The facts behind the FEC ruling
by Joseph Maestas
February 29, 2012
As you may know, New Mexico Voices for Children has recently been in the news as a result of the Federal Election Commission’s ruling on a matter of severance pay for our former executive director. On Friday, Feb. 24, the Albuquerque Journal ran a story on the issue and on Monday, Feb. 27, the Journal ran an editorial attacking NM Voices for our decision to grant the severance.
Since both of the Journal pieces omit important facts, I wanted to give everyone all the pertinent background information on this issue.
Last summer, Eric Griego announced his decision to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Eric expressed his desire to continue to serve NM Voices as executive director—something he had been doing very effectively for the past four years. The Board decided—and Eric agreed—that the organization would be best served if Eric resigned. He did so in October of 2011.
After careful consideration, the Board decided that a small severance payment (which equaled three months of Eric’s salary) was appropriate. Severance payments for an executive-level position are quite common in the nonprofit world, more so when a Board and executive agree that a separation is in the best interest of the nonprofit organization.
Because Eric is running for congressional office, there was some concern that a severance payment might be considered a campaign contribution. As NM Voices is a nonprofit with a 501(c)3 designation from the IRS, any electioneering—including endorsing a candidate or making contributions to an election campaign—is strictly prohibited by law. After consulting with our attorney, the Board determined that we would seek a ruling from the Federal Election Commission on whether the severance pay in question constitutes a campaign contribution under federal election campaign laws.
The FEC ruled in early February 2012 that the severance pay did not constitute a campaign contribution. You can read the FEC’s opinion here.
As the Board deliberated on its decision, we were mindful that we were setting precedence, so we weighed the issues very carefully. We were also mindful that NM Voices does not have endless financial resources. Above all, we wished our decision to be transparent, to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and to reflect the organization’s core values. We believe we succeeded and that our decision was the right one.
Looking forward, our search for a new executive director is near completion. The field of candidates has been narrowed to a few who will be interviewed shortly by both the Board and staff. We hope to name Eric’s replacement by mid March.
We thank you for your patience and understanding during this time of great change in our organization. Your support—both as contributors and fellow advocates—is essential to our work. That work, which is carried out by an extremely skilled, dedicated, and professional staff, continues with as much commitment as ever.
Joseph Maestas is Chair of the New Mexico Voices for Children’s Board of Directors.