Inside the Capitol

Saturday, September 20, 2008

9-26 Nonprofits Add Spice to Legislative Races


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- The only excitement in the 2008 legislative races is likely to be in those contests where lawmakers are targeted by nonprofit interest groups.

   Only 38 of the 112 legislative seats, all of which are up for election this year, have a contest. Why is that? After every decennial census, lawmakers redraw their legislative districts and they all like to make those districts as safe as possible, so as to discourage competition.

   Another possible reason is that most states pay their lawmakers in addition to providing them with expenses. New Mexico provides only a per diem to approximately cover expenses. Most people who work for a living have problems with fitting a month or two every year into their vacation schedule.

   Many lawmakers who don't have opposition in the general election did have to win primary election contests within their party. It happens more often among Democrats than Republicans. Democrats don't seem to have much respect for incumbency.

   Occasionally a controversial Republican will draw opposition. It happened this year when House Republican Whip Dan Foley drew opposition in his Roswell district and lost.

   Foley has since moved to Rio Rancho, now New Mexico's third largest city. Don't be surprised to see his name surface there in political circles before too long.

   Four Democrats were defeated in primary elections. Three of them went down after mailings and phone calls went to their constituents from the nonprofit interest groups mentioned above.

   The mailings and calls urged constituents to phone Albuquerque Sens. Shannon Robinson and James Taylor and Rep. Dan Silva to remind them that they should be working for the public interest and not special interests.

   The three senators alleged in a suit brought by Robinson, an attorney, that the voter contacts represented illegal political campaigning by nonprofits and that their opponents were funneling their campaign funds to the nonprofits so it would appear that the contacts were being made by neutral organizations.

   But the nonprofits, headed by a group called the Center for Civic Policy, which calls itself a "progressive" organization, said they weren't conducting campaign activities, but a legislative accountability project directed at the recent special legislative session, which considered health care and other issues.

   The organization said it also targeted a legislator who wasn't running for reelection and another who was running unopposed. It said the purpose of its contacts was to inform constituents of the amount of campaign contributions their lawmakers were receiving from companies in the health care and insurance businesses.

   The organization said it received no money from the opponents of Robinson, Taylor and Silva. Attorney General Gary King urged the Center for Civic Policy to immediately release its list of donors.

   The center released a list of major corporate donors and said it wanted to wait to release names of individual donors until the normal reporting date for nonprofits to avoid the possibility they might be harassed.

   Considering the list of corporate donors and major charitable organizations and the amount of their donations, it did not appear they needed any help from political opponents of those targeted.

   After the primary elections, these organizations targeted additional lawmakers. Among them were Sens. Lee Rawson, a Las Cruces Republican; Diane Snyder, an Albuquerque Republican and David Ulibarri, a Grants Democrat.

   Rawson, the Senate Republican whip, seems to have been targeted for his opposition to some ethics reform measures.

   On a 2007 bill to make New Mexico the 46th state to enact campaign contribution limits, Rawson moved to make the effective date in the year 3007 instead of 2007. He faces Democrat Steve Fischmann in November.

   Snyder is in a tough race with former Bernalillo County Treasurer Tim Eichenberg. Ulibarri faces opposition from Republican Jose Silva.

FRI, 9-26-08


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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