Business leaders push for ethics reform

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IMG_6111Three-quarters of New Mexico business leaders want the state to have an independent ethics commission, according to a recent poll commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board (CED), a nonpartisan, business-led public policy organization, and conducted by Research & Polling. Two proposals moving through the state Legislature would do just that.

“While business leaders are split on whether New Mexico is heading in the right direction, the vast majority (86%) think that ethics in state government has been a long-time problem,” Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Roy Martinez said in a statement released by the Committee for Economic Development.

“There is a great deal of agreement that more transparency is necessary and that the establishment of an independent ethics commission should be among New Mexico’s priorities in the ethics reform process,” Martinez said.

Unlike most other states, New Mexico doesn’t have a centralized way of investigating cabinet officials, state legislators, state contractors or lobbyists who have been accused of corruption. Right now, ethics rules are spread across many parts of state government and they are rarely enforced.

The state Legislature’s Interim Ethics Committee hasn’t taken any public action in more than 20 years.

Reform groups like Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the Foundation for Open Government and the Chamber of Commerce have for years pushed for an ethics commission, to no avail. The measure has never made it to the governor’s desk—and Gov. Susana Martinez says she doesn’t support the idea, arguing that allegations of corruption should be pursued by law enforcement.

In the past, lawmakers have expressed concern that an ethics commission would function primarily as a vehicle for political opponents to attack them, by filing frivolous, inaccurate complaints.

But others keep pushing for the idea.

“We need to join the 42 other states in this country that already have independent ethics commissions,” said the sponsor of one of the bills (HB 115), House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

A commission, Egolf said, would “give the public at large confidence in their state government, confidence that ethics laws are being complied with, and that when there’s an allegation of wrongdoing it’s taken seriously and investigated properly.”

Egolf’s proposal has been through one committee so far and will need to move quickly in order to make it through the Senate by the end of the session.

A separate proposal (HJR15) would ask voters to amend the constitution in order to create an ethics commission. Sponsored by Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, has yet to be scheduled for a single committee.

To listen to an audio version that ran on NMID’s media partner, KUNM, click here.