Four years ago National Review announced John Pudner had launched a longshot campaign of Dave Brat against Majority Leader Eric Cantor – and later in 2014, he was on Fox News explaining how Brat became the first to ever defeat a Majority leader in a primary.
I met John Pudner Wednesday at the annual pro-life March in Sante Fe and today he’s championing a different cause– campaign finance reform.
Pudner seemed to connect everywhere, meeting with many conservative leaders from Las Cruces, Sante Fe, Albuquerque and twice meeting with more than 100 conservatives in Sandoval County in addition to appearing on a couple radio shows.
Pudner connected with everyone, sharing the message about his organization Take Back Our Republic, and focused on the organization’s message that you cannot hope to drain the swamp without some campaign finance laws to stop special interests and even foreign donors from trading their contributions for taxpayer dollars.
He visited with all levels of pro-life activists by making the case that Planned Parenthood, the legalized drug industry and entertainment industry and gambling win if unlimited and undisclosed contributions to politicians determine policy.
He connected up libertarians by making the case that the pay-for-play system that allows government contractors to make secret contributions through third parties and then win billions in taxpayer grants was not free enterprise.
He signed up Republicans by noting that refusing to consider any campaign finance laws enabled Act Blue to give $1.7 billion in small-dollar contributions to Democrats without even allowing banks to see if the gift cards or credit cards used really belonged to an American.
Still, campaign finance reform is a bad word for many conservatives and when I hear liberals use the word it seems they are usually attacking the 1st Amendment, so when I saw Pudner for the second time among the packed room at the Sandoval Commissioners meeting on Right-to-Work, I followed up to find out how New Mexican conservatives were reacting and what were the toughest questions he was facing in talking to conservatives.
Pudner reported that in the middle of almost a dozen meetings this week, more than 100 state conservatives joined www.takeback.org just this week to bring their state list to more than 300. He said he only met with one progressive group, a half dozen people in Sante Fe, to explain the differences between liberal proposals like public financing and conservative solutions like tax credits, but his focus continued to state conservatives.
I went through the toughest criticisms, and he confirmed there were a few conservatives who were simply adamant against any law that required any disclosure on political gifts or caps on how much is given. I pressed them on him one at a time:
- Some asked if any limit was an assault on the 1st amendment right to free speech since money is speech. Pudner’s response was every right has a limit, otherwise you could yell fire in a crowded theater, Antifa could claim they could not be challenged for their “speech” telling people to his conservatives in the back of the head for attending a Trump rally, and he referred to my blog on Aaron Cantu as a person who was indicted many times for what he perceived as “free speech” in inciting riots during Trump’s inauguration.
- One said Pudner would be responsible if someone whose contribution to a conservative was disclosed was attacked at their home. Pudner’s response is that this is the argument liberals use for gun control – that anyone who supports the 2nd Amendment is to blame anytime someone gets shot with a gun. He believes both are bogus arguments. You address crime by prosecuting criminals, and he said the www.takeback.org addressed retribution from Day 1 with proposals such as not requiring disclosure unless someone gave more than $500 and that it was legitimate for Wisconsin Republicans and Governor Scott Walker, who attended Marquette University with Pudner, to scale back details on disclosure forms in response to retribution, but letting foreign and special interest money buy taxpayer money in secret was not a solution.
- Some asked why a partisan Secretary of State could require any disclosure like an oligarch. Pudner said he would much rather have the legislature figure out details of disclosure for people trying to buy taxpayer-funded money, and enact measures backed by 70% to 80% of people like a current measure called FixIt America that would establish states’ rights to set their own laws and the legislation passed last year – and he said one person called that “mob rule,” but legislative action to enact the will of constituents is in fact true Democracy.
In his recent Fox News interview he even suggested people simply call disclosure of people giving millions of dollars to get billions of taxpayer dollars, “draining the swamp,” rather than “campaign finance reform,” if that made more sense to them.
As an observer, I look forward to watching this play out. Pudner’s past political experience in New Mexico was overseeing the collection of church directories for direct mail and phone calls to turn out enough New Mexicans to nearly carry the state for Bush in 2000. After hearing about how he attracted a lot of interest from groups across the state this week it looks like Take Back Our Republic could be a factor in New Mexico conservative circles moving forward.