Citizens United attorney seeks to overturn N.M. campaign finance reform

By Matthew Reichbach

On Friday, the Republican Party of New Mexico and its allies filed suit in federal court to invalidate the campaign contribution limits law passed by the legislature in 2009. The lawsuit cites the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision giving corporations the right to make unlimited campaign ads—often without disclosing the donors who funded the ads.

James Bopp Jr.

James Bopp Jr., the attorney who brought that Citizens United case, is representing the state GOP in this new lawsuit. Bopp is spearheading a national strategy to end campaign finance and disclosure laws.

Game Plan

In a recent New York Times story, Bopp described the strategy in this way: “We had a 10-year plan to take all this down… And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.”

According to Bloomberg, “Of 31 lawsuits challenging campaign finance regulations tracked by the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, Bopp filed 21, including a case that led to creation of independent groups that raise unlimited sums of money to run political ads.”

This was before the New Mexico lawsuit.

The New Mexico contribution limits law, which went into effect immediately after the 2010 elections, restricts individuals or entities from donating more than $2,300 to a non-statewide candidate in an election, or $5,000 to a statewide candidate, a political party or political action committee. Primaries and general elections are as treated as separate elections.

The law also bars political parties or PACs from donating more than $5,000 to an individual candidate in any given election.

Prior to passage of the law, New Mexico was one of the five remaining states that had resisted the imposing limits on campaign contributions.

A statement released by the state Republican Party expressed optimism that the suit will overturn the limits law. “We are confident that we will be successful in this case, as cases from around the country have found in favor of protection of freedom of speech, including a recent United States Supreme Court decision.”

If the New Mexico contribution limits should be struck down, what would the future campaign finance landscape look like? Recent actions by plaintiffs’ attorney Bopp may offer a clue to what he might be envisioning.

In May of this year, Bopp filed filed registration papers with the Federal Election Commission to form the Republican Super PAC Inc. Dubbed the “Super-Duper PAC” in a Mother Jones story, the PAC’s objective was to recruit candidates who would then be able to solicit unlimited funds for the Super-PAC — which could then spend money promoting that candidate.

The FEC quickly shot that idea down a month later in a unanimous ruling saying that while candidates may ask donors to give to the Super-PAC, they cannot ask for more than $5,000. One FEC commissioner called Bopp’s plan, “a bridge too far.”

But Bopp countered that the FEC’s ruling was “meaningless.”

If Bopp does succeed in bringing down New Mexico’s contribution limits law, it would certainly be an ironic fate for a reform that, when it was passed, garnered broad support from Republicans along with Democrats in the legislature.

Sponsored by Sen. Dede Feldman (D-Abq.) in 2009, it passed the state Senate on a 40-1 vote with only Sen. Rod Adair (R-Roswell), a plaintiff on the today’s suit, the only dissenting vote. The bill then breezed though the House on a 49-17 vote with 8 Republicans in support, including the soon to become Albuquerque Mayor, R.J. Berry.

Joining the state Republican Party in the lawsuit are the county Republican Parties from Bernalillo and Dona Ana County, Adair, 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.

One lawmaker who  reacted quickly to news of the lawsuit was Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe). He tweeted, “Citizens United not enough? GOP lawsuit wants to take NM back to ‘wild west’ days where political parties have no campaign limits . . . Wow.”

Wirth might be referring to a January 2009 Wall Street Journal story that was much commented upon at the time the Feldman bill was being debated.  The story excoriated New Mexico for being one of just a handful of states with no campaign contribution limits. It was entitled, “New Mexico’s Political Wild West.”

 

BLM Asks Interior Department for New Henke Probe

By Tracy Dingmann

Citing “new information,” the director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has asked federal investigators to reopen a probe into former Farmington BLM manager and current New Mexico Oil and Gas Association president Steve Henke.

According to an Oct. 25 story in the Farmington Daily Times, Henke faces renewed questions regarding his tenure leading the BLM’s Farmington office after a previous investigation by the U.S. Department of the Interior found he accepted golf vacations and other gifts from the oil and gas industry.

Before retiring from the BLM in May, Henke served for nine years as district manager of the BLM’s Farmington field office. He is now president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, a trade group that advocates for industry interests.

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Revive BLM Coziness Probe, Watchdog Group Says

By Tracy Dingmann

A federal government oversight group is calling for the U.S. Department of Interior to further investigate former Bureau of Land Management manager and current New Mexico Oil and Gas Association president Steve Henke for taking gifts from the industry he once regulated.

Henke, who was the BLM’s district manager in Farmington, left the BLM last spring in the wake of an Interior Department investigation that found he had improperly accepted gifts and favors from a number of companies he was in charge of regulating. Henke retired and was not sanctioned by the BLM.

We wrote about the curious facts in the Henke case on Clearly back in September (read: “A Case of Excessive Coziness with Oil and Gas”) and noted that five local and national environmental groups have asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for further investigation into the allegations. We also noted that the groups want Salazar to look into how much contact Henke had with NMOGA while he was still with the BLM and in charge of regulating oil and gas companies.

Now the Project on Government Oversight is asking the Interior Department has joined the chorus of voices asking the Interior Department to revisit the investigation.

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The Friends of Leonard Lee Rawson: Ethics and the State Investment Council

Over the past two years, the State Investment Council (SIC) has been engulfed in corruption allegations involving pay-to-play.  To address this problem, the legislature passed a new law earlier this year that reconfigured the makeup of the SIC, including granting itself the power to appoint four new members to the body.

Last week, the Legislative Council, comprised of 15 legislative leaders, met to make its allotted four appointments pursuant to the new law.  (Governor Richardson made two new appointments early in March.)

So how did the lawmakers do?

In the case of one of the picks, that of former State Senator Leonard Lee Rawson of Las Cruces, they botched the job terribly.

In naming Rawson to the SIC, it seems that they just couldn’t help themselves. As if by force of habit, they instinctively reverted to their collegial “good old boy” ways. And in so doing, they turned a blind eye to the actions of an individual who has been a poster boy for conflict of interest, an abuser of his office and the public trust.

Before he was ejected from office by the voters in November 2008, Rawson, who was Minority Whip of the Senate at the time, was caught committing a particularly egregious act of using his office for personal aggrandizement.

Heath Haussamen summarized the case at the time:

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Stewart Udall: A Personal Reflection

By Matt Brix

Stewart Udall, Air Force veteran, lawyer, Congressman, Interior Secretary, author, outdoor adventurer.  Each of these titles alone could easily define a lifetime of accomplishment and public service.

I believe Stewart Udall was not defined by what he did, but by who he was – a caring human being and a gentleman.  The immeasurable effect he had on regular people is what made Stewart a hero.  My good fortune in knowing him is but one of thousands of stories that could likely fill volumes.

I first met Stewart Udall four years ago when he and I served on Governor Bill Richardson’s Ethics and Campaign Reform Task Force.  By that time, Stewart was 86 years old.  On first glance, it would have appeared that he was well past his days of fighting for land conservation, or working to protect victims of uranium mining and nuclear testing.

But, I would soon realize that Stewart Udall still had the ability, and the will, to say what needed to be said.

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The Karma of Quack: Gary King and Pay-to-Sue

duckbillNew Mexico Attorney General Gary King was singled out for a special scolding by the mighty Wall Street Journal yesterday over the so-called “pay-to-sue” practices allegedly common among some state Attorneys General.

Yesterday’s editorial was triggered after King called the paper to complain about being mentioned in a previous WSJ editorial called The Pay-to-Sue Business.

That April 16th editorial focused on the questionable practice of state attorneys general accepting large campaign donations from law firms, then turning around and retaining those firms in no-bid contracts for “off-the-shelf” suits that require little original work.  Most of the editorial focused on Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and donations he accepted in 2006 from the firm of Houston attorney F. Kenneth Bailey, who was later given a no-bid, contingency-fee contract to sue a pharmaceutical company on behalf of the state.

But the piece, in listing other contributions made nationwide by the Houston firm, also mentioned a $50,000 campaign donation the firm made to King shortly before his election in 2006.

In yesterday’s editorial, titled Mr. King and His Courtiers, the WSJ explained how King’s explosive reaction to merely being mentioned in the story compelled them to look more closely at operations in King’s office.

“Some public officials are touchier than others. Take Gary King, the New Mexico Attorney General, who reacted to our recent passing reference to him by denouncing us and calling our pay-to-play facts nothing but politics. That sounded like an invitation to investigate Mr. King further, and, sure enough, he deserves an editorial all to himself.”

The editorial goes on to dig into the details regarding the donation to King from the Houston firm and notes that the firm was later retained by the state of New Mexico to sue a pharmaceutical company in a suit similar to others the firm had tried. It also uncovers some embarrassing irregularities regarding the contracts and ultimately, forces King to defend the practice of contracting private law firms altogether.

The knock on King has not gone unnoticed in New Mexico.

Perhaps the most interesting response comes from conservative blogger Mario Burgos, who references widely-ridiculed statements that King has made in connection with his definition of political campaign intervention, an issue that is currently in the courts.

“There’s an old saying that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then its probably a duck,” say AG King. “And I think we know a duck when we see one.”

I’m quite certain King is hoping no one decides to use the old “quacks like a duck” legal standard on him in this case.

Week’s End Flashback: Open ConCom Bill signed, Health Care Reform, polluter bailouts, more Monahan mashing, King v. Balderas and a Pot Poll

As we plunge into a new week, here’s a flashback on some of the stories/posts we found interesting from last week’s fare:

Governor Richardson signed Open Conference Committees bill

Marjorie at M-Pyre speculated on the Gov’s game of cat and mouse.

Steve Terrell told us so and paid tribute to the late Bob Johnson.

Peter St. Cyr makes strong  case for health care reform
Sweeping Good Government Reform Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature.

Dr. John Fogarty warns of another corporate bailout
Polluters are pushing for their own massive bailout

APS and the Office of Circumlocution
Burque Babble translates the hidden meanings in an APS press release.

Who’s Twittering?  Matt has the answers.
New Mexico Twitter users

Attorney General Gary King uses subpoena power against political rival
Haussamen:  AG, auditor engage in a legal food fight

Monahan got skewered again and again over SunCal avoidance,  anonymous sources and blogger credentials

Inkstain:  Anonymous Sources

Monahan ignores SunCal news

Linthicum-Monahan feud continues

And self-appointed defender of the blogosphere Monahan refuses to doesn’t have a NM blogroll.

National blogger Nate Silver gave us some generational polling on pot
Why Marijuana Legalization is Gaining Momentum

And finally, in the Val Kilmer for Governor Watch
Val Kilmer gets the support of fellow actor Russell Means.

The Case for Campaign Contribution Limits: How Bob Perry bought a state Supreme Court

bob-perry1

As we’ve said before, the passage by the legislature of a campaign contribution limits bill – which now awaits Governor Richardson’s signature — was long past overdue.  New Mexico was one of only five states in the nation with no caps whatsoever. Texas is another.

Perhaps that’s why Bob Perry, the multi-millionaire Houston homebuilder, and his wife Doylene Perry have found New Mexico politics so hospitable.  In 2008, Bob wrote campaign checks to the New Mexico Republican Party totaling $240,000.  In the 2006 cycle, the Bob and Doylene dropped a total of $361,000 into the state — to the following beneficiaries:

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Session Wrap: Big Wins for Ethics Reform, Green Jobs and the Environment

gavel1The gavel has sounded, the 60-day session is over, and we’re pleased to report a number of significant victories for ethics reform, green jobs and the environment.

ETHICS REFORM

On the ethics reform front, three high priority measures passed and await the Governor’s signature.

Campaign Contribution Limits: New Mexico was one of only five states with no restriction on the size of campaign donations.  Now you can scratch us from that ignominious list. Thanks to Common Cause, Senator Dede Feldman, Senator Peter Wirth, Representative Jeff Steinborn and others for their tireless work on this issue. (link)

Open Conference Committees: In years past, six designated lawmakers would often meet behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public and the news media, where they could then radically alter passed legislation.  And year after year, the Senate would kill efforts to open up these conference committees to the public.  But this year the Senate broke with tradition and passed this reform overwhelmingly.  Hats off to the sponsors, Senator Dede Feldman and Representative Joseph Cervantes.

Legislative Webcasting: 2009 was the year of sunshine.  Now audio webcasting of floor sessions of both houses is available to the public.  Primitive video webcasts of Senate floor sessions started in the last week.

Defense of Nonprofits: A number of bills were introduced to restrict the public education efforts of nonprofit organizations around legislative issues. All of these assaults of the First Amendment were turned back.  In an impressive show of unity, the nonprofit community rose up to meet the threat, including the ACLU, American Cancer Society, Amigos Bravos, Audubon Society, Common Cause, Environmental Law Center, New Energy Economy, Conservation Voters New Mexico, AFSCME and many others.

GREEN JOBS

New Mexico Youth Organized, working with a host of allies, passed SB318.  SB 318 creates a one million dollar job-training program for green jobs. In the final hour, the legislature also passed HB 622, creating a bonding framework for green jobs.  Extra special thanks to the bill sponsors, Speaker Ben Lujan and Senator Eric Griego!

TIDDs

Conservation Voters New Mexico worked tirelessly to kill a $400 million Tax Increment Development District proposal for sprawl development west of Albuquerque. The California developer SunCal spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on industry lobbyists and advertising.  Nice work, CVNM!

Thanks to all of you for following this blog, and for your commitment to social and economic justice!

The Sayings of Senator Lopez

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Senate Rules Committee: Where ethics bills go to die

Feb. 25, 2009: She (Sen. Linda Lopez) also promised to begin discussion on the proposal to create a state ethics commission “first thing” Friday, but said working out disagreements and drafting a committee substitute bill that combines several existing bills related to that controversial proposal will “take a little more time.” NM Independent

Feb. 28, 2009: “We do not let out every bill on its own. That’s not good law,” she (Lopez) said, promising, “the list looks long, but we’ll get some stuff moving this next week.” Santa Fe New Mexican

March 3, 2009: After the meeting, the committee chair, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo, said that the bills were moving slowly because the committee was “trying to reach consensus.” NM Independent

March 19, 2009: When asked whether she believed the issue was dead, Lopez said: “At least for this year — yes.” Several other ethics commission bills — including one sponsored by Lopez — have been pending for weeks in the Rules Committee… Albuquerque Journal

So one of the key ethics reforms of this session — an independent ethics commission — has been pronounced dead for another year.

In the dizzying wake of so many public corruption scandals, and just two days after the sentencing of former Senator Manny Aragon, New Mexico finds itself stuck in the dwindling list of state that still do not have an ethics commission.

A key figure in this ongoing public policy quagmire, Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez presents a fascinating study in contradictions.  On the issue of ethics reform, she strikes the pose of the ultra-cautious, deliberative lawmaker, working behind the scenes to hammer out a studied consensus between her colleagues.  They’re really the recalcitrant ones, you know. We must not rush to judgment in these weighty matters, she tells us.

So another week turns into another year, then another and another.

Yet in her other legislative persona, Lopez is the go-go-Senator-in-a-hurry,  boldly taking the TIDD tool where no TIDD has gone before, fast tracking a $400 million taxpayer handout to California developer SunCal — and obligating a good chunk of state revenues for the next 25 years.

Whoosh!

Here’s more of the backstory on Madam Chair and her committee — where ethics bills go to die:

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