why shouldn’t in-kind contributions to your campaign be any different?

It took time to create the website and video you linked to. In fact, I actually spoke to a colleague who works in a media firm that creates websites and videos such as these. He said fair-market value could be at least $3,000, which would be far more than the $250.00 limit you claim not to have exceeded.

The law dictates that candidates for public office and political action committees must list contributions. In many cases the name, address and even place of employment are also listed. This is done to prevent flagrant corruption, malfeasance and simple bribery. When an organization like yours engages in a political campaign (which is what this was) you should be held to the same standard. Voters deserve to know who is making the claims you communicate. How much of your efforts were paid for by donations from soda companies? Or vendors of sugary drinks? Or anyone else who had a financial stake in keeping the overall cost of these beverages low?

People deserve to know. When they are told only one side of the story without all the facts, it’s not education. It’s manipulation. The very least you could do is be honest about who is paying you to say what. And if your organization didn’t receive money from someone who had a financial interest in defeating the tax, then your argument would actually be strengthened.

Should you chose not to this, then just pay the fine levied against you. Don’t worry, if you can’t afford it you can always raise money by selling some sodas.

Art Terrazas is a former resident of Anthony, New Mexico and graduate of New Mexico State University. He lives and works in Washington D.C. for a nonprofit organization. His views are his own. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.

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