New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, the son of a former governor and a possible candidate for the office himself, is showing real integrity as he does his job. For, example, he’s already taken aim at updating public records laws for greater transparency and has stopped a cozy deal between a developer and the state’s Land Commissioner.
In my earlier post I focused on ACORN. Part II today looks at The League of Young Voters–renamed New Mexico Youth Organized for local consumption in January 2008–and the broader issues that King is pursuing.
NMYO and Clearly New Mexico are projects of the Center for Civic Policy. According to the League site, ” We (NMYO) empower young people to be players and winners in the political game.” Their goals beyond registering voters include training community organizers and lobbying at all levels of government and they aim to “organize voters, support candidates, and hold them accountable once they’re in once they’re in office.” (Interesting tidbit: both ACORN and the League of Young Voters national office are based in Brooklyn, NY.)
The Clearly New Mexico site goes on:
Clearly New Mexico is a project of the Center for Civic Action, a state-based advocacy organization working to advance socially responsible public policies in New Mexico. We believe that a stronger democracy is the best path to addressing the challenges facing our state and our nation. This site provides cutting edge online communications tools in the service of this purpose.
Apparently, their “cutting edge” communications also includes controversial fliers. (Note: I received several of the fliers described below.) As reported in the local paper on July 29 (“Rawson Says Political Flier Crosses LIne”)
Republican State Sen. Lee Rawson of Las Cruces said he’s upset about a critical flier, being mailed throughout his district by an Albuquerque nonprofit group, because it lists his home phone number.
The mailer, sent out by a group called New Mexico Youth Organized, refers to Rawson’s action against a campaign-reform bill in 2007 that would have placed limits on donations to lawmakers.
The mailer, sent out last week, also includes Rawson’s home phone and urges recipients to call him.
Rawson, who represents Senate District 37, said placing his phone number on the mailer was inappropriate, and he believes the publication endangers his family. He said he has been receiving calls from out-of-state residents because of the mailer and said he’s concerned about possible extremist action by people receiving it.
“Sometimes extremist people take extreme actions, and that endangers your family,” he said.
Rawson declined to say how many phone calls he has received so far.
Rawson emphasized he has made a point of being accessible to constituents by giving out his home and cell phone numbers.
“I want to be available to my constituents; the difference is I’m giving that information out,” he said.
Rawson isn’t my favorite, but when I got the fliers in question, I was taken aback. It’s one thing to go after a guy’s policies, but publish his home phone number? I have to side with Rawson on this one. These are “in-your-face” tactics, it seems to me. And they sure looked like campaign materials…
And what is Attorney General King saying? Heath Haussamen has the details (and a disclaimer of his own–see below):
The attorney general’s office is standing by its assertion that a non-profit’s activities have crossed the line between policy lobbying and political campaigning and its prior advice that the secretary of state force the group to comply with campaign finance reporting laws.
The controversy surrounds mailers NMYO, its parent non-profit the Center for Civic Policy and other progressive groups sent two to three months before the June primary targeting several lawmakers…today’s news release state’s that the AG’s opinion is based at least in part on the belief that the mailers were campaign materials, not lobbying materials.
Officials with NMYO and the Center for Civic Policy argue that the mailers were policy-based and aimed to influence lawmakers in advance of the approaching special session and had nothing to do with the election. They point to the fact that the mailers stopped two months before the election and say some lawmakers who weren’t in hotly contested races were targeted along with those who lost at the hands of progressives.
King isn’t buying it.
“The group claims that the mailers it sent out were not campaign materials,” his news release states. “The attorney general disagrees.”
“There’s an old saying that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck,” King said in the release. “And I think we know a duck when we see one.”
See a copy of the letter King sent to the Secretary of State on May 22, 2008.
But there’s a problem. Apparently, the Secretary of State’s office may not be on board. Back in April, the SOS decided that NMYO ” was a lobbying organization not subject to the Campaign Practices Act.” In his letter, King asks the SOS to amend the April decision and states that NMYO has “characteristics in common with both a political committee and lobbyist organization” and cites the “influence” of NYMO’s activities with respect to the law. But, to date, the SOS has not changed the status of NYMO.
My suspicion, of course, is that the hand of Bill Richardson is behind the uncertainty about the fate of the AG’s decision. According to the Albuquerque Journal article cited below, the the executive director of the center, Eli Lee, “helped in Gov. Richardson’s Moving America Forward campaign in 2003-04. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and First Congressional District Democratic nominee Martin Heinrich are among his former clients. In July 2006, he and five of his employees left Soltari to help form the Center for Civic Policy.”
Joe Monahan provides even more information about what’s going on in his August 11 blogpost under the title “AG King Set to “Come Out Swinging” on Nonprofits.”
The problem of nonprofit disclosure remains and that’s where King is headed.
King’s attention on the political non-profits, who bill themselves as “progressive,” was refocused Friday when a report surfaced that claimed an assistant attorney general had told a deputy secretary of state to “ignore” King’s original request that the secretary classify the NMYO nonprofit as a political action committee, forcing them to more fully disclose their money sources.
“Despite some reports to the contrary, we fully support our earlier position in a letter that the Secretary of State’s Office needs to tell the New Mexico Youth Organization (NMYO) to immediately comply with the law,” King said.
Insiders say King was none too happy that he was made to look like he was dragging his feet and perhaps fearful of retaliation by the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. Democrat King is up for re-election in 2010. He has also been mentioned as a possible Dem Guv candidate.
According to Monahan, King is planning to as the Secretary of State again to ask NYMO to adhere to state election laws. If the secretary doesn’t, expect King to file a lawsuit to force the issue. Meanwhile, lawyers representing the nonprofits are warning King that they will sue the state if he persists in his bid to hold the groups feet to the fire. (See NMYO lawsuit.)
Political nonprofits report their finances to the IRS, but requirements are less comprehensive and not as timely as the state requirements that King is demanding that they meet. Three legislators–Senators Robinson and Taylor and Rep. Silva–were defeated in their primary bids with the help of the nonprofits. They have filed suit to nullify the election results, a long shot play, but one that served to highlight the big “progressive” money coming into legislative races. Most of it, as we learned from Lee over the weekend, coming from out-of-state. Nonprofit hit pieces are now going out against more lawmakers including Senators Rawson, Snyder and Rainaldi.
The nonprofits have also been active in promoting ethics legislation, opening themselves to a charge of hypocrisy. Ethics advocates ask if the nonprofits want to improve ethics why don’t they fully disclose their finances and lead by example? One reason is that donations to the nonprofits are tax deductible. That gives them an advantage over other political groups. And, yes, donors get to make accusations against candidates under the cover of darkness. And it’s not just progressives. What about right-wing interest groups using nonprofit status to hide from the public? One of them came recently with radio spots hitting Dem Tom Udall on gas prices.
King is warning that the nonprofit explosion threatens to take political financing underground and deprive the public of its right to know. The nonprofits retort that they are not engaging in overt political activity that violates their nonprofit status. Their critics want AG King, the IRS and/or the US Attorney to examine that claim. Some are pushing for the NM Legislature to take on the issue in next year’s session. Legal beagles say if the lawmakers lawsuit seeking nullification of the election leads to testimony during a “discovery” process, funding sources for the nonprofits could be fully revealed.
If the nonprofits stick to their guns and the SOS does not force compliance with state regs, it looks like they and Attorney General King will get to tell it to a judge. With hundreds of thousands of unaccounted for dollars already pumped into our state’s political process, and more coming as we speak, the time is ripe for a legal showdown.
According to a fuller AP report in today’s Las Cruces Sun-News (not online),
If the center were a politcal action commitee, the identities of all donors would have to be publicly disclosed.
With its 501(c)(3) Internal Revenue status, the center is not required to release donors’ names, but it also cannot intervene in an election to support or oppose any candidate.
To deflect some of the heat, Lee has released some donor names to the Albuquerque Journal (see below). (In the updated Haussamen blog [link below], Lee claims he has revealed 95% of the donor information at the request of journalists.) Unfortunately, the ABQ Journal requires a subscription to read it online. But after much searching I came up with the article posted on a couple of independent sites, AIG Retirement Industry News and TMCnet.com.
At the moment, Gary King appears to be bucking the NM Secretary of State, nonprofits, and the potential wrath of the far-left of the Democratic Party in an effort to give the public more transparency about where the money that is flooding the political system here is coming from.
I’ll be trying to keep up with this story as it unfolds…no news as of yet whether King “came out swinging” on Monday…
Additional updates from the Haussamen blog:
Heath Haussamen disclaimer:
By way of disclosure, I also write for the New Mexico Independent, which is owned by the Center for Independent Media in Washington. When the group was starting up its New Mexico news site earlier this year, the Center for Civic Policy helped it locate funding sources. The Center for Civic Policy has never tried to use that fact to influence anything I have written.
List of donors released by the Center for Civic Policy (Eli Lee, exec. director)
Top donors to Center for Civic Policy
July 2006 to June 2007
Angelica Foundation — $10,000
Beldon Fund — $7,500
Brett Family Fund — $3,000
Carnegie Corporation — $50,000
Fiduciary Trust — $2,500
General Service Foundation — $35,000
New Mexico Community Foundation — $52,500
McCune Foundation — $100,000
McKay Foundation — $102,000
Panta Rhea Foundation — $110,000
Santa Fe Community Foundation — $5,000
Tides Foundation — $50,000
Western Conservation Foundation — $90,000
Source: Center for Civic Policy
(Final donor information for July 2007-June 2008 isn’t yet available)
Filed under: Current Politics Tagged: | ACORN, Bill Richardson, Center for Civic Action, Center for Civic Policy, Clearly New Mexico, Eli Lee, Heath Haussamen, Joe Monahan, Las Cruces, League of Young Voters, New Mexio Youth Organized, NM Attorney General Gary King, NYMO, progressive non-profit advocacy groups, State Sen. Lee Rawson, voter registration