By now, you’ve seen Politico’s story on Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Michelle Lujan Grisham and her affiliation with Delta Consulting, an entity that administers a little-known state health insurance program. If you haven’t, it’s a worthwhile read. Published this week, the story repeatedly mentions legislation — House Bill 316 — that New Mexico In Depth analyzed during the 2017 legislative session. The Politico story frames the legislation, which stalled late during last year’s session, around Lujan Grisham’s past business association with Democratic state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, who heads up the Legislature’s House Health and Human Services Committee. Lujan Grisham and Armstrong were principals in Delta Consulting, which is contracted by the state to run the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool.
The three Democratic candidates for governor met in a forum in Las Cruces this week to showcase their plans to change the direction of New Mexico, which has suffered what some economists have called a lost decade after the Great Recession — a period when New Mexico lost more than 50,000 jobs, wages stagnated and more families ended up on public assistance. The evening at the Rio Grande Theatre before a nearly full house was at times testy, with former media executive Jeff Apodaca taking a potshot at frontrunner Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham for skipping previous forums with her opponents in his opener, and lawyer and state Sen. Joe Cervantes calling out Apodaca on his lack of understanding about New Mexico’s water woes in the face of Texas vs. New Mexico and Colorado. But on the whole, the format kept crosstalk at a minimum, with no rebuttals allowed and candidates unable to directly question one another. The three Democratic hopefuls took on a wide array of topics, from legalizing marijuana (Apodaca: legalize, Lujan Grisham: legalize with safeguards, Cervantes: decriminalize), the behavioral health meltdown in the state, the state’s messy tax code, renewable energy plans, and education.
It can be tough to figure out how private money influences government as it flows through the political process. Not only are there gaps in required reporting about money and gifts showered on politicians and elected officials, the data that is publicly available is often unwieldy to work with, found in hundreds of individual reports or in spreadsheets that may have both duplicative and missing data. One of our jobs as journalists is to make sense of it all, so that it informs our reporting on the political and governance process. At New Mexico In Depth, we’ve acquired skills and tools that help us crack open large sets of data, and we are able to work with talented data analysts and coders. But we also believe it’s super important for the public to be able to search data, bringing their own knowledge to bear on the issue of how money affects political outcomes.
When candidates file their campaign finance reports Monday, there will be all types of ways to analyze the data. One will be to look for the biggest donors. But identifying them can be tricky. Even though New Mexico passed campaign contribution limits in 2009 after several high-profile elected officials went to jail for corruption, people still have the potential to contribute more than the limits by giving through companies they own, or combining with family members to give. This year New Mexico’s campaign contribution limit for statewide office is $5,500 in both the primary and general election cycles.