Commentary
5:00 am
Wed December 12, 2012

Op-Ed: in New Mexico, SuperPacs Are the New Normal

New Mexico may not have been a swing state this year in the presidential election, but someone upped the ante when it came to the legislature. SuperPacs poured almost $4 million into roundhouse races, most of it for TV ads and hate mail asking questions like… “Should we stand with the Victims… or the Child Killers?.... The Governor’s PAC, Reform New Mexico Now, spent almost $2 million to take out Senate leaders and win back the House with ads like these. The Patriot Majority, the Democrats SuperPac, did damage as well.  The money for both came from out-of-state oil companies, unions and rich donors …. the cash unleashed by the disastrous Citizens United ruling.

In 1996, when I first ran for the New Mexico Senate, I was proud to raise $50,000. This year, Sen. Tim Jennings spent almost $400,000. Michael Sanchez, another target, spent almost $300,000.

TV ads pushed the costs through the roof. The contribution limits --passed by the legislature a few years back-- could have held down the costs—but they collided with the deluge of cash from out of state-- and everything went HAYWIRE.

The candidates themselves became less and less important.  Both Democrats and Republicans in key House races told the independent PACS to “butt out”—but it was too late. By law, the PACs can’t coordinate with the candidates. So, the onslaught continued.

A whole new type of election is emerging, where districts, and local  candidates,…count little compared to the hyper-partisan priorities of the Super-Pacs.

That’s bad news for legislators who go to Santa Fe to solve problems and serve their constituents—not just take sides and score points.  This year’s campaigns will make it harder to find common ground with the executive, to listen and to reach consensus -- even with the best of intentions.

I’m hopeful that legislators will keep working on alternatives like public financing, shorter campaign seasons, and controls on independent spending.  And I’m glad that ordinary citizens are pushing for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United…. Without some major changes, more gridlock and acrimony are headed our way. 

State Senator Dede Feldman, a Democrat, is retiring voluntarily after 16 years in office. 

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