The state Democratic Party is asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a nonprofit that has run ads supporting the policies of Gov. Susana Martinez. The party claims the organization is illegally coordinating with the Republican governor’s re-election campaign.
New Mexico Competes, a nonprofit “public policy and social welfare organization,” in recent months has run radio ads praising Martinez’s handling of the shake-up in the state’s behavioral health system, and has mailed a flier attacking Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks for his opposition to some of Martinez’s education policies.
Whether there is validity to the complaint — and whether or not the IRS actually investigates — the accusations against New Mexico Competes are indicative of the rising role of nonprofits, super-PACs and other independent groups spending money in New Mexico politics.
Martinez’s political consultant, Jay McCleskey, said Tuesday that neither he, nor the governor nor her political committee had anything to do with forming New Mexico Competes and does not control its activities.
In a letter to the IRS on Tuesday, state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman claimed New Mexico Competes “is illegally coordinating with and attempting to conceal campaign contributions on behalf of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez with the intent of violating New Mexico law limiting campaign contributions to candidates.”
As a nonprofit organization, New Mexico Competes legally does not have to reveal its donors.
Although New Mexico Competes’ radio ads and mailer strive to make people think more favorably of Martinez — and less favorably of her critics — neither directly asks anyone to vote for her or against anyone else. The behavioral health spot asks listeners to contact Martinez to express their support, while the Brooks mailer asks recipients to call Brooks and tell him “to take down his roadblocks.”
As evidence, Bregman cited a recent article in The National Journal about McCleskey. The article “reported that Andrea Goff, the former finance director of Susana Martinez’s campaign and of Susana PAC, Governor Martinez’s political action committee, that Gov. Martinez, ‘specifically told her that McCleskey was launching’ New Mexico Competes Inc.”
Sara Lister, executive director of the nonprofit, said in a written statement, “New Mexico Competes will file its 990 with the IRS at the appropriate time. New Mexico Competes operates as a non-partisan 501c4 organization, and has engaged in educating New Mexicans about important issues related to New Mexico’s economy and schools, and helping New Mexicans engage in their future by conducting voter registration. We do not advocate for or against the election of any public official, and we look forward to continuing to engage New Mexico citizens.”