- Associated Press - Thursday, July 13, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A proposal requiring more-detailed financial disclosures from nonprofit advocacy organizations that attempt to influence elections and ballot measures in New Mexico earned both praise and criticism at a public comment hearing Thursday at the state Capitol.

The campaign finance rules drafted by the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office take aim at so-called dark money groups that can spend unlimited amounts to influence elections and ballot measures when acting independently of campaigns and candidates.

Affected advocacy groups that spend more than $1,000 on political advertising would have to provide the name and address of each person who made contributions of more than $200 to fund independent political expenditures.

The rules include similar provisions to a bill with bipartisan support vetoed in April by GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, who argued it would hamper charities and discourage charitable donations. About 50 people attended the first of three public hearings on the rules, developed by Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

Several conservative-backed groups with a statewide and national presence warned that the measures would have a chilling effect on free speech and may drive away donors to political causes who value their privacy and worry about intimidation.

“The rights of voters to freely speak their mind - or not disclose their information - is important,” said Burly Cain, state director for Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.

He warned Toulouse Oliver that she would be circumventing the state’s legislative process.

“You don’t have the authority to do this,” he said. “If rules are put in place, prepare for litigation.”

Toulouse Oliver said the rule is not focused on disclosing personal information.

“What we’re really trying to get at here is when you are seeing an ad on TV, when you are hearing one on the radio, seeing one on the internet, that you know who paid for it, and really where did that money come from,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Proponents of the rules include New Mexico chapters of the League of Women Voters and the campaign finance policy group Common Cause.

“We need to know who makes large donations to political causes so we can make judgments about special interests and determine their relations to advertisements,” said Mark Friedman of Santa Fe, who is active with the progressive group Indivisible.

Jason Vaillancourt, an Albuquerque security alarm salesman, urged state elections officials to “please understand that privacy with political speech is important.”

Rebecca Egg, a retired engineer from El Prado, countered that citizens must have the right to know who is speaking through independent political spending.

“If you are unwilling to own your own words then just be quiet,” she said.

Written comments on the rules also were being collected through July 19 at 5 p.m. and published online . A final version of the rules is due by October, in time to apply to the 2018 primary and general election cycles.

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