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Billionaire-Backed Special Interests Go After Common Sense Rules Limiting Secret Money in Politics

Jul 19, 2017

Credit New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver

Commentary: As New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced new proposed, strong rules to reform and enforce the state’s laws to require disclosure of secret money in state elections, several wealthy special interest groups have launched a campaign against these common-sense rules. All of these groups have connections and received funding from Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist brothers known for secretly funneling millions of dollars in politics, as well as organizing conservative donors to support Republican causes and candidates. The Koch-backed groups who have been actively opposed to New Mexico’s disclosure rules include:

·        Center for Competitive Politics is an anti-reform group that opposes nearly any proactive change to our campaign finance system based in Washington, DC. Using legal and lobbying tactics, the group regularly challenges campaign finance laws in courts, legislatures, and Congress. Since 2007, CCP has received nearly $5.5 million from Koch foundations and the Koch-connected donor-advised funds, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund. CCP is also funded by other major national conservative donors and foundations.

·        Americans for Prosperity is an astro-turf secret money group controlled and funded by the Koch brothers. As one of the key advocacy organizations in the network of Koch-connected groups, AFP operates chapters in states across the country and is one of the biggest secret money spenders at the federal and state level. Over the years, AFP’s 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organization has received over $110 million from Koch foundations and Koch-connected groups.

·        Concerned Veterans of America is conservative advocacy organization based in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. Like Americans for Prosperity, CVA has spent millions of dollars in political ads in recent years, but is not required to disclose its donors. Investigations by ProPublica and The Washington Post/Center for Competitive Politics have revealed that CVA is part of the Koch-controlled network of advocacy organizations and is largely funded by Koch entities.

Although these groups are conservative-leaning organizations, their opposition to rules limiting secret money in politics is not a conservative idea.

·        In New Mexico, a January 2017 poll of 459 registered voters taken by Research and Polling for Common Cause New Mexico indicated that 75% of Democrats, 82% of Independents and 69% of Republicans strongly supported a bill to require greater public disclosure and reporting of the donors and campaign spending of independent political groups. Overall, nine in ten voters said they supported such a bill; only 8% opposed.

·        Nationally, a September 2015 Public Policy Polling survey found that 91% of Republican voters supporting requiring political interest groups that run campaign ads to disclose where their funding comes from.

Despite extreme opposition coming from the groups listed above, a number of prominent Republican legislators support disclosure. Rep. James Smith (R-Sandia Park) was a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 96, a disclosure bill which passed the legislature overwhelmingly and was vetoed by the Governor in March. The bill was supported by the Republican leadership in the Senate and the House Minority Leader, along with one third of all Republican legislators and an overwhelming number of Democrats.

Reforming disclosure rules in New Mexico has also been supported by a number of prominent national Republicans, including Trevor Potter, a Republican lawyer and former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, and John Pudner, a Republican activist and executive director of Take Back Our Republic.