Members of the nonprofit group New Mexico Youth Organized woke up on Thursday, Sept. 4, to a startling headline.
The Albuquerque Journal ran an article reporting NMYO missed a Sept. 2 deadline set by Secretary of State Mary Herrera to register as a Political Action Committee (PAC).
Keegan King, executive director of the organization, says the article got the facts wrong. “Our understanding was there wasn’t going to be any deadline set,” King says. Still, there’s some confusion over what the Attorney General’s Office and NMYO agreed to and when.
In a letter sent to NMYO last month, Herrera said the group would have to register as a PAC because it was sending out campaign materials intended to influence elections [“ Not-So-Free Speech,” Aug. 28-Sept. 3]. King’s organization maintains that the flyers it distributed were part of NMYO’s “issue advocacy,” designed to educate voters on elected officials’ voting records. They were not intended, King says, to change the outcome of any political race.
We believe this determination contradicts well-established First Amendment law. We have not spent any money on any effort to influence elections.
SWOP Executive Director Robby Rodriguez
Some of the mailers were critical of officeholders, who later lost primary elections to incumbents in June.
A news release from the Center for Civic Policy, the parent group of NMYO, says the Sept. 2 deadline set in the secretary of state’s letter is inconsequential. The Attorney General's Office agreed not to set a deadline for NMYO to register as a PAC, according to the release. The release says NMYO and the AG’s Office reached this understanding during discussions held over the last two weeks.
Phil Sisneros, spokesperson for the attorney general, says his office agreed to postpone the deadline on Thursday afternoon after the Journal article came out while both sides try to negotiate an agreement.
Last week, Herrera sent a letter to the SouthWest Organizing Project telling the nonprofit it has until Sept. 15 to register as a Political Action Committee. SWOP sent out mailers similar to those distributed by NMYO.
In an e-mail sent to the Alibi, SWOP Executive Director Robby Rodriguez writes that he adamantly disagrees with Herrera’s decision. “We believe this determination contradicts well-established First Amendment law,” Rodriguez says. “We have not spent any money on any effort to influence elections.”
Rodriguez says his organization is in negotiations with the secretary of state and the AG’s Office to reach an agreement about the deadline. “If this is not possible,” Rodriguez says. “We will file for a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of the ruling that we believe is unconstitutional.”
James Flores, spokesperson for the secretary of state, says Herrera reached her decision based on the advice of the Attorney General’s Office. AG spokesperson Sisneros says his office’s advice does not contradict the constitution.
The Center for Civic Policy is hoping to see a lawsuit thrown out.
The suit, filed by Sen. Shannon Robinson, Rep. Daniel Silva and Sen. James Taylor, alleges the center—along with NMYO, SWOP and others—conspired with political candidates to unseat the three incumbents. Robinson, Silva and Taylor all lost primary elections this summer.
Matt Brix, policy director for the center, says no conspiring took place. “We've maintained all along that the claims made by Sens. Robinson and Taylor and Rep. Silva are patently false,” he says. “Their lawsuit is an attempt to muzzle nonprofits from publicizing the voting records of elected officials.”