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…
Defeated Democratic lawmakers sue to overturn June 3 primary results
Three lawmakers who were defeated by progressive challengers in the June primary filed a lawsuit Friday alleging a “secret campaign” by nonprofit groups and their opponents that skirted campaign-finance laws and defrauded voters.
Because of the alleged conspiracy, the lawmakers say, their losses should be voided.
State Sens. Shannon Robinson and James Taylor and Rep. Dan Silva, all Albuquerque Democrats, say the alleged conspirators funneled at least $180,000 through the nonprofits, which aren’t subject to campaign disclosure laws, and used the money to distribute literature and make phone calls, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Without that effort, the lawmakers claim, they would have won the primary races.
Instead, Eric Griego defeated Taylor by 24 percentagepoints, Tim Keller defeated Robinson by 32 points and Eleanor Chavez defeated Silva by eight points. Unless the court rules otherwise, the incumbents will leave office at the end of the year.
The lawsuit was filed in district court in Albuquerque.
According to the Journal, the lawsuit names as defendants the Center for Civic Policy and its director, Conservation Voters of New Mexico and its director and president, SouthWest Organizing Project and its director, and New Energy Economy Inc. and its president and director. The groups have engaged in what they call a “Legislative Accountability Project” that has used mailers, radio ads and phone calls to highlight lawmakers’ voting records.
Eli Il Yong Lee, Executive Director, Center for Civic Policy, said in a statement, "We learned of the lawsuit through the media on Friday night, so we have little information at this time. Our organizations have a long and proud history of working for ethics reform, good government, health care and a clean environment. As nonpartisan, not-for-profit organizations, it is our responsibility to educate the public about the votes and contributions of our elected officials. Until we know more details, we cannot make further comments."
The recent work of the nonprofit groups has been controversial. The attorney general’s office earlier this year advised the secretary of state to change the status of one arm of the Center for Civic Policy, New Mexico Youth Organized, to force it to comply with reporting standards for political groups and candidates instead of those for nonprofits. The AG says the group’s targeting of the incumbents who lost crossed the line into campaign activity.
The group has disputed the AG’s opinion. It points to the approaching special session and the fact that it also targeted lawmakers who didn’t face primary challengers as evidence that its work is focused on policy, not politics. In addition, it points out, the mailers were sent out two to three months before the June primary.
The secretary of state has not yet acted, though a final decision on the status of New Mexico Youth Organized could come as early as this week.
Groups’ work has continued
In the meantime, the Legislative Accountability Project has continued. Four lawmakers, including Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson, R-Las Cruces, have been targeted in recent mailers and radio ads. Rawson has accused New Mexico Youth Organized, which sent the mailers targeting him, of conspiring with his Democratic opponent Steve Fischmann to skirt reporting laws, but Fischmann and the group say they are not working together.
In May, Neri Holguin, who managed two of the three Albuquerque challengers’ campaigns, told the Journal that the campaigns did not coordinate with the nonprofits or share campaign money.
Robinson told the Journal the groups “can’t create a scheme to violate campaign finance laws. … It’s fraud.” The newspaper notes that Robinson declined to share any evidence to back up the claims in the lawsuit.
The New Mexico Independent is owned by the Center for Independent Media in Washington. The Center for Civic Policy helped the center locate funding sources when the group was starting up its New Mexico news site earlier this year.