- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Wednesday that her office needs more money to meet a legislative mandate to update New Mexico’s campaign finance reporting system in order to provide more transparency and improve public access.

Toulouse Oliver testified before a panel of lawmakers in Santa Fe that the technology experts in her office are overburdened and don’t have the resources to create a new system for reporting and tracking political contributions.

She acknowledged that the current system is outdated and cumbersome, which limits the ability of election officials and the public to cross-check campaign spending and donations that are reported by candidates, lobbyists and political action committees.

Nearly $1 million would be needed for the secretary of state to buy an off-the-shelf program from a vendor that could be customized to meet the state’s needs.

Toulouse Oliver said another option would be partnering with a nonprofit research group, MapLight, to create a state-of-the-art system that could serve as a model for other states. That would cost around $2.3 million.

MapLight has worked with California to build an online tool for tracking some political contributions that were previously difficult to track.

Toulouse Oliver said the nonprofit’s ability to attract philanthropic funds for their own campaign finance reporting projects could end up reducing the financial burden for the state to develop a new system.

MapLight has dozens of financial backers , from the Ford and MacArthur foundations to the Jennifer and Jonathan Allan Soros Foundation.

The direction New Mexico ends up going with its reporting and tracking system will depend on how much money lawmakers are willing to set aside for the project, which state elections officials have described as the top priority given a string of campaign finance scandals in recent years.

“This is our most public and most scrutinized system,” Toulouse Oliver said, explaining that any improvements would spur more accountability among candidates as well as transparency for the public regarding the influence of money on politics.

The Legislature last year approved a measure requiring the modernization of New Mexico’s campaign finance information system. It called for data to be open and available in formats that could be easily searched and downloaded for public inspection. It also called for features that would help ensure candidates were complying with the reporting law.

Officials with the Secretary of State’s Office testified Wednesday that the agency will not meet the deadlines for implementing some of the requirements and that the funding will be a key to move forward.

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