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.

“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.”

Is “Wild West” of campaign spending back before it ever left?

By Matthew Reichbach

Before campaign finance reforms were passed in 2009, the Wall Street Journal referred to New Mexico as the “political wild west.” In addition to a non-paid state legislature, no webcasting of legislative proceedings and no independent ethics board, the lack of campaign contribution limits was cited. Now, parts of the landmark contribution limit law that was passed in 2009, and which took effect the day after the 2010 elections, were put on hold by a district court judge.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson’s decision would allow state parties to receive unlimited donations from individuals or corporations. However, candidates themselves and organizations that coordinate with candidates would still only be allowed to receive donations of $5,000 per election from an individual or organization (with primaries counting as separate elections from the general elections).

The preliminary injunction went into effect immediately because the 2012 election cycle is already underway.

“Considering that the 2012 election cycle is in full swing and considering that the desired activities of Plaintiffs involve political free speech and association rights during an election year, this Preliminary Injunction shall remain in effect pending appeal unless stayed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Johnson wrote.

Citizens United lawyer James Bopp Jr. represented the State Republican Party in the lawsuit. As Clearly New Mexico reported at the time:

Joining the state Republican Party in the lawsuit are the county Republican Parties from Bernalillo and Dona Ana County, [State Sen. Rod] Adair [R-Roswell], Rep. Conrad James (R-Albuquerque), former New Mexico Republican Party chair Harvey Yates, Santa Fe resident Howard James Bohlander, and Hobbs resident Mark Veteto. New Mexico Turn Around, a political committee with ties to the state Republican Party and the Rio Grande Foundation, and the New Mexicans for Economic Recovery PAC are also plaintiffs on the suit.

Johnson decided to allow the unlimited contributions because of the controversial, and unpopular, Citizens United Supreme Court decision which allows unlimited funds to be used in aid or against a candidate.

Johnson quoted the decision by the Supreme Court, written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

“Laws that burden political speech are” accordingly “subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.”

Continue reading