SANTA FE – The State Ethics Commission has filed a lawsuit accusing an advocacy group of trying to conceal its role in advertisements supporting the early childhood ballot measure and other violations of New Mexico’s campaign law.
The nine-page suit, filed this month in the state’s 5th Judicial District Court, seeks a civil penalty of up to $20,000 against the Working Families Organization, doing business as Unemployed Workers United.
The ethics commission alleges Working Families – at a cost of at least $9,000 – sent text messages to independent and Democratic voters ahead of the general election touting the benefits of a constitutional amendment that would generate more funding for early childhood education and public schools.
But Working Families did not disclose that it paid for the messages, the lawsuit said, suggesting instead that the group “Unemployed Workers United” paid for them.
Furthermore, the lawsuit said, the Working Families Organization did not register with the Secretary of State’s Office as a political committee nor file reports disclosing its spending on the ads or the contributions it accepted to cover the cost.
In a written statement, Neidi Dominguez, executive director of Unemployed Workers United, said the group looked forward to resolving the dispute.
“We believe deeply in transparency as a principle for a strong democracy, and in our work,” Dominguez said.
She added that Unemployed Workers United – which she described as a project of the Working Families Organization – is proud of its work supporting the ballot measure.
The text messages at issue sought support for Constitutional Amendment 1 on the general election ballot. It passed with 70% of the vote.
Congressional approval is also required before the amendment takes effect.
Once it’s final, the measure will boost annual withdrawals from the state’s largest permanent fund – an endowment of sorts – from 5% to 6.25%.
It’s expected to generate another $140 million for early childhood education in the fiscal year that starts next summer and an extra $90 million for public schools.
The State Ethics Commission lawsuit does not address the merits of the amendment itself. But it seeks a court decision affirming that Working Families Organization should report its spending on the ads and disclose the donors who helped pay for them. The suit also seeks civil penalties up to $20,000.
Working Families, the commission said in its suit, “has refused to inform New Mexicans of basic facts regarding who ultimately funded the election-related advertisements that it purchased.”