Rio Grande Foundation v. City of Santa Fe


At a Glance

CLC represented the City of Santa Fe in the successful defense of its political disclosure law, protecting voters’ right to know who is behind efforts to influence their votes. 

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The Latest

In a win for political transparency, the U.S. Supreme Court has denied a petition for certiorari seeking to hear an appeal in the case Rio Grande Foundation v. City of Santa Fe, preserving voters’ right to know who is spending to influence ballot measure campaigns in the city.

Like many other states and municipalities, Santa Fe, New Mexico...

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About this Case

Like many other states and municipalities, Santa Fe requires basic disclosure from those spending money to support or oppose ballot measures in local elections to enable the voting public to understand the interests vying for their votes. The challenged disclosure provision requires “event-driven” reporting: whenever a person or entity spends $250 or more to support or oppose a ballot proposition, the person is required to disclose that spending, as well as any donors who contributed for the purpose of funding it.

The plaintiff in the case is the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), an Albuquerque-based nonprofit corporation that regularly participates in legislative and policy advocacy in New Mexico. In April 2017, one month before Santa Fe voters would go to the polls to vote on a “soda tax” proposition, RGF announced that it was launching a campaign to defeat the measure. This “No Way Santa Fe” initiative would include a $7,500 campaign video and website urging voters to reject the proposal, as well as Facebook advertisements promoting the video and $1,500 on express advocacy mailers.

When RGF refused to file a campaign report disclosing the in-kind contributions and expenditures related to its “No Way Santa Fe” initiative, a local citizen filed a complaint alleging that RGF had violated the disclosure ordinance. The city’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board agreed and ordered RGF to file a one-time, six-page campaign report, which revealed that the No Way Santa Fe video and website were produced and contributed by an out-of-state group called the Interstate Policy Alliance, and disclosed one other person who contributed $250 toward the effort. The Ethics Board took no further action against RGF. No penalties or fines were assessed.

Shortly thereafter, RGF filed suit against the City of Santa Fe and the Ethics Board, challenging the disclosure ordinance under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article II, § 17 of the New Mexico Constitution.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico rejected RGF’s constitutional challenge and upheld the city’s disclosure law in February 2020. RGF appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which dismissed the appeal for lack of standing. The U.S. Supreme Court denied RGF’s subsequent petition for review in April 2022, ensuring that Santa Fe’s transparency law will continue to protect voters’ right to know. 

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