November 19, 2015

Overhaul needed to fix campaign finance system

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver

Maggie Toulouse Oliver is the Bernalillo County Clerk and was the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State in 2014.

Recent reports continue to highlight incidents that blatantly violate the spirit–if not the actual letter of the law–of campaign finance disclosure that the people of New Mexico expect and deserve from their public officials.

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver

For too long we have placed trust in politicians that promise change and reform, but fail to deliver.  It’s time to end the half-measures and double-talk around this issue. As a state, we must demand full transparency and accountability.

The failure of the Secretary of State’s office to establish and administer clear rules and guidelines has created opportunities to find loopholes, as well as caused confusion on the part of entities who are required to file reports.  The inconsistencies inherent under the current system and unchecked inaccuracies are completely unacceptable and must be fixed immediately.

This means we also need a new campaign finance and lobbyist disclosure portal that is easily searchable and contains cross-referenced fields for donations, expenditures, in-kind expenditures and loans, as well as mandatory fields that provide for more detailed descriptions of services and purposes of expenditures. With modern technology there is no excuse for having systems that cannot be reconciled. We must simply invest in our collective priority of transparency and accountability.

Regarding compliance and enforcement, we must also demand audits performed by auditing and accounting professionals at a rate much higher than the current law of 10%. But we can’t even be sure the current requirement is being met, and that’s why I’m calling for full public disclosure of all campaign report audits conducted by the Secretary of State as required by law. A recent report highlighted that New Mexico is woefully behind on transparency and government accountability and this is an easy place to begin closing that gap.

To start, we need clear and concise rules about how campaigns and candidates should follow New Mexico’s campaign finance laws, and how the Secretary of State’s office will provide for equivalent due process for each and every instance of enforcement.

As I have said before, anything less than complete compliance with our existing laws and immediate work to establish the rules and reinforce, modernize and clarify the regulations that guide these processes, including the establishment of a statewide ethics commission, does not meet the high standard we must set for ourselves as a state.