Go public with alleged ethical lapses and jail could be your next stop

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Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has filed her own version of a bill that would create a state ethics commission. And as with similar legislation she filed in 2016, the legislation  contains provisions that would enable officials to punish anyone who talks publicly about a confidential complaint filed with the proposed panel with up to $35,000 in fines and a year behind bars, or both.

You can find the language in Section 16 of SB 218 on page 23:

A. Disclosure of any confidential complaint, report, file, record or communication in violation of the State Ethics Commission Act is a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both.

B. In addition to a penalty imposed pursuant to Subsection A of this section, a court may impose a civil penalty not to exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) for each violation of Section 12 of the State Ethics Commission Act.

The language appears close to if not exactly the same as language in a bill Lopez filed in 2016 that would have created a state ethics commission.

A. Disclosure of any confidential complaint, report, file, record or communication in violation of the State Ethics Commission Act is a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both.

B. In addition to a penalty imposed pursuant to Subsection A of this section, a court may impose a civil penalty not to exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) for each violation of Section 12 of the State Ethics Commission Act.

The proposed penalties aren’t a surprise to people familiar with the Roundhouse. Some lawmakers have long cited fear of politically motivated public attacks as a primary reason for their resistance to an independent ethics commission.

Since 2006 when a task force first recommended the creation of such a panel, state lawmakers have rejected 20 or so ethics commission proposals.

As I noted nearly a year ago on this site about last year’s legislation by Lopez (and the same could be said about this year’s too):

… the legislation would have allowed for penalties of up to $35,000 on a person who publicly discloses a confidential complaint made to the hypothetical state ethics commission. That’s larger than the fines and restitution former Secretary of State Dianna Duran was ordered to pay after pleading guilty to felony embezzlement of her campaign funds …

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