Some good democracy news from New Mexico, where the legislature on Tuesday approved two campaign finance bills. They now go to the desk of Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, who hasn’t said whether she’ll sign them.
One bill would improve the state’s public financing system. But the more important measure would require that independent spending groups, which today play such a major role in campaigns, disclose more information about their donors. The aim is to crack down on “dark money” that’s designed to influence campaigns but voters can’t trace.
“During the past few election cycles, its been increasingly difficult for the public to follow the money—especially the big money that comes into New Mexico from out of state,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Peter Wirth, a Democrat. “Yet an informed electorate is the basis of democracy. This bill will help, and it builds on the one value that is supported across the board: transparency.”
It’s worth noting that transparency, while worth fighting for, is a consolation prize for reformers. Many believe it would be preferable to put limits on this kind of independent political spending, just as direct campaign contributions are limited. But in recent years, the Supreme Court has essentially made that impossible. So showing voters where the money is coming from is the best reformers can do.
Still, the passage of these bills is also a reminder of the energy that exists in state and local governments across the country to limit the influence of big money in politics.