New Mexico has 112 state legislators. Four are married to lobbyists, an unusually high percentage compared to other states.
This is just one reason no one is surprised when a lobbyist working behind the halls of power writes or recasts a bill. Lobbyists outnumber lawmakers and they almost always know more about legislation.
New Mexico lawmakers work part time. They do not receive a base salary. This shifts the balance of power against them and in favor of paid representatives of companies and advocacy groups.
Legislators need lobbyists to provide them with details about bills that can run hundreds of pages and contain language as impenetrable as a Faulkner novel.
Sen. Liz Stefanics recently said as much, though not to her constituents.
Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sent an email to lobbyists in which she mentioned their contributions to the legislative process and asked them to donate to her reelection campaign.
“As a lobbyist, you provide me with information that I do not always have,” she wrote. “While we may not agree on every issue, I am committed to open discussion to discover common ground. I look forward to finding ways to work together to continue addressing critical needs that affect everyone here in New Mexico.
“I appreciate your support in seeking reelection by contributing to my campaign.”
Stefanics provided addresses in which lobbyists could send her checks or donate online.
She closed by saying: “Please know my door is always open. Thank you for considering my request.”
An anonymous critic of Stefanics sent me a copy of her solicitation, calling it proof that the senator is “beyond her expiration date as a public servant.”
Stefanics, the critic said, began her political life as a reformer but now operates as an insider courting lobbyists.
I phoned Stefanics. She told me her tactic of writing lobbyists to ask for money was unusual in style, but similar to what other politicians do in every campaign.
For example, she said, certain candidates ask lobbyists to sponsor golf tournaments as fundraisers. Stefanics said she sees no practical difference in asking for contributions in writing or doing so orally.
She also said she wrote what she believed.
“I always learn by talking to lobbyists,” Stefanics said, adding that they get her ear but not necessarily her vote.
Negotiation, compromise and amendments are part of the process that can change a bill, she said.
Stefanics dismissed the charge that she is out of step with ordinary people based on her solicitation of lobbyists.
“I’m appealing to everybody,” she said.
Among others, she is seeking contributions from her Facebook followers and regular donors to her campaigns, she said.
Stefanics is one of the New Mexico legislators who is married to a lobbyist.
Her wife, Linda Siegle, is not part of her campaign and had no involvement in the letter appealing to other lobbyists, Stefanics said.
She represents Senate District 39. Shaped like a salamander, it sprawls across parts of six counties. From Santa Fe and San Miguel in the north, it reaches into Lincoln County in Southern New Mexico.
Stefanics won the seat three years ago in a tight race against Republican Ted Barela, who was the incumbent by appointment.
She spent more than $225,000 on her campaign, which included a competitive primary election.
This time, she said, she wants to start raising money in case challengers emerge.
Lobbyists I spoke to said they weren’t fazed by Stefanics’ letter seeking contributions.
“You could do the same thing over the phone,” one said. “It’s probably a lot tamer because it was written down.”
But I tend to agree with the tipster who criticized Stefanics.
In New Mexico, lobbyists have an exaggerated influence on legislation compared to their counterparts in other states.
New Mexico lawmakers don’t have individual staffs. Unlike salaried lawmakers elsewhere, many New Mexico lawmakers juggle a paying job with legislative work.
This gives lobbyists automatic access to lawmakers. They know just how to build on it.
When a legislative committee works late, one lobbyist or another will spring for dinner.
Fine meals and fraternizing, usually mixed with drinks, continue at restaurants outside the Capitol.
Lobbyists always buy during legislative sessions.
Perhaps Stefanics’ mass emailing to lobbyists is just another form of business as usual. Unfortunately, that’s the problem.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.