Tightening the Noose on Nonprofits: The Hidden Hand of Leadership

martinez1Representative Ken Martinez (D-Grants) was oddly absent in House Voters and Elections Committee Tuesday morning when it gave a “Do Pass” nod to a committee substitute for HB808, one of the bills designed to impose new burdens on local non-profit organizations that engage in public education work on legislative issues.

Although formally sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztec), that seems to be a front, according to the testimony of Bandy’s expert witness, Phil Baca of the Attorney General’s office.  “I drafted this bill for Rep. Martinez,” Baca told the committee.

Martinez, along with Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, has been leading the effort to rein in the free speech rights of non-profits in New Mexico.  Martinez and Sanchez are co-sponsors of another bill, HB891, the aptly tagged “politician protection act.”

But the new version of HB808 appears to be the real focus of the action now.  The bill does an end run around the election code by instead amending the state tax code, thereby going directly after the tax exempt status of any non-profit organization that merely mentions the name of a “clearly identifiable candidate” (i.e. any member of the legislator or a statewide elected official) during a window starting 90 days prior to an election.

That effectively means that for three-fourths (eight months) of an election year, nonprofits would be guilty of a violation by uttering an elected official’s name for any reason in a printed or electronic communication – whether to praise, criticize, thank or even discuss an issue.

So if the bill passes, nonprofit advocacy group that try to generate phone calls to legislators would be in trouble.  The provisions of the bill don’t apply to corporations, like SunCal, however.

By ducking the vote, Martinez appears to be borrowing a page from Senator Sanchez’s book.  Sanchez is renowned for conveniently absenting himself from Senate Rules Committee at key moments of decision on ethics legislation.

The Sanchez-Martinez’s bill, HB891, is scheduled to be heard this afternoon in the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. Let’s see if Ken shows up.

It’s all in a day’s work for the hidden hand of leadership.

For more on this story:

NM Independent

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