Line Dance: Nonprofits, Campaigns and the Rio Grande Foundation

There’s a peculiar sidebar to the legal battle that has pitted Attorney General Gary King against New Mexico’s nonprofit organizations.  You know, that’s the one in which U.S. Tenth Circuit Court recently ruled in favor of two of the nonprofits – the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO) .

In a recent Albuquerque Journal op ed, Sara Berger, the attorney for the two nonprofits, explained the outcome of the case:

The Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling was a decisive and unambiguous decision — one that affirms the right of free speech for all nonprofits.

For the two groups involved in the lawsuit, the Tenth Circuit’s decision was a total vindication — and a firm rebuke to critics who publicly doubted any nonprofit organizations’ right to hold public officials accountable and to advocate for those they serve.

What constitutes political campaign intervention?

Heath Haussamen of also devoted an in-depth piece to the facts and issues in the 10th Circuit’s decision. In addition, he examined the specific activities that had prompted the allegations against SWOP and NMYO, and contrasted these to what another New Mexico nonprofit, the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), has been doing.

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New Mexico’s Interlock(ing Directorate)

When I was but a wee lass in college absorbing complicated theories in Political Science 101, I learned about a scary thing called an interlocking directorate.

The dictionary defines it as “the practice of members of corporate boards of directors serving on the boards of multiple corporations.” The good book says the concern is that hubs of power will form around these alliances, threatening to compromise the quality and independence of various board decisions.

As I recall it, my poli-sci prof broadened the concept dramatically, using the term to describe the heads of media and commerce and government generally as they interacted across their customary boundaries to influence and shape society to their mutual benefit.

At the time I thought I’d never actually experience this phenomenon in real life – it sounded much too sinister and contrived to my innocent, Catholic-educated ears.

But I’ve sure been thinking about it a lot lately as I watch certain media and business groups collaborate furiously to protect the interests of those who stand to benefit most from resisting reform and maintaining the status quo. It’s happening whether the debate is about climate control regulations, healthcare reform or solutions to the economic crisis that’s now upon us.

It occurred to me when I read this editorial (subscription required) in Tuesday’s Albuquerque Journal warning the state against enacting stringent environmental regulations that might cause oil and gas extractors to leave New Mexico. (Ignore for a second the question of why these companies would leave, when the materials they extract from the land are here, not somewhere else.)

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