(CN) – New Mexico’s Secretary of State can’t force two voter-education groups to register as political committees, the 10th Circuit ruled. New Mexico Youth Organized and Southwest Organizing Project stirred the pot by criticizing several incumbent state legislators.
The groups’ mailings denounced lawmakers’ votes on key issues such as health care and pointed out that the sponsoring legislators had been funded by special interest groups, suggesting they were corporate pawns.
State Sen. Shannon Robinson complained to Secretary of State Mary Herrera, claiming the organizations had failed to register as political committees under the New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act.
Herrera initially replied that NMYO was not required to register, but changed her position at the urging of Chief Deputy Attorney General Albert Lama.
She gave the organization 10 business days to register and file reports with her office. She sent a similar letter to the Southwest Organizing Project, demanding that it register as a political committee or face penalties.
The groups challenged her demands with a lawsuit.
A federal judge ruled for the two organizations, and the 10th Circuit in Denver affirmed.
The law regulates speech by organizations “operated primarily” for a political purpose, measured as political expenses of at least $500 per year.
“[T]here is no indication that either group spends a preponderance of its expenditures on express advocacy or contributions to candidates,” Judge Robert Henry wrote.
“Indeed, there is no evidence in the record to contradict the declarations that they do not engage in advocacy for candidates or make contributions to them, nor to establish that election-related expenses make up a preponderance of the organizations’ expenses.”
Because the state campaign-reporting law does not apply to the two groups, the court concluded, Herrera has no authority to regulate them.