Bill to increase political reporting, raise contribution limits clears Senate

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth

An almost decade long saga may end this year if the latest effort to reform New Mexico’s unconstitutional campaign reporting act makes it to the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, would increase public disclosure of money spent to influence elections by requiring certain groups not covered by the act now to begin reporting their political spending. The bill also raises campaign contribution limits. The bill passed the Senate today easily, with only Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Republican senators Craig Brandt, Pat Woods, Bill Sharer, Cliff Pirtle, and Mark Moores voting against it, and now heads to the House. A similar bill passed the Legislature in 2017 but was vetoed by former governor Susana Martinez.

Ethics legislation drops, but tricky path ahead for popular idea

NMID Executive Director Trip Jennings

A bill to create an independent ethics commission was introduced Monday, nearly halfway through the 2019 legislative session. That’s later than expected given the overwhelming public support in November for the idea. The legislation, HB 4, introduced by Albuquerque Democrat House Rep. Damon Ely,  would flesh out how much power the seven-member independent ethics commission will have, its funding and how transparent it is. But it won’t be alone for long. Whispers are that there will be competing ethics measures.

Public disclosure of legislation a lobbyist works on moves forward

Lobbyist Tom Horan talks to the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs committee about why he opposes a lobbyist disclosure bill during the 2019 legislative session. An effort to require more transparency from lobbyists passed its first hurdle in the House. The idea behind HB 131 is pretty simple: lobbyists would report a few weeks after a legislative session ends what bills they worked on, including their position on each bill, if they had one. One of the bill co-sponsors said the measure aimed to help the public have a greater understanding of how policy is made. “We’re approached in the hallway, approached in the bar, people talk to you at a reception,” Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, told the House’s State Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee Monday.

Senate committee keeps ‘funding theater’ of capital outlay alive

The Senate Rules Committee killed a bill today to make public the capital outlay funding decisions of individual legislators. Currently, New Mexico’s capital outlay system allows lawmakers to divvy up a pot of money among themselves to then give out to projects as they see fit, and to keep that information secret. For instance, if a lawmaker has $100,000 to allocate and divvies it up among five different projects, the public is denied access to a list showing which projects, out of many requests, the lawmaker funded. Each legislator has to specifically give permission to legislative staff in order to allow release of that information. By the same token, the projects the legislator chose not to fund are also not known by the public.

Effort continues to make “super secret” capital outlay list public

The House made quick work last week passing a measure that would lift a veil of secrecy on how individual lawmakers allocate capital infrastructure money under their control. Currently, New Mexico is the only state in the nation that allows legislators to divvy up among themselves a big chunk of infrastructure money to direct to projects as they see fit. And it allows them to keep secret which projects they choose to fund, although the information is readily available in an existing database. Sen. Sander Rue discusses capital outlay transparency with the Senate Rules committee in 2018, during which rural legislators explained their reservations about the measure. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, called it the “super-secret private list which is the one that actually appropriates the money” last year during a Senate Rules Committee debate on the issue.

Lobbyist loophole fix heads to gov. as lobbyists spend nearly $90K

A bill requiring full disclosure of lobbyist expenditures is heading to the governor’s desk after being fast-tracked through the Legislature as part of the “rocket docket,” a set of bills prioritized after gaining legislative approval in previous sessions only to be vetoed by former governor Susana Martinez. Meanwhile, lobbyists or their employers have already reported spending almost $90,000 during the session. SB 191 fixes a mistake made by legislators in 2016 when they inadvertently got rid of a requirement that lobbyists and their employers report a total of smaller lobbying expenses. Transparency advocates characterized it as a step backward in an ongoing effort to create more transparent government. If Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs the bill, which she has indicated she will, all expenditures will have to be reported in the future, including the total of individual expenses under $100.

Lawmakers aim to make voter registration automatic, more convenient

A group of legislators want to ensure more New Mexicans can vote by making registration easier. They’re proposing automatic voter registration when a person gets a driver’s license and they also want to allow registration right at the polls. Eligible voters already can register or update their registration when applying for or renewing a driver’s license or identification at the Motor Vehicle Division. House Bill 84 would make that process automatic, with an opt-out option for those who don’t want to register. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Democratic representatives from Albuquerque and Corrales — Daymon Ely, Debra Sariñana, Patricia Roybal Caballero and Joy Garratt.

Money greases wheels of political machine, while legislative process is shrouded in secrecy

Each year, a small group of lawmakers doggedly push for improvements in the state’s disclosure laws related to campaign finance, lobbying, and discretionary infrastructure money available to lawmakers. Here are key initiatives New Mexico In Depth continues to follow. Steinborn works toward full disclosure of lobbyist spending on lawmakers, bills

For New Mexico’s volunteer legislators, campaign contributions provide more than just dollars to run an election. The money allows them to crisscross the state to meet constituents or go to legislative meetings. They can pay for telephone costs, stamps, conference travel out of state, and they can be donated to charities the candidate selects.

New Mexico doesn’t disappoint in Year of the Woman

New Mexico voters are sending the nation’s first Native American woman, Deb Haaland, to Congress. In what was arguably the hottest statewide race, voters also for the first time chose a woman, Stephanie Garcia Richard, to lead the State Land Office. And after electing the nation’s first Latina governor in 2010, voters again elected another Latina on Tuesday night, selecting Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham over Republican Steve Pearce to replace outgoing GOP Gov. Susana Martinez. That wasn’t all. Women appeared poised to take eight of 10 spots on the state’s second-most powerful court where females have never held a majority.