With scandals, wrongdoing often focuses on individuals, and appropriately so. But garnering less scrutiny are the systems — by which I mean laws, regulations and often institutional culture — that enable these individuals to operate freely.
Think of how New Mexico public officials, especially the state’s Legislature, have opposed strengthening the state’s ethics and campaign finance regulations despite perennial calls by New Mexicans, the media and good government advocates following scandal after scandal.
It is with these thoughts in mind that New Mexico In Depth presents our 2016 Legislative Special Edition.
It is one part peeking behind the curtain at the campaign finance, ethics and regulatory systems in which candidates and elected officials operate; one part roadmap for improving these systems; and one part a demand for more openness in the basic functions of government — budgeting, the state tax code and funding of capital outlay projects across New Mexico.
At a deep, profound level, one of the great innovations of democracy is that it invests the public with the authority to oversee its elected leaders. To fulfill that responsibility, the public needs to know how government works. New Mexico state government does a poor job of sharing the relevant information to aid the public in this vitally important endeavor. It was no surprise then when in November New Mexico scored only 61, a letter grade of D-, in the 2015 State Integrity Investigation, a 50-state analysis of accountability, ethics and transparency in government, released across the country by the Center for Public Integrity.
In the special edition we reference CPI’s report numerous times to help us examine how New Mexico can improve public trust through strengthened laws and regulations — as well as beefed-up enforcement.
Here is a summary of what you’ll see:
- We spotlight the capital outlay system and secrecy surrounding how lawmakers pay for certain projects throughout New Mexico. Outside groups have called the system unusual and one scholar has gone so far as to describe it as an “illustration about how not to do capital improvement planning.” In a nod to the main business of this year’s 30-day session we explore how other states make the budget-making process more understandable to the public. We also shine a light on the state’s tax code, with an eye toward improving public understanding of an often arcane subject.
- We explore the lack of urgency among most of the state’s public officials, particularly New Mexico state lawmakers, to restore the public’s trust given the serial corruption New Mexicans have witnessed over the last decade.
- We also wonder what can be done to protect the political power of citizens against corruption and the oversized influence of big money. For possible solutions, we look to Massachusetts, the state to score highest in campaign finance transparency in CPI’s report. We also point out how little information the public is given concerning lobbyists and why that hinders the public in carrying out its democratic duty: overseeing their elected representatives.
- And we also take a look at the accessibility of the state budgeting process, as well as what many refer to as our hidden budget nestled in the tax code.
It is our sincere hope that this publication helps New Mexicans participate more effectively in the 2016 legislative session. We think of it as a contribution to the conversation increasingly occurring across the United States about what democracy looks like in the 21st Century.
Thank you in advance for reading it and joining us in this important conversation. We’ll be actively covering the legislative session for the People, Power and Democracy project. For webcasting of legislative hearings and floor debates from the Roundhouse, go to nmlegis.gov. The link for webcasting is on the right side of the Legislature’s webpage.