By Albert Luna
Las Cruces’ mayoral election in 2015 saw a Texas-based political action committee (PAC), GOAL WestPAC, bombard voters with propaganda endorsing the late city councilor Miguel Silva, while attacking incumbent and current Mayor Ken Miyagashima.
In response Miyagashima penned an email to his supporters, saying “I’m not sure why they think they can tell Las Crucens how to vote.”
The majority of Las Crucens told the PAC to mind their own business and keep their “dark money”—money they received to promote Silva (without his involvement) and disparage Miyagashima—out of local elections.
To bring more attention to the issue of PACs and dark money influencing local elections, New Mexico State University’s Library, in collaboration with the Journalism & Mass Communications Department and NMSU alumnus Tim Parker, will for the fourth time host a discussion on March 23, during national Sunshine Week.
Sunshine Week is an initiative of the American Society of News Editors to encourage and celebrate access of public information.
NMSU’s theme this year is “Sunshine in the Shade: Uncovering Outside Influence in Local Elections” and will take place at 5:30 p.m., March 23, on the third floor of Zuhl Library. It is free and members of the Las Cruces and NMSU communities are encouraged to attend.
The issue of dark money is tricky. Because of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, 501(c) nonprofits can contribute to political campaigns
This allowed people in the oil, gas, ranching, and farming industries in Carlsbad and Hobbs to contribute to GOAL WestPAC, which then tried to influence Las Cruces’ elections.
“There used to be just tax loops and some different case-by-case situations where a certain party was trying to strike down a candidate, but since Citizens United, it has become far more easy,” says NMSU Government Professor Daniel Chand, who will be speaking on the March 23 panel.
Dark money and PAC influence is not unique to New Mexico.
“The biggest thing here is that it’s not only in New Mexico, but a lot of times, all 50 states are hit by this and it starts with Washington, D.C.,” Chand says.
Walt Rubel, Sunshine panel member and managing editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News, says that it is important for Las Crucens to be aware of dark money and PAC influence.
“Most people don’t really think about these issues, but we do see, every time there is an election, that the average guy that doesn’t have millions of dollars gets left out,” he says. “We just want to lay out any evils of dark money and provide transparency.”
It certainly is becoming an emerging issue in the city, and the conference just might be Las Cruces’ way of telling outside interests that city elections are none of their business.
Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu