Free Speech means the right to criticize politicians – and NM politicians don’t like it

free-speech-zone1Let’s face it.  Elected officials don’t like to be criticized – and especially not in public.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  They have feelings too.  But criticism goes with the territory.  And there’s a big problem when those same officials attempt to use their powers to stifle the public’s exercise of free speech.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the right of free speech, including the right to discuss and dissent and to criticize the public acts of governmental officials, is afforded the highest protection from government interference.

That’s why it’s so alarming that two measures to clamp down on free discussion of governmental actions are being rushed through the New Mexico Legislature. These two bills, HB808 sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztez) and SB652, sponsored by Sen. William Payne (R-Albuq.), have earned the “Politician Protection Act” tag, along with HB 891, sponsored by House Majority Leader Ken Martinez and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Some of the legal theories being dredged up to attack the non-profits certainly should make any lover of the Constitution shudder.  Take the argument employed in committee testimony recently by Deputy Attorney General Phil Baca, who drafted HB808 at the direction of House Minority Leader, Rep. Ken Martinez (D-Grants).  “Under New Mexico state law, we’re sovereign… We don’t have to grant tax exempt status to any organization we want…We’re an independent sovereign,” Baca said.

Considering the source, such neo-Confederate legal argumentation was both surprising and more than a little shocking.  One half expected a band in the back of the room to strike up “Dixie.”

Continue reading


Rep. Ken Martinez, Senator Michael Sanchez and the Politician Protection Act of 2009

In years past, the legislature has deployed a defensive strategy on ethics reform – just kill all the bills they don’t want.

That strategy changed this year, with the filing (on the last day to introduce new legislation) of HB891, sponsored by House Majority Leader Ken Martinez and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. While a committee substitute is likely, you can see their original bill here.

Ethics bills have been killed over the past several years with Sanchez and Martinez overseeing their demise. They fear things like contribution limits, public financing, an independent ethics commission and open conference committees. They believe these reforms will make it harder for their roundhouse brethren to win re-election.

But playing defense is not enough anymore. Now Martinez and Sanchez – both smart attorneys – are going on the offensive. They want to actually suppress dissent from pesky nonprofits that dare to call attention to the actions of the legislative colleagues they feel they must protect.

This bill from Rep. Martinez and Senator Sanchez should be named the “Politician Protection Act of 2009.”

At first glance, their bill seems reasonable. You can bet that Martinez and Sanchez will present it as such. All it does is require nonprofit organizations that engage in “electioneering communications” to report their organizational donors to the Attorney General.

Seems sensible, right?

Just wait til you see what they really want to do. Continue reading