Correction appended

After announcing Friday that it would charge news organizations $100 apiece for press credentials to cover its state convention, where delegates to the national convention will be elected, by Friday night, the state Republican Party backed off.

“The Quadrennial Convention Committee had originally decided to charge for press access in an effort to help pay for the costs of hosting the Convention, but it was never their intent to discourage press from attending,” said Republican Party of New Mexico Spokesman W. Tucker Keene in an email. “Today Quadrennial Convention Committee agreed to allow press to attend free of charge. We are excited about our Quadrennial Convention and invite all members of the media to witness for themselves how well-managed and organized the Convention process will be.”

Keene acknowledged Friday that charging reporters for admission to the event was “unconventional.” He said the idea to bill reporters who want to attend was the decision of the party’s convention committee.

The decision came after The New Mexican published a story about the $100 charge on its website Friday.

“The thinking was everyone else has to pay, why shouldn’t the media?” Keene told a reporter earlier in the day.

In the recent past — at least the last 16 years — no political party in New Mexico has charged reporters for admission to their conventions. That also has been true for national party conventions — at least until now.

According to an Associated Press story in October 2015, the Republican National Committee decided to charge news media organizations a $150 access fee for seats on the press stand at the GOP convention in Cleveland. The wire service quoted a statement from Heather Rothman, chairwoman of the Executive Committee of Periodical Correspondents, and Jonathan D. Salant, chairman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, that said, “We are concerned that the proposed fee smacks of forcing the press to pay for news gathering.” A spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention told The Associated Press that the charge covered a fraction of the cost of constructing the press stand.

A spokesman for the U.S. House of Representatives Press Gallery, which handles credentials for the Republican National Convention, said Friday that while the Republicans are charging for seats on the press stand — as well as a $100 fee for a workstation — there is no charge for the press credentials themselves.

This means reporters will have access inside the national convention without necessarily incurring a cost. The state GOP’s plan is different in that it will charge reporters to attend.

It’s not clear how many news organizations would have been willing to pay to cover the Republican Quadrennial Convention on May 21 at Sandia Resort & Casino.

New Mexican Editor Ray Rivera said Friday that it’s unlikely this newspaper would go if there were an $100 charge.

“This sets an enormously bad precedent, even beyond that already set by the Republican National Convention, which is charging for a place on the media stand and workstations, but not for ordinary access,” Rivera said. “The media should not be charged to cover an event of substantial statewide interest involving elected officials and our electoral process.”

A spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party said Friday the Democrats will not charge news organizations for credentials. And state Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland criticized the GOP for doing so.

“Gov. [Susana] Martinez and Republicans in the state are avoiding the press. Republican candidates don’t want to answer the tough question: Do they support [presidential candidate] Donald Trump and his offensive comments about women, harmful attitudes toward our Hispanic communities and reckless policy ideas? Republicans in our state need to stop avoiding contact with the press and be transparent.”

Keene denied that the move was caused by any anti-media sentiment in the state GOP.

As of Friday night, the registration page on the state party’s website indicated that the $100 charge for reporters is more than the $85 for delegates, alternates or State Central Committee members. Candidates, campaign staff or those running for delegate to the national convention will pay a fee of $50, or $25 if voting by proxy. Keene said the late fee for delegates will be $125.

Steve Terrell can be reached at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at tinyurl.com/roundhouseroundup.

Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story contained a typographical error for the amount the state Republican Party is charging for proxy voters.

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