House votes to oppose Citizens United

By Matthew Reichbach

Rep. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) in floor debate on memorial calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Photo by Matthew Reichbach.

The state House of Representatives voted to ask Congress to send the states a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. The House voted 38-29 with all Democrats, one Republican and one independent voting for the proposal.

Referring to the millions of dollars of Super PAC campaign spending this year, Rep. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) said, “There are plenty of people in our districts and in our state that are not happy with the political process in general and this just adds fuel to the fire.”

The Citizens United decision is a controversial and unpopular decision. One effect of the Citizens United decision is in allowing corporations to make unlimited “independent” expenditures, much of it undisclosed, that aid or oppose political candidates.

These “Super PACs” have come to special prominence by spending millions of dollars in the current Republican presidential primary. This includes $10 million in donations from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson to a Super PAC that some say is “singlehandedly keeping Newt [Gingrich] alive” in the presidential race.

Stewart’s memorial, which would not change existing law but rather petitions the New Mexico congressional delegation, encountered opposition from a few Republicans during the floor debate that preceded final passage.

In an interesting note, Minority Leader Tom Taylor (R-Farmington) said he did not believe the memorial went far enough.

“You have the right to speak but you also have the responsibility to let people know who you are,” Taylor said. This may have been a reference to the greatly reduced donor disclosure that has been one of the results of the Citizens United decision, but it was not entirely clear. Taylor ultimately voted against the memorial.

He said that if Citizens United is overturned, corporations would just funnel their money into other entities to make their views known.

Rep. Dennis Kintigh (R-Roswell) reprised his role from the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee in opposing the memorial and questioned Stewart on the memorial.

Kintigh said he found the memorial “chilling” and said it was a case of free speech.

Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque) disputed this, and said that corporations do not deserve the same rights as people.

“The Supreme Court got it wrong,” Maestas said. “Corporations are not people. They are not human beings.”

Stewart said, “Our Constitution starts out as ‘We the people’ not ‘we the corporations.'”

The notion that corporations are considered people is unpopular. In fact, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was widely considered to have committed a gaffe when he told a Iowa State Fair goer, “Corporations are people, my friend.”

Rep. Brian Egolf said that he had no problems with corporations and, in fact, said his law firm is a corporation.

Egolf paraphrased a quote from Bill Moyers that is widely quoted by those who do not believe that corporate entities are people when he said, “I’ll really believe that corporations are people when the state of Texas decides to execute one.”

Passed House after failing last year

A similar memorial expressing opposition to Citizens United failed in the House in 2011 by a 33-34 vote. Like this year, three Representatives were absent for the vote.

Reps. Tomas Garcia (D-Ocate), Don Tripp (R-Socorro) and Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch) voted “no” in 2011 and switched over to vote for the memorial in 2012.

Reps. Bob Wooley (R-Roswell) and Paul Bandy (R-Aztec) missed the vote this year after voting against it in 2011.

Rep. David Chavez (R-Los Lunas) was absent for the votes in both years.

However, Wooley, Bandy and Chavez were all present for the floor debate on the memorial, prior to the vote being taken.

Odds and Ends

  • Sen. Steve Fischmann (D-Las Cruces) has an identical memorial in the Senate. That memorial passed the Senate Rules Committee and now awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Rep. Conrad James (R-Albuquerque) spoke of proposing an amendment that, in exchange for eliminating the right of corporations to expend unlimited money on campaigns, would exempt corporations from all income taxes. Stewart responded by listing a number of advantages afforded to corporations in the tax code – the most obvious one being limited liability, a privilege not granted to individuals.
  • Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad) made an interesting argument when she said that this would make rich individuals have a more speech than those less affluent. Brown said, “A billionaire could have a whole lot more free speech than anyone in this chamber.”
  • Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC “Americans for a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow” raised over $1 million. The Fix blog at the Washington Post believes that this is helping educate the public about Super PACs.

Free Speech for People (VIDEO)

Sarah Kennedy’s latest video once again tackles the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case.

We’re already starting to see the unhealthy impacts on our democracy brought on by unlimited corporate campaign spending and non-disclosure of donors.

Never before in our nation’s history has the “Golden Rule” of elections been more dominant. “The guy with the most gold rules.”

That guy can certainly buy a bigger megaphone to get his message out — as Sarah’s video makes clear.

Drivers license debate: The sequel might turn out like the original

By Matthew Reichbach

The debate over drivers licenses for foreign nationals looks like it may be a replay of 2011. The bill failed in a House committee Thursday, but the sponsor of the bill, Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch), vowed to once again blast the bill to the floor of the House, bypassing the committee process.

The debate once again was polarized with opponents on both sides flooding the largest legislative committee chamber to express their opinion on the subject.

Ultimately, the House Labor and Human Resources Committee chose to pass a substitute version of the legislation and table the original legislation. The substitute bill echoes the drivers license legislation passed by the Senate last year, which the Senate described as a compromise bill.

Proponents of the repeal touted a recent Associated Press report that indicated fraud in drivers license procurement while opponents of the repeal said the reported fraud could be handled with better enforcement and more stringent laws rather than the drastic measure of the repeal.

The substitute bill would instate tighter residency requirements, limit drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants to two years and increase penalties for anyone involved in purchasing drivers licenses through fraudulent means.

Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla told NMPolitics.net reporter Gwyneth Doland that there was 80 percent fraud in the drivers license process. It is unclear what sample Padilla is using in her claims, however.

You can listen to the interview for yourself: 
Secretary Demesia Padilla on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants by gwyneth-doland
 

Even if the substitute version of the drivers license legislation passes the House — not an assurance as Democrats have a razor-thin majority and Democrat-turned-Independent Andy Nuñez vehemently opposes the substitute legislation — and the Senate, Gov. Susana Martinez has expressed her opposition to the bill.

If the substitute bill does not pass the House and Nuñez’s original version does, it will likely once again fail in the state Senate. If this turns out to be the outcome, the drivers license debate will be nothing but a rerun of 2011.

Compromise?

Democrats have characterized Martinez and the Republicans as unwilling to compromise. In her State of the State address, however, Martinez said she compromised by adopting something that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Al Park (D-Albuquerque) said.

Milan Simonich subsequently dug into the statement that raised eyebrows at New Mexico Capitol Report and found that the claims of compromise were dubious at best.

Park, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview that Nunez’s initial bill would have revoked the driver’s licenses of foreign nationals. This would have subjected those in the country legally and illegally to losing their driver’s licenses.
[...]
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said Nunez simply could not take away more than 80,000 driver’s licenses that motorists had paid for. They had a property right to what they had purchased.

Maestas said revocations would have cost cash-poor New Mexico millions of dollars in refunds.

Keith Gardner also made a claim about a compromise during the hearing. From KRQE reporter Katie Kim:

The substitute bill now heads to House Judiciary Committee.

Senate, House panels pass memorials urging amendment to U.S Constitution overturning Citizens United decision

By Matthew Reichbach

Sens. Eric Griego and Steve Fischmann discussing their proposals to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. Photo by Matthew Reichbach.

Committees in both the Senate and House have approved memorials that call for Congress to pass and send back to the states for ratification an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn the controversial and unpopular 5 to 4 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2010.

The History

The Citizens United decision allows corporations to contribute an unlimited amount of money to groups that support or oppose candidates. It swept away decades of campaign finance law aimed at reining in the influence of money in politics.

This is a tradition of reform that dates back as far as the Tillman Act of 1907 that was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt and banned direct corporate contributions in federal election campaigns.

Because this Supreme Court decision now trumps anything that Congress could do on its own, a constitutional amendment is the only recourse. Seven times previously in our nation’s history, the constitutional amendment route has been used to reverse Supreme Court decisions.

The most prominent example is probably the Fourteenth Amendment that was needed to overrule the pre-Civil War era Dred Scott decision, which enshrined Chief Justice Roger Taney’s constitutional interpretation that said black people were not, and could not become, citizens of the United States or enjoy any of the privileges and immunities of citizenship.

Legislative action

Fast forward to 2012 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On Thursday the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted to give HM4 a “Do Pass” recommendation, sending it to the House floor. It passed on 3-2 party line vote with Democrats in support and both Republicans voting against.

Friday morning, two Citizens United memorials moved forward with bipartisan support as the Senate Rules Committee unanimously gave a “Do Pass” to SM3 and SJM24. Two Republican Senators joined with the five Democrats in support of the two measures which now move on to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

UPDATE:

Sens. William Burt (R-Alamogordo) and Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) later changed their votes to vote against the memorials. The official vote is 5-2.

“I heard all the time from my constituents and the public in general about the lack of confidence in our political system,” Rep. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque), the sponsor of the House memorial, said during the hearing. “And really the biggest complaint is money in politics.”

Sen. Steve Fischmann (D-Las Cruces), the sponsor of the Senate memorial, said that he invests in some mutual funds who could use that money to spread messages that he does not agree with and that they are “usurping” his free speech.

“I don’t think that’s democracy,” Fischmann said.

Sen. Eric Griego sponsored the Joint Memorial which echoes a national proposal by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Fischmann said his memorial allows more latitude in approaches to undoing the harm caused by the Citizens United decision.

At last count, five amendment resolutions addressing Citizens United have been introduced in the congress, including one by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall.

In explaining his opposition, Dennis Kintigh (R-Roswell) said he would be “hypocritical” to vote for the memorial because he was the recipient of a huge amount of money when he defeated House Minority Whip Dan Foley in a 2008 party primary. (Heath Haussamen reported extensively on that race – here and here.)

“I would not have succeeded without significant funding,” Kintigh said.

Continue reading

Call for PRC Chair resignation after audit finds “pervasive abuse of taxpayer resources”

By Matthew Reichbach

An audit released by State Auditor Hector Balderas today found “pervasive abuse of taxpayer resources” at the Public Regulations Commission — well beyond disgraced former PRC commissioner Jerome Block Jr. Included is PRC Chairman Patrick Lyons, prompting State Auditor Hector Balderas to call for Lyons’ resignation.

“Tips we’ve received indicate that Commission employees are scared to come forward with information they may have,” Balderas said in a press release. “The tone of intimidation trickles down from the top.”

“Chairman Lyons is part of the problem, and he should reimburse the taxpayers and resign his position,” Balderas said in the release.

According to the press release, Lyons drove a truck purchased with federal funds “for approximately 65 days in violation of a federal pipeline safety program.”

One of the problems found in the special audit was abuse of gas cards. KOB-TV found that Jerome Block Jr. spent around $4,000 on gas using a state gas card between January to May of 2011, including instances of multiple fill ups within the same hour.

The audit found that 26 different persons lacked “documentation in the vehicle travel log supporting a vehicle was driven on the day a fuel purchase was completed” for a total of 1,056 times.

And there were 95 non-fuel transactions that were not supported by a receipt between 24 people totaling $2,143.

Other violations included 3 out of state trips using government vehicles without an approved waiver and purchasing premium gasoline which violates state regulations.

The special audit was conducted by Atkinson and Co., Ltd., and can be downloaded from the website of the State Auditor.

Senate floor action features criticism of Governor’s messages and the Albuquerque Journal’s coverage

By Matthew Reichbach

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings speaking on the floor of the Senate. Photo by Matthew Reichbach.

Two state Senators stood on the Senate floor today and leveled criticism at the Governor’s office for its handling messages to the legislature, and at the Albuquerque Journal for a news story about the controversy. The issue of Governor’s messages has a bearing on on which bills can be ruled as germane for consideration during the session.

In a 30-day session like the current one, the only bills allowed to be considered and acted upon are those that pertain to budget matters — or those that are related to any subject contained in a Governor’s message. Some lawmakers have said that the messages from Martinez are overly broad and would create a logjam of legislation during the 30-day session.

Martinez was criticized last year for adding a large number of subjects to the official call for September’s special session which some legislators, predominantly Democrats, said would distract from the constitutionally mandated task of redistricting — a complicated job that happens only once every ten years.

At issue in the Albuquerque Journal story was a quote from Scott Darnell, a spokesman for Martinez.

“Despite our efforts to be accommodating, they have expressed a desire to be more restrictive and … we will work with that, but members who are unhappy with their bill not being heard would need to speak with their leadership – and not the Governor’s Office,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings (D-Roswell) took exception to the quote, saying, “There were no errors on the part of the Senate or House. The messages were very broad.”

Jennings explained that the Senate would not ask the Governor to “pull back” her messages to the Senate and issue new, narrower messages, but instead keep the original messages in place and that future messages be made narrower in scope. Jennings explained that the Senate Committee on Committees had already ruled legislation germane based on the original messages, adding that it would be unfair now to pull that legislation back.

“Those messages had gone out and the cards had been played,” Jennings said.

Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) criticized the Albuquerque Journal for its story, accusing it of bias.

McSorley said the Journal does not get both sides of the story. “They seem to reprint press releases from the Governor’s office and that they’re not really helping people of the state of New Mexico understand how their government functions and how the stakes are made.”

Of course, legislators complaining about the way the media writes a story or about the Governor’s actions is not unusual. However, it does provide an interesting interlude during the early days of the session when most of the action is dominated by routine minutiae like passing committee reports and expressing support for the Boys and Girl Club of New Mexico.

Odds and Ends

  • The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that even some in the Republican Party were critical of the Governor’s messages.
  • McSorley noted that the Albuquerque Journal does not pay gross receipts tax. This brings to mind a move in Oklahoma to place a sales tax on on the cost of newspapers to pay for bonuses for National Board Certified teachers.
  • Over 200 bills have been introduced in the Senate so far this session — only a fraction of those will make it out of committee, let alone be passed along fro Martinez’s signature — or veto.

Hundreds rally at Roundhouse in support of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants

By Matthew Reichbach

A nun participating in the protest against repealing the law allowing undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

Hundreds of immigrants and supporters of immigrant drivers licenses rallied outside the Roundhouse Tuesday morning hoping to send a message to Gov. Susana Martinez. The rally, so far the largest at the Roundhouse in the 2012 session, included support from the Catholic Church and organized labor.

A theme among the protests was that keeping the current drivers license policy promotes greater public safety by giving law enforcement a current and complete database of driving and other offenses.

“You drink, you drive, who knows?” was a popular chant, referring to the popular anti-DWI campaign, “You drink, you drive, you lose.”

Allen Sanchez, Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaking at drivers license rally. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

The Catholic Church has been a staunch opponent of the movement to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to earn New Mexico drivers licenses.

Allen Sanchez, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed his speech from a similar rally in September.

“I have a message,” Sanchez told the crowd. “Governor, Jesus was an immigrant!”

Sanchez said that this is a “gospel issue” for the Catholic bishops in New Mexico and said that the legislature should instead be focused on other priorities during the session — notably funding schools and creating jobs.

Daniel Manzano, Director of Policy and Communication for the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that keeping drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants was important for his group for three main reasons.

For example, it allows victims of domestic violence to be able to drive away from abusive husbands “safely and legally.” He also said that driver licenses would allow these women to be financially independent. He also said the drivers licenses count as a form of identification for the courts, which is necessary to get an order of protection.

“The weather can’t even stop us today,” Manzano said, referring to the overcast skies and occasional flakes of snow dropping onto the large crowd.

Odds and Ends

  • A clever noisemaker that was handed out to many protesters was made out of two plastic cups taped together with rocks inside.
  • A chant that the protesters repeated while marching around the Roundhouse and in front of the rally’s stage was, “Susana, escucha, somos en la lucha!” Loosely translated, that means, “Susana, listen, we are in the struggle!”
  • The most popular headwear at the rally was Los Angeles Dodgers hats. The Dodgers are popular among the Mexican-American community in large part because of Fernando Valenzuela, the legendary Mexican lefthander who won 173 games in 17 big league seasons.
  • For more photos, see my Flickr set.

“Let’s Do This”: Rap Video calls for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United decision (VIDEO)

Be sure to tune in this afternoon at 5 PM to hear a live interview with Citizens United “rapper” Sarah Kennedy on your radio dial at KSFR 101FM or livestream here.

A rap video about “Citizens United”? Citizens what?

For your information, two memorials have been introduced in both the New Mexico State Senate and House of Representatives that, if passed, would put New Mexico on record in opposition the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.

That’s the decision which is directly responsible for the rise of the “Super PACs” and the unprecedented avalanche of money that has been pouring into Republican presidential primary campaigns thus far this year – millions from big corporations and a few extremely wealthy individuals.

But we ain’t seen nothing yet. The millions spent in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will soon pale in comparison to the hundreds and hundreds of millions that will be unleashed in this fall’s general election at the federal, state and local levels.

The Super PAC attacks in the Republican primaries prompted Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to declare that Citizens United is “one of the worst decisions I have ever seen.” He predicted “there will be huge scandals associated with this huge flood of money.”

The two New Mexico memorials, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fischmann (D-Las Cruces) and Rep. Mimi Stewart (D-Abq), would have each house of the legislature call upon the the Congress to pass, and then send back to the states for ratification, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn Citizens United.

By passing these memorials, New Mexico would join a growing list of communities and states that are debating and passing similar resolutions and ballot referendums, including Los Angeles, Portland, OR, Boulder, CO and Missoula, MT. The Missoula ballot question passed with 75% of the vote.

Results of a poll by Hart Research Associates showed that 79% of voters support passage of a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case and make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people, including 42% who would definitely support it. Just 21% are opposed. Large majorities of Democrats (87%), independents (82%), and Republicans (68%) support passage of the amendment.

All of which compelled our very own Sarah Kennedy to produce this rap video in support of New Mexico State Senate Memorial 3. Listen up:

 

 

Duelling Roundhouse Rallies: Occupy and Tea Party at Session’s Opening Day

By Matthew Reichbach

The Tea Party has been a force in politics, especially among conservatives, since it gained prominence in 2009. The New Mexico groups gathered for their third rally at the Roundhouse on Tuesday — but this time, the Tea Party had company.

Occupy groups from around the state gathered on the east side of the Roundhouse — and outnumbered the Tea Party protesters on the opposite side of the Roundhouse.

The two rallies had similarities — crowds of New Mexicans holding signs and cheering on speeches from speakers. But the similarities were superficial.

The Occupy crowd was filled with signs calling for the end of corporate involvement in campaigns and signs in Spanish opposing Martinez’s proposal to repeal drivers license for undocumented immigrants. The Tea Party signs were in support of the drivers license repeal and called for mandatory voter identification at the polls.

What the crowed responded to was different as well. The largest applause line at the Tea Party rally was when Lt. Gov. John Sanchez said, “The first thing we need to do is elect a new President.” At the Occupy rally, a large cheer went up when state Sen. Eric Griego said, “money isn’t speech — we need corporations out.”

Griego also signed the 99 Pledge in front of the crowd.

The Democratic state Senator, who is running for Congress in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, said he would support a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizen’s United, the controversial Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money in support or opposition to a political candidate.

At the Tea Party rally, Marita K. Noon, head of the energy group CARE, railed against the possible listing of the Sand Dune Lizard as an endangered species. Opposition to the listing of the lizard has become cause célèbre for conservatives, especially Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM).

The Occupy group ultimately received more media attention for an attempted — though unsuccessful — “mic check” of Martinez at the beginning of her State of the State address. The Occupy protesters involved were quickly ushered out of the room.

Odds and Ends

  • The two candidates with major presences at the Tea Party rally were Rick Newton, a Republican running for Congress in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, and Greg Sowards, running for U.S. Senate.
  • The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that there “were no major confrontations between the two groups.”