I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Campaign contribution limits move forward in N.M. Senate
SANTA FE — Legislation that would cap the amount that contributors could give to political candidates and elected officials easily cleared a Senate committee considered by some as wary of such measures.
Members of the Senate Rules Committee voted 7-0 Wednesday morning to approve legislation that supporters say would close a huge loophole.
New Mexico is among a handful of states across the country that does not limit what individuals, political action committees, political parties or businesses can give to candidates or elected officials.
Under the legislation, individuals could not give more than $2,300 during a calendar year. A limit of $5,000 over the same period would apply to a political committee and $10,000 for a political party.
The legislation also would cap what political committees and national and state political parties can give to candidates or to other committees or parties — $5,000 for each during a calendar year. It also would limit to $10,000 what a political party could give to a candidate or another political committee.
The legislation that passed Wednesday does not include a ban on money from lobbyists and state contractors to candidates, an idea being pushed by Gov. Bill Richardson this year.
Advocates of ethics reform were ecstatic that the legislation cleared Senate Rules but expressed concerns about the bill.
“We just are grateful that we have what we consider a major ethics reform bill make its way out of the committee,” said Steven Robert Allen, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico.
Still, Allen ticked off a few details that gave him pause, including a provision that would repeal contribution limits two years after the law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2011.
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and chairwoman of Senate Rules, said during Wednesday’s committee meeting that the sunset date for the legislation was to give the state a chance to review how limits on contributions were working.
Allen said the state could review the system in a different way.
“It’s entirely valid to want to look two years down the line and examine how things are functioning and maybe make tweaks to the system,” Allen said. “The Legislature is able to do that. They could just pass an amendment to existing law, and I think that’s a more appropriate way to deal with the review process.”
Allen said that capping campaign contributions over a calendar year instead of an election cycle would make it “slightly more favorable towards incumbents than towards challengers.”
Federal law sets separate limits for contributions over a primary election cycle and the general election cycle so a person can give $4,800 to a candidate during both cycles.
“The conventional wisdom is that challengers have a much harder time gathering donations during a (non-election) calendar year,” Allen said.
The swiftness with which the bill cleared the Senate Rules committee Wednesday stood in sharp relief with how the committee has moved during the first five weeks of this year’s 60-day legislative session on ethics reform legislation. The committee has moved deliberately – critics say slowly – to contemplate and vote on ethics reform legislation.
Lopez said the contribution-limits legislation wrapped several other similar proposals into it and was agreed on by the lawmakers sponsoring the other pieces of legislation.
This year’s push for ethics reform comes amid three separate investigations that are reviewing practices in state offices, including a federal inquiry into the business practices of Richardson’s administration. Two state probes, meanwhile, are looking into the operations of a defunct housing authority run by a friend of state House Speaker Ben Lujan and trying to find federal election money that went missing during the tenure of former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. In addition, former Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in October.
The limits have faced serious opposition in previous years, partly because legislators wondered why the legislative branch was included in the system when it was Richardson who collected eye-popping contributions. On occasion the governor saw $75,000 and $100,000 contributions go toward his election and re-election campaigns.
The contribution-limits bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who is viewed in some corners as an opponent of ethics reform, predicted Wednesday that the bill would sail through that committee.