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…
AG stands by letter, disagrees with nonprofit over ‘campaign mailers’
LAS CRUCES — The Attorney General’s Office is standing by its assertion that a nonprofit’s activities have crossed the line between policy lobbying and political campaigning and its prior advice that the group comply with campaign finance reporting laws.
“There’s an old saying that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck,” King said in the release. “And I think we know a duck when we see one.”
Meanwhile, a group that oversees the nonprofit in question said it disagreed with the Attorney General’s position.
The statement from Attorney General Gary King was issued this afternoon in a strongly worded news release. The release appeared to be a direct response to an article in the New Mexico Independent published earlier today in which the deputy secretary of state was quoted as saying the AG’s office had told him to disregard that advice.
The release said King stands by a letter from his chief deputy Albert Lama.
“Despite some reports to the contrary, we fully support our earlier position in a letter that the Secretary of State’s office needs to tell New Mexico Youth Organization (NMYO) to immediately comply with the law,” King said. “Due to the spread of misinformation there seems to be some thought that my office had ‘disavowed’ our letter or told the secretary of state to ‘ignore’ our advice. That is just not true.”
“If the deputy secretary of state thought we had instructed him to simply ignore our letter, then that was a misunderstanding on his part of what was said,” King said in the release.
The Attorney General’s press release went on to say that his office continues to firmly support the position in the letter. But at the same time it says the AG is continuing to study the issue.
That ongoing effort took place after the Secretary of State’s Office forwarded a letter from the Center for Civic Policy (CCP), which oversees the nonprofit at the center of the controversy, New Mexico Youth Organized. "In the letter, the (Center for Civic Policy) set forth a number of claims supporting NMYO’s actions and urged the Secretary of State not to grant the (Attorney General’s) request. Before they made a decision to disregard or follow the AG’s advice, the SOS was asked to let the AG’s office closely examine the CCP’s claims and report back. That is where the issue stands today."
Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said Friday the only reason the secretary of state hasn’t acted is because the AG asked that office to hold off while it considered the arguments of the Center for Civic Policy.
“We wanted to see what the Center for Civic Policy was saying too, why they were saying our advice was incorrect or flawed,” Sisneros said. “We’re doing the due diligence on this.”
Lest anyone think that means King’s office might back away from Lama’s letter, Sisneros said in an interview that isn’t going to happen.
“We’re pretty firm in the position,” he said. But Sisneros also told the Independent on Thursday that the office remains open to how it would decide the issue.
Sisneros said there’s no timeline for when the AG will complete its review of the Center for Civic Policy’s arguments.
The Independent article was headlined “Ignore that letter” and quoted Deputy Secretary of State Don Francisco Trujillo as saying that, after Lama sent the May 22 letter telling the secretary of state to change the status of New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO), Lama called and told him “to disregard (the letter) or set it aside. I don’t remember the exact terminology. The message was, ‘We’ve decided that is not our final say.’”
Contacted Friday after the AG had issued its press release, Trujillo said the Independent had quoted him correctly. He also said no one from the AG’s office had called him to tell him that the situation had changed.
AG says mailers were campaign materials
The controversy surrounds mailers NMYO, its parent non-profit the Center for Civic Policy and other progressive groups sent two to three months before the June primary targeting several Democratic lawmakers. Though Lama’s letter doesn’t mention the mailers, today’s news release state’s that the AG’s opinion is based at least in part on the belief that the mailers were campaign materials, not lobbying materials.
Officials with NMYO and the Center for Civic Policy argue that the mailers were policy-based and aimed to influence lawmakers in advance of the approaching special session and had nothing to do with the election. They point to the fact that the mailers stopped two months before the election and say some lawmakers who weren’t in hotly contested races were targeted along with those who lost at the hands of progressives.
King isn’t buying it.
“The group claims that the mailers it sent out were not campaign materials,” his news release states. “The attorney general disagrees.”
The policy director for the Center for Civic Policy, Matt Brix, said in an interview that the group is “disappointed in the directive that Attorney General King’s office has released, and we strongly disagree with their conclusions reached.”
Despite the AG’s advice, the secretary of state’s office hasn’t changed the status of NMYO. Officials have said that is because the situation is still under review.
And even after the AG reaches a conclusion, that doesn’t necessarily mean the secretary of state will follow the AG’s advice. Lama’s original letter states that it followed an April 25 letter in which the secretary of state decided that NMYO was a lobbying organization not subject to the Campaign Practices Act.