Annual lobbying ritual during session tops $200,000

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Lobbyists and their employers reported spending of $207,215 during the just-concluded legislative session. That’s just a slice of the total spending to influence legislation, as amounts spent under $500 won’t be filed until May.

Many of the expenditures were on events or gifts that are almost rituals at this point, annual occasions where lawmakers are wined, dined, and feted. New Mexico In Depth found that 84 percent of the spending was made by companies and organizations that spent similar amounts on similar events or gifts in 2017.

A few examples:

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) spent almost $28,000 for legislators at the Casa Espana Hotel in Santa Fe.

The oil and gas group spent almost $12,000 more than in 2017. Robert Mcintyre, communications director for NMOGA, told New Mexico In Depth that the dinner held on Jan. 31 was a “new event for 2018.”

He said it was an open, bipartisan dinner to “show appreciation to legislators.”

“The idea was to create a relaxed atmosphere, not necessarily a business atmosphere, but to create an atmosphere … to really show legislators appreciation,” Mcintyre said.

New Mexico’s budget is heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry, which provides 15 to 25 percent of general fund revenues each year. All the while, the state regulates the oil and gas industry.

Presbyterian Health Plan (PHP) spent more than $9,700 this session on a legislative dinner. For the past 24 years, PHP has hosted a thank you dinner for legislators. Todd Sandman, senior vice president of PHP, told New Mexico In Depth: “No formal lobbying or policy positions were advanced as this was an evening to thank and recognize legislators for their service.”

Conservation Voters New Mexico (CVNM), an environmental advocacy group, spent more than $4,400 on January 24th, to which they invited all legislators, and presented State Senator Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, an award for championing environmental legislation, including sponsoring numerous bills to end coyote killing contests

“Every year we recognize … an elected official who we see as exemplifying someone who is creating a change and passes good policies for the betterment of New Mexico,” said Liliana Castillo, communications director for CVNM.

Here is a spreadsheet containing all of the reported expenditures above $500 during the session. Included are two column showing whether the organization made lobbying expenditures in 2017.

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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. 

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