So far for the 2014 elections, political candidates across New Mexico have raised more than $21.2 million, according to data compiled by the secretary of state's office.
Think about all the problems $21 million could solve.
It represents the collective bankroll of 927 candidates vying for statewide offices this year during both primary and general elections, including the state Legislature, the judiciary, the Public Regulation Commission, the Public Education Commission and various county offices. Broken down, that's nearly $23,000 for each candidate, a figure skewed by candidates for statewide offices and the governor's race, which attract more cash. Incumbent Gov. Susana Martinez, for instance, has raised $4.9 million, according to the latest fundraising figures. Her opponent, Democrat Gary King, only has roughly $170,000 cash in the bank, and he's suffered in the polls as a direct result of his inability to pay for advertisements to combat Martinez' cash machine.
What’s frightening—to most—is that $21 million represents just the money raised and spent by candidates themselves. Thanks to US Supreme Court rulings, like 2010’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a group can raise and spend unlimited amount of cash in elections as long as they don’t coordinate how that cash is spent directly with the candidates themselves. Much of that cash financing this year’s races goes unreported thanks to outdated campaign finance regulations. Enter Sally-Alice Thompson, a nonagenarian activist from Albuquerque with a charming, crooked smile and wide-brimmed glasses. The longtime Albuquerque activist is celebrating her 91st birthday on a 13-day walk from Duke City to the City Different to help raise awareness for the slogan MOP, “Money Out of Politics.” She’s slated to end her trek with a press conference on the east side of the Roundhouse on Saturday, Oct. 25 at noon, and in the meantime, invites anyone to join her along the way, says Tom Dent, president of the coordinating council for the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice.She’s just one person tackling a big issue, but she’s also one of a growing number of New Mexicans working to fight an electoral system that’s forced candidates to focus less on the shoe-leather, door-to-door campaigning in favor of vapid, 30-second hit pieces aired on mass mediums like TV and radio. The good-government nonprofit Common Cause New Mexico, for instance, recently teamed up with the pro-transparency group New Mexico Foundation for Open Government to ask citizens to sign a “New Mexico Pledge” to help support improved disclosure requirements in the state’s campaign finance system. Quite literally, Thompson’s walk and subsequent press conference can give citizens a breath of fresh air, a reprieve from the nasty advertising—aka “free speech”—paid by special interests that’s saturated the airwaves more and more as Nov. 4 election draw near. Thompson’s message might not matter at the polls this November, but if enough people take notice, it’s possible that it’ll resonate with the state and federal lawmakers in a position to apply MOP to the dusty, dirty campaign finance laws that they've created.