A gun control advocacy group that poured $216,500 into New Mexico’s 2016 legislative elections is finding at least one of its beneficiaries is a tough sell on expanding background checks for gun sales. Everytown for Gun Safety donated $5,000 to then House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, last June. The group also sent a mailer supporting Gentry, who is now the minority leader after Democrats regained control of the House. But late Friday, Gentry joined other Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee in voting against House Bill 50, which would require background checks at gun shows or online, including gun sales by private individuals. After extensive debate in two committees, the measure next goes to the House floor.
Reported lobbying efforts to influence New Mexico legislators neared $178,000 this week. A new big spender took over, as the National Rifle Association spent more than $44,000 on an internet campaign aimed at stopping two gun background check bills. That effort created by Starboard Strategic is aimed at generating public opposition to House Bill 50 and Senate Bill 48. Lobbyists and their employers are required to report any spending of $500 or more within 48 hours during the legislative session. That typically encompasses dinners, breakfasts, receptions and gifts doled out to lawmakers, as well as interest group spending such as the NRA’s.
A state Senate committee failed to muster enough votes Wednesday morning to pass a bill that would fix a transparency loophole the Legislature created last year. But the bill sponsor said he’ll try again to get the measure through the Rules Committee. The loophole allows lobbyists to disclose much less about how they spend money on public officials than they used to. It removed a requirement for lobbyists to report expenses spent on individual lawmakers below $100. Previously, lobbyists had to report all spending, itemizing expenses spent above $75 per lawmaker and reporting the cumulative amount of expenses below $75 per lawmaker.
Plenty of wining and dining of lawmakers occurred in the past week, as lobbyist spending during the session neared $107,000. The University of New Mexico threw a reception at the La Fonda at a cost of $11,146. Comcast spent $10,341 feting legislators to dinner at Restaurant Martin. But not all 112 lawmakers were invited to every event as the Legislature neared the end of the third week of the session. The Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee lunched at the Inn at Loretto courtesy of New Mexico Gas Co.
An interim committee to study New Mexico’s infrastructure funding is headed to the House floor after a 7-6 vote Monday. Republicans on the Taxation and Revenue Committee voted against House Joint Memorial 4 sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, while Democrats voted for it. The committee would incorporate staff from the state auditor’s office, and one Republican suggested including Department of Finance and Administration staff as well. The state’s overall infrastructure spending is divided among numerous agencies and committees. And each legislative session, lawmakers get to divvy up capital outlay money for projects in their district.
The nascent cannabis industry donated more than $52,000 to New Mexico candidates and political action committees in 2015 and 2016. The largest donor, Ultra Health, hopes to see lawmakers increase plant limits for medical marijuana providers this session. The Legislature is also considering bills that seek to legalize marijuana. The first, House Bill 89, is scheduled for a committee hearing Saturday. Eight states and the District of Columbia allow adult use of cannabis, while 25 allow medical use of the drug, which is still illegal under federal law.
Forty years of pork-barrel infrastructure funding would end under a bill introduced Monday. Instead of individual legislators handing out small sums of bond money for everything from musical instruments and zoo animals to public buildings and water projects, Senate Bill 262 would create an 18-member legislative committee to vet, rank and recommend projects for funding. Critics say that, currently, projects often aren’t fully funded or even requested by local officials. New Mexico is the only state in the nation that allows individual lawmakers to earmark infrastructure projects for funding. If SB 262 prevails, local governments would be required to request funding by July 1 each year, and the interim public works committee would then work through the requests.
From fancy dinners to ski passes, lobbyists and their employers reported spending more than $68,000 during the first two weeks of the legislative session. Topping the list are $27,500 worth of ski passes for lawmakers from Ski New Mexico Director George Brooks. Presbyterian Health Plan spent $10,873 on a dinner for elected officials at La Posada on Jan. 18. Lobbyists and their employers must report all expenses of $500 or more within 48 hours during the legislative session.
A bill requiring disclosure of legislative earmarks for infrastructure projects took its first step Monday. The Senate Rules Committee approved Senate Bill 25 in a 7-1 vote. It would require individual lawmakers’ allocations for capital outlay projects to be posted on the internet 30 days after the session ends. The Legislature typically divvies up a portion of the available infrastructure bond money among individual lawmakers. The House and Senate get equal amounts of money, with those amounts divided equally among members of each chamber.
Campaign donors would be able to double their contributions to state lawmakers under a campaign finance reform measure approved by the Senate Rules Committee Friday. Senate Bill 96 also would increase disclosure for super PACs and nonprofits that get involved in campaigning. The Senate Rules Committee approved the measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, in an 8-1 vote. Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said he couldn’t support the bill with the increased campaign limits for lawmakers. “I think adding on to the limits is the wrong way to go,” Steinborn said.