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.”

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