Public funds finance Court of Appeals race

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Public funds finance Court of Appeals race

For the first time, a candidate running for a seat on the New Mexico Court of Appeals will be elected while relying almost entirely on public campaign financing rather than private contributions.

In 2003, the Voter Action Act was passed, giving appellate court candidates the option to choose public financing. This year, both incumbent Judge Miles Hanisee and his challenger, private practice attorney Kerry Kiernan, have opted to choose public financing to run their campaigns.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said candidates have been wary about the method of public financing in the past because they worried their opponent may far surpass them in private funding.

“Candidates have been hesitant to do public financing because of the threat of this outside money,” Wirth said. “I am really encouraged that both of these candidates, this year, are participating in the public financing process.”

How it works

Public funding is available for the primary election and the general election, but not the second bi-annual funding, which only Kiernan participated in. The second bi-annual funds are monetary contributions that a candidate is awarded prior to running in the primary.

For the primary race, each candidate is awarded $.15 for each party’s registered voter, from the Public Election Fund.  Kiernan received $44,773 while Hanisee received $29,678.

Each candidate has received an additional $189,000 from the taxpayers to fund the general election.

In order to be eligible for public financing, each candidate must receive a specified amount of $5 donations based on a formula listed in the Voter Action Act.  According to the act, the number of qualifying contributions must equal one-tenth of one percent of all registered voters in the state. This year, each candidate was required to obtain 1,266 individual $5 donations.

The amount of money that each candidate raised in $5 donations is not kept by the candidates. The money raised is turned over to the Public Election Fund, which each candidate can use strictly for campaign purposes.

In addition to the Public Election fund, candidates are allotted seed money, which cannot exceed $5,000. Kiernan received $100 from John Eaves and Hanisee spent an additional $1,060 out of pocket because the incumbent judge said he didn’t want to receive money from anyone else.

Seed money is contributions raised for the purpose of enabling candidates to collect qualifying contributions and petition signatures. Individual donors cannot contribute more than $100 and candidates can’t donate more than $5,000 dollars of their own funds.

Time well spent

Hanisee said the reason that he opted to take the public financing route was because he didn’t want to spend the majority of his time trying to raise money when he should be meeting with voters and serving the court. Although Hanisee said the public funding option he took was the best decision, it isn’t without problems.

“It gives you access to a reasonable quantity of money that you can introduce yourself to voters in,” Hanisee said. “I think it’s a little bit unseemly for judicial campaigns to be collecting $5 donations from people.”

Kiernan said that he chose public financing for similar reasons. He said that there is a stigma that comes about involving a judicial candidate who is constantly seeking money to finance a campaign.

“It’s better for judges if they’re not seeking large amounts from individual donors,” Kiernan said. “If you don’t do public financing, you find yourself constantly fundraising, having events, asking people for money, and I think that there is an impropriety to that.”

Out with the old

The New Mexico PRC (Public Regulation Commission) and appellate judges are the only campaign races, under the Voter Action Act, in New Mexico that have the option to turn down individual donors and select public financing as a means to fund a campaign.

Wirth said that he has been trying to pass a bill that updates the Voter Action Act that better fits Constitutional and moral standards in the races that are eligible for public finance. He said that the bill would encourage small donations while enticing more candidates to opt for public funding.

“What we’re trying to do is create a second opportunity to raise money that will withstand constitutional scrutiny,” Wirth said.

In the past, candidates in judicial elections who opted for public financing lost their elections. Wirth said that public financing is a noble option and prevents outside money from entering races it shouldn’t.

“Until the Constitution can be amended, there is going to be outside money showing up in these races,” Wirth said. “I do think, however, that the solution to money in politics is public financing and when it is available, as it is in the appellate race, I really commend the two candidates in participating.”[/text_output][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][share title=”Share this Post” facebook=”true” twitter=”true” google_plus=”true” linkedin=”true” pinterest=”true”][/vc_column][/vc_row]