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 requires basic disclosure from those spending money to support or oppose ballot measures in local elections, so as to enable the voting public to assess and understand the interests vying for their votes.
The challenged disclosure provision requires “event-driven” reporting: whenever a person or entity spends above a certain threshold to support or oppose a city ballot proposition, the person is required to disclose that spending, as well as certain donors who contributed for the purpose of funding it.
In 2017, the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), an Albuquerque nonprofit that regularly participates in legislative and policy advocacy in New Mexico, challenged the ordinance under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article II, § 17 of the New Mexico Constitution.
In 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico rejected RFG’s constitutional challenge. A subsequent appeal to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was also dismissed on standing grounds.
The Supreme Court has long recognized that disclosure is a constitutional means of protecting voters’ right to know about the sources of election-related spending, and the Court’s denial of certiorari leaves Santa Fe’s important transparency provision in place.
Special interests often run election ads that are deliberately misleading, but this ruling means Santa Fe voters will be able to weigh the credibility of those ads and cast an informed vote in ballot measure elections.