My Turn: Big money In New Mexico politics

Getting corporate money out of New Mexico politics would help level the playing field so that our political officers would be more likely to answer to their constituents rather than to the outside demands of a few wealthy interlopers.

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Recently I received an email suggesting that if each New Mexico registered Democrat contributed $10 to the campaign of gubernatorial candidate Gary King, $6 million could be raised for his run against incumbent Susana Martinez, for the governorship of our state. That’s an immense sum of money, is it not? It would be, if his campaign could actually raise that kind of money from 600,000 individuals. But individuals aren’t the main supporters of political campaigns anymore.

Since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs (the) Federal Election Commission, unlimited amounts of money have poured into tax-exempt groups and PACs (Political Action Committees) that support campaigns for or against candidates, ballot initiatives and legislation. The lion’s share of contributions come from corporations but can include labor unions and other organizations. More than $4 million has flowed into Susana Martinez’s PAC. While campaigns are required by law to reveal names of contributors, PACs can include or actually be 501(c)(4) organizations—not individuals—and thus do not have to reveal members of the group.

So, how does this affect the upcoming general election in our state? If New Mexicans contributed that $10 mentioned above, they would have some “skin in the game.” Voting and volunteering are ways to have “skin in the game.” Susana’s millions come from sources with a different sort of “skin”: these groups and individuals, most of which are from out of state, influence her positions and actions at the expense of the rest of New Mexicans. Their dollars control the political arena as they are converted into continual misleading ads on our TVs and in our newspapers that attempt to demonize Gary King.

With the Citizens United decision, corporate money has been unleashed into political campaigns. Nationally, both parties want those dollars. Candidates for national office, and some statewide offices too, spend their time soliciting contributions to their campaign war chests. In our state, the second poorest state in the U.S., that money and time could be, and should be, used for greater needs.

Tom Udall, one of our U.S. senators, has proposed a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United. That amendment will soon be voted on in the U.S. Senate but needs a two-thirds majority to pass. The same applies to the U.S. House of Representatives. Eighty-five percent of Americans are opposed to the Citizens United decision and its attendant results. Hopefully, our national representatives will do what their constituents want. Then it will be up to the states.

Getting corporate money out of New Mexico politics would help level the playing field so that our political officers would be more likely to answer to their constituents rather than to the outside demands of a few wealthy interlopers. We have the power of the vote, and our votes can cancel the undue influence of big money in New Mexico politics.

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