UPDATE on Non-Profit “Advocacy” Groups in NM: SOS Agrees with AG Gary King, NMYO Must Register as PAC (Update 1X)

I’m going to quote extensively from Joe Monahan’s blog on the change.  I was wondering if King might cave to pressures from the Richardson crew, but apparently, the SOS did her job.  The link to the ABQ journal’s “complete report” is behind a firewall, so forget about getting the full story, but Eli Lee’s op-ed of August 15 is available, for some reason. I might be able to track it down the report at another site like I did for my earlier posts on this fight.

From Monahan’s August 19th post “Watching the Watchdogs”:

NM Secretary of State Herrera has agreed with AG King and on Monday ordered NM Youth Organized (NMYO) to register as a political committee, forcing them to disclose their contributions and expenditures. The group, an affiliate of Eli Lee’s Center for Civic Policy, says it will fight the order in court, which could prove expensive and raise questions by donors concerned that their money is being used for lawyers’ fees. Here’s a complete report from the ABQ Journal. Read on for our analysis.

The political nonprofit at the center of the storm over disclosing contributions and expenditures is lawyering up and pulling out all the PR stops. But none of it will avoid the inevitable collision. Center for Civic Policy executive director, Eli Lee, writes in an op-ed piece in the ABQ Journal that the people of NM deserve to know “from whom (legislators) receive financial contributions” but then he turns around and asserts the people have no right to know who is funding his nonprofit’s expensive mail attacks on an assortment of legislators. His latest excuse is that release of the donors to the Center would subject them to “harassment.” Does that mean we should halt already required financial disclosure because it is a threat to the public safety? Lee, under pressure, recently identified foundation donors, but not individual donors, to his group.

The political nonprofit has sent out loads of hit literature against legislators they claim is “educational” while the AG argues it is blatantly political. The enduring question is why Lee and his allies, who so forcefully promulgate disclosure by the campaigns of elected officials, are themselves so reticent to adopt this ethical behavior as their own, even as they claim to be self-appointed ethical watchdogs of our Legislature. If there were an indictment for being hypocritical, the grand jury would be looking at a true bill.

Lee has also not disclosed specific group expenditures, including his salary. Informed insiders tell us he may be getting as much as 20% of the gross donations. That would be about $329,000 if his group collects his projected amount over two years. (If our insider figure is inaccurate, we would be glad to provide updated information from the Center, or they can give it to the newspapers.)

King has been ridiculed by Center allies as a backwoods country lawyer. It now faces a legal fight over his quest to force full disclosure of the estimated $1.645 million the Center says it will take in this year and next (Although some say the recent publicity can’t be helping the Center’s fund-raising while others argue the legal trouble will spur it on). Center lawyers say King’s action could lead to “unnecessary litigation.” But we face the prospect of continued undisclosed funding coming into this state from far and wide, depriving us of the knowledge of who is trying to influence public policy here. Under those circumstances, litigation is something to look forward to, not shy away from.

Background posts, from most recent to oldest:

Update on Non-Profit “Advocacy” Groups in NM…AG Gary King Squelched by Richardson?

Part II: NM AG, “Gutsy Gary” King, Fighting for Transparency re: Non-Profits Like the League of Young Voters and ACORN

Part I: New Mexico “Progressive” Voter Registration Groups in Trouble: ACORN Again…Surprised?? (UPDATE 1X)

UPDATE  August 22, 2008

A great new post up at NO QUARTER…ACORN – CSI – OBAMA. Someone else noticed!

Part II: NM AG, “Gutsy Gary” King, Fighting for Transparency re: Non-Profits Like the League of Young Voters and ACORN

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.

SNIP

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.

SNIP

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.”

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