A nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life in New Mexico is recommending a series of reforms to reduce what it describes as the enormous influence that lobbyists have over lawmakers.

“If our laws went [further] … not only would we gain more transparency and shed light on the influence exerted by lobbyists, we would have more trust in the Legislature as an institution,” according to a new report by New Mexico Ethics Watch.

Among the organization’s recommendations:

  • Require lobbyists to disclose
  • which pieces of legislation they are working on when making campaign contributions and expenditures, such as paying for lawmakers’ meals or entertainment.
  • Impose a two-year moratorium on departing lawmakers before they can be compensated as a lobbyist. A former lawmaker’s inside knowledge, as well as their relationships with former colleagues, gives them an “outsized influence” at the Roundhouse, the report says.

There are at least 34 former New Mexico legislators registered as lobbyists, many of them former leaders. “If the fact that some of the top lobbyists in Santa Fe are former legislators seems a little incestuous, this is only part of the story,” the report states. “A number of lobbyists are related to current legislators, by marriage and by blood.”

  • Require lobbyists to disclose how much money they receive for lobbying, which would “shine some light” on how much money the businesses they represent are spending to get their priorities enacted into law. As of 2015, according to the report, 26 states required lobbyists to report how much they were paid to influence public bodies.
  • Appropriate $50,000 to pay for lawmakers’ meals. When lawmakers don’t have time for a meal break, a lobbyist may volunteer or be asked to buy them food. At a minimum, the report states, this long-standing practice creates a public perception of a quid pro quo.
  • Pay legislators a fair salary. New Mexico is one of the few states in the nation that has a citizen Legislature in which lawmakers serve without a regular salary and staff. With short sessions and full agendas, the report states, legislators seeking help often turn to lobbyists who are hired to influence them.

The 55-page report by New Mexico Ethics Watch examined the connection between legislation and lobbying during the 2019 legislative session in four areas: cannabis, firearms, film and tobacco-related products. It found a correlation between contributions and votes, as well as “the contributing power and the hold that lobbyists in four specific areas had on legislation during the 2019 session.”

The report was designed to take a “fresh look at lobbying and the New Mexico Legislature,” noting it has been seven years since a comprehensive report on lobbying in New Mexico was last published.

“We have found both similarities and differences in how lobbyists operated then versus how they operate now,” the report states.

“The similarities? Lobbyists are still doling out large amounts of cash to entertain and elect legislators, with some of the same lobbyists still at the top of the lists in terms of contributions, expenses, and numbers of clients,” the report says. “Perennially powerful lobbyists still know how to expertly play the inside game, catering to legislators, using their access to legislators, and leveraging the timing of meetings and last-minute amendments to their advantage.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(2) comments

Chris Mechels

Going unreported by the New Mexican, the Ethics Commission has been neutered. Founded with great media attention, by a Constitutional Amendment, supported by the corrupt Democratic Leadership, it was born dead. If you examine the Commission website, you will find their reach is restricted to a few, pathetic, laws which have never been enforced. Even worse Joint Powers Agreements, esp with the SOS, leaves all enforcement with the SOS, NOT the Ethics Commission. If I send a Financial Disclosure complaint to the SEC, they are bound to hand it over to the SOS for enforcement. The SOS has NEVER enforced the Financial Disclosure Act, and won't. The Ethics Commission, aka SEC, was born to great acclaim, and throttled. But, what did we expect. It was created by the very, corrupt, Legislature, which needs oversight. Did we expect them to punish themselves? Fat chance. The result, ethics reform in now dead, having been "solved", for another 5-10 years, while the SEC rots in a corner. NM politics at its best. For REAL reform, we must look outside the Legislature, perhaps to an Independent Grand Jury, which can investigate Malfeasance, as our government is riddled with Malfeasance. Good luck??

Jim Clark

This is is a good start, we need to move toward eliminating lobbyists as quickly as possible.

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