Ski passes, newspaper ads and meals: A look inside lobbyist spending during the session

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What do ski passes, meals and newspaper ads all have in common? Lobbyists or their employers have purchased them in recent weeks as part of their ongoing efforts to build relationships with or bring lawmakers around to their perspectives on issues.

According to mandatory reports filed since January 17th, lobbyists or their employers have spent more than $75,111 so far this session, slightly more than $68,000 spent by this time last year. About half the expenses were in the form of meals at restaurants in and around the Roundhouse, mostly larger events to which all legislators were invited.

Lobbyist Natasha Ning told New Mexico In Depth (NMID) she was lobbying to establish a new scholarship at New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI), called the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship. House Bill 68, would allow NMMI to transfer $500,000 each year to the new scholarship fund from the institute’s existing budget balances.

“It’s annual scholarship money and we want to earmark it for New Mexico students,” said Ning.

Ning spent more than $3,700 for a breakfast on January 23 at the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe.  All New Mexico legislators were invited, but some didn’t attend, she said.

George Brooks, the Executive Director of Ski New Mexico, lobbied the Round House to promote the in-state ski industry. Brooks gave House and Senate lawmakers VIP day passes to “learn and experience” the industry. These ski passes have become almost an annual tradition, showing up on the lobbying reports year in and year out, with Brooks saying it’s “something done for a long, long time and it’s more goodwill than lobbying.”

“We’re hoping they will come up and see what our industry is so they know part of what the tourism industry is,” Brooks told NMID. He wants the legislature to support the Department of Tourism budget to improve all tourism in New Mexico, not just skiing, he said.

Brooks said the invitation was turned down by some lawmakers.

Some lobbyists that come to the Roundhouse want to change federal policy.

Barry Fadem made his way to the Roundhouse on January 17 and spent more than $1,600 in meals – a luncheon and dinner – for New Mexico lawmakers.

Fadem gave presentations about the National Popular Vote interstate compact, which would require states to allocate their electoral college votes to the presidential candidate who has won the national popular vote. States that collectively hold 270 electoral votes must enter the compact in order for it to become activated. There are currently ten states with a total of 165 electoral votes that have entered the compact – Hawai’i, California, Washington, Maryland, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.*

New Mexico came close to crafting the same law in 2017 with the help of Fadem, who attended the Roundhouse for seven-weeks straight.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Bernalillo), passed the Senate, but the session ended before it could gain traction in the House.

“Our approach is we meet with every single legislator that will meet with us, democrat, republican, conservative, independent, because … this issue is about making New Mexico relevant in the presidential election,” Fadem said.

Other lobbyists spent money to thank legislators for their actions.

Mary Jessa Bunker, a lobbyist for Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) St. Joseph’s Children spent more than $3,300 for ads in the Santa Fe New Mexican and Las Cruces Sun.

The ads thanked House representatives for voting in favor of House Joint Resolution 1 in 2017, which would have allowed voters to decide whether to tap the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for additional funds to provide early education programs.

Sarah Hoffman, lobbyist for the Rocky Mountain Synod, spent $1,972 on a luncheon on Jan. 22 and awarded advocacy awards to religious groups doing charity work.

The lobbyist also oversaw a recognition ceremony for two of the three legislators, Sen. Bill O’Neil (D-Bernalillo) and Rep. Alonzo Baldonado (R-Valencia), that sponsored the Ban the Box bill, vetoed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Hoffman told NMID she only had five legislators attend her event this year.

Any lobbying expenditure of $500 or more during the session must be reported within 48-hours of being made. In 2017, lobbyists reported expenses of $292,000 within 48-hours of making them. A lot more is being spent, in amounts lower than $500, but those expenditures won’t be reported until May.

Here is a look at lobbyist and lobbyist employer expenses this session. New Mexico In Depth will be updating this spreadsheet on a daily basis as reports come in–stay tuned.

*Correction: This article originally said Fadem’s goal was to abolish the electoral college. But his campaign instead seeks to change how states allocate their electoral college votes.

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Anthony Jackson is a native New Mexican studying political science and journalism at the University of New Mexico. He is currently serving a legislative fellowship with New Mexico In Depth.