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The Albuquerque Police Officers Association and two other police unions launched a campaign to “tell legislators to vote no” on a list of police reform bills in the state legislature—including legislation to end qualified immunity, expand programs to refer non-violent offenders to drug treatment and to require police departments to notify public agencies of serious injuries or death resulting from law enforcement encounters.

The Coalition Campaign

Six years ago last month, the US Department of Justice forced the City of Albuquerque into a settlement agreement after finding that police officers engaged in a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional uses of force against the people they were sworn to serve.

In countless news interviews since, Willoughby has argued that court-mandated reforms have “handcuffed” police officers who want to “take back” the city. “We are not going to get the city back under control until they take those cuffs off,” Willoughby told KRQE in 2019.

Now state legislators are pushing new legislation to require public reporting of uses-of-force, deaths in custody and more. APOA says New Mexico’s cops need fewer rules, not more, and they are engaging members and the public to help.

A message distributed on Facebook and by text from APOA on Wednesday encouraged recipients to reply to a shortcode where they are directed to a generic webpage under the banner of “New Mexico Law Enforcement Coalition.” Although state law requires organizations engaged in lobbying to register with the secretary of state, no such organization was listed with the state on Wednesday afternoon.

Full disclosure: One such message was sent by Willoughby to the personal cell phone of our publisher, Pat Davis, who is also an Albuquerque city councilor. Davis provided that message to The Paper’s staff for this report.

Reached by text, Willoughby said that the coalition includes APOA, the State Police Officers Association and Rio Rancho Police Fraternal Order of Police. Willoughby said that he is a registered lobbyist for APOA, but a search of the group’s registered lobbyists did not list Willoughby.

The group’s website says:

There are almost a dozen anti-law enforcement bills that have been introduced in the New Mexico Legislature this year, and just as many bills have been introduced to lessen the burden on criminals in the state. No one can argue that New Mexico is a violent state, with increased crime, and yet legislators are focused on making things easier for the criminal, while handcuffing our law enforcement. Legislators are proposing bills that would take away police dogs, and create costly burdensome oversight for every interaction where an officer may be forced to use force, meanwhile they are also proposing no minimum sentence on child molesters and rapists and they want to give felons the right to vote. Is this the New Mexico you want? A state that protects the criminal over law enforcement? Tell your legislator to vote NO on these bills and keep our communities safe.

Visitors are asked to send an email to legislators asking them vote no on “anti-law enforcement bills”:

I am asking you to vote no on any legislation that will make the job of our officers more difficult, or take away valuable tools they need in the field. Our state needs to be focused on fighting crime not making criminals out of our law enforcement. Please vote no on these bills and help us keep our state safe for our families.
Vote NO
HB 4 Civil Rights Act
HB 140 Minimum Sentencing
HB 254 Police Use of Force Reporting
HB 263 Police Use of Force Reporting
SB 192 Law Enforcement Disclosure of Evidence
SB 105 Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion
SB 376 Qualified Immunity

Registration required to influence legislation

New Mexico requires individuals and organizations who spend money to influence legislation to register with the secretary of state. APOA does employ a lobbyist in Santa Fe, but expenditures made by lobbyists to influence legislation must be reported within 48 hours.

Organizations must also register with the secretary of state if their expenditures reach a threshold of $2,500. The campaign’s platform is hosted by Phone2Action, an online advocacy tool for organizations and associations. Although P2A does not list pricing on its website, software company Salesforce reports that organizations can subscribe “beginning at $7,500 per organization, per year.”

So does the campaign meet that threshold? It’s hard to say but that exception may not apply to groups like APOA who have registered lobbyists working on their behalf. According to the 2020 Lobbyists’ Handbook published by the secretary of state, “lobbyists who spend funds outside of organizations must register with the Secretary of State’s Office prior to engaging in activities covered by the Act.” A search of lobbyist expenditures and advertising campaigns found several lobbyists listed, but none are from APOA, the New Mexico Law Enforcement Coalition, nor are they related to any of the bills targeted by APOA’s campaigns.

Facebook posts on APOA’s page indicate that the group has been using Phone2Action since at least Jan. 8 when they launched a campaign to “text #supportofficers” to their shortcode provided. They have shared multiple actions since using that same code.

APOA Facebook

Those January campaigns directed users to a webpage to oppose HB 4, a bill sponsored by Speaker Brian Egolf and Representative Georgene Louis, to remove qualified immunity, a legal standard that frequently protects officers engaged in civil rights violations from legal accountability. In spite of APOA’s efforts, HB 4 bill passed the State House and is currently before the Senate.

A screenshot of the APOA campaign was shared with a state election official Wednesday. The official indicated the campaign appeared to meet the lobbying definition in state law.