New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver on Friday issued the final version of her new campaign finance rules that require more information about donors to so-called dark money groups -- independent nonprofits that spend money trying to influence voters during elections.
The new rule, which will go into effect Oct. 10, the first day of the new campaign finance reporting period, will change that, requiring such groups to report the names and addresses of those contributing more than $200. While advocates of the rule say it will increase transparency in campaign spending, a coalition of conservative and libertarian groups has opposed it, saying it will stifle the political process and raises privacy concerns.
"For too long our campaign finance disclosure laws have been vague and confusing, and this rule will provide much needed guidance and clarity," Toulouse Oliver said in a news release. "The rule will also help to shine a light on the dark money that has been plaguing our state's campaigns."
A spokesman for one national group that has been fighting the new requirements suggested Friday that a legal challenge is already in the works.
"Make no mistake: if implemented and left unchallenged, this measure will freeze open debate in New Mexico and expose many citizens to harassment and intimidation over the causes they support," said Dan Caldwell, policy director for Concerned Veterans for America. The veterans organization is largely funded by groups associated with the conservative Koch brothers.
"Hundreds of concerned New Mexicans across the state submitted comments to Toulouse Oliver urging her to drop this deeply flawed rule," Caldwell said, "and their voices are being ignored by the same officials entrusted with serving and protecting them.
"This disturbing situation underscores exactly why free speech rights need to be fiercely defended," he added.
"When the government wants to silence people, it can and often will. ... It is existential to our democracy that citizens retain the ability to speak up in the face of this kind of government abuse and oppression."
Supporting the rule changes is Common Cause New Mexico, which has pushed for the changes in the Legislature for years.
"Our campaign reporting act has been languishing for seven years," said Heather Ferguson, legislative director for the group.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions, such as in the Citizens United case, have rendered many sections of the state's campaign finance laws obsolete, Ferguson said.
"The public doesn't want these nameless, faceless ads," she said. Referring to those who want to spend hundreds of dollars with the independent expenditure groups, she said, "If you buy the ticket, you have to ride the ride."
The rule contains some features of Senate Bill 96, which passed both chambers of the New Mexico state Legislature with bipartisan support earlier this year but was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.
Toulouse Oliver introduced a draft version of the rule in June. Since then, she's held four public hearings on the proposal, including sessions in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces.
Currently, political action committees and other organizations formed primarily for a political purpose have to file reports with the Secretary of State's Office disclosing donors. But "dark money" nonprofit groups don't have to disclose any contributors, list how they spend their money or file any such reports.
"These groups have in turn flooded elections with advertising and played a large role in some races, all with little transparency," Toulouse Oliver's news release said.