Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico
Disclosing information about ever-more powerful PACS, creation of an independent ethics commission and better monitoring of the activities and expenditures of lobbyists will be top priorities of Common Cause New Mexico in the 2017 legislative session.
The non-partisan good government group will also continue its drive to increase voter participation in elections through measures to ease registration and open primaries to those who decline to state a party preference.
“Sometimes it feels like we are singing the same tune every session, but, with the past election, sunshine, transparency, ethics and other measures to ensure that our democracy is not “rigged” against ordinary citizens are more important than ever, said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico.
Spending on legislative races during the 2016 election cycle topped $10 million with NM PACs spending an additional $16 million. Both Democrats and Republicans decried a system rigged in favor of special interests.
Among the bills on Common Cause’s priority list:
- A bill to be carried by Sen. Peter Wirth to require disclosure of information about PAC and other non-candidate spending within constitutional boundaries. The bill will require independent groups to reveal contributions and expenditures.
- Several bills to create an independent ethics commission to rebuild voter trust. The commission will oversee the conduct of state officers, employees, campaign finance reporting, contractors and lobbyists. It also will educate and train officials on legal and ethical issues.
- A bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn to update the Lobbyist Regulation Act to require disclosure of what bills lobbyists have been hired to work on.
- A bill to extend the voter registration deadline to the Saturday before Election Day and a bill to automatically register eligible voters using a secure electronic database.
- A bill to open primaries to independent voters, who could select either a Democratic or Republican ballot.
- A bill sponsored by Sen. Bill O’Neill, to create an independent redistricting commission and take this task out of the hands of the partisans.
- A bill to enact a two-year waiting period before elected officials can become paid lobbyists.
- A bill to ensure that public financing of campaigns for the PRC and state courts cannot be used to pay family or living expenses, and is reduced when candidates are unopposed.
Heather Ferguson, Common Cause New Mexico legislative director, said that some of the measures have come close to passage in previous sessions. “Our polling continues to show they enjoy widespread support,” she said.
According to Ferguson, a January 2016 Research and Polling survey indicated that 92 percent of respondents want large contributions made public, 90 percent want lobbyists to disclose their business, and 79 percent believe that corruption is a problem in New Mexico politics.
“Now is the chance for New Mexico legislators to show what we already believe … that they are, in the main, open, hard-working ethical people who want the best for New Mexico,” Ferguson said.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; to promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard as equals in the political process.