Dennis Roch and Bill Rehm are Republican lawmakers in the New Mexico state House. They represent the same number of people and receive equal dollar amounts for brick-and-mortar projects. In 2015, it was $600,000. The similarities mostly end there. The district Roch, a Logan school superintendent, represents stretches from Raton east to the Texas border and south to part of Portales.
The indictment in August against then-Secretary of State Dianna Duran gave New Mexicans the ultimate example of why campaign finance rules, and vigorous enforcement of them, matter. In late October Duran pleaded guilty to six of 65 counts, including two felony embezzlement charges, and last month a state judge sentenced her to 30 days in jail. It’s unclear if stronger campaign finance rules would have caught Duran earlier. They potentially might have if, under her direction, the Secretary of State’s office audited more campaign finance reports as required by law. But the audits are limited, and cross-checking donations is difficult.
Or perhaps a whistleblower could have reported to an independent ethics commission, if New Mexico state lawmakers had not repeatedly killed the idea year after year.
In August came news that Dianna Duran, New Mexico’s secretary of state and in charge of overseeing campaign finance compliance, had taken money from her campaign account, spent it at local casinos and falsified her own reports to hide it. Two months later she pleaded guilty to six criminal charges, including two felony counts of embezzlement. Weeks after her guilty plea, a report comparing campaign finance laws and compliance across all 50 states revealed what many of us in New Mexico already knew: Our state seriously lags when it comes to monitoring and controlling the flow of money into the political system. According to the Center for Public Integrity’s 2015 State Integrity Report, New Mexico ranked 36th,, flunking campaign finance transparency. Those who shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh yes, things are terrible, but what can we do?” might have a look at Massachusetts, the state to score highest in campaign finance transparency in CPI’s report.
Welcome to State Budgeting 101. Class starts when 112 state lawmakers convene in Santa Fe to approve a multi-billion dollar spending plan Gov. Susana Martinez can live with before the session ends Feb. 18. That sounds challenging, but the Martinez administration and the Legislative Finance Committee, the Legislature’s budget arm, already have tilled the ground by drafting competing multi-billion-dollar spending plans. Those documents will act as guides for the New Mexico Legislature over the next 30 days as officials work toward a compromise.
In the final hour of the 2013 session, a bill that shifted the tax burden from corporations to New Mexico’s cities and counties passed both chambers of the Legislature. Despite many lawmakers’ not knowing many of the details, they voted on the bill with little to no debate, provoking an angry response from a cross-section of New Mexicans once the news of how it passed got out. It was a rare moment for tax policy. Except for that massive tax bill, taxes usually are the quiet kid in the corner during the short budget-making session every two years, with small incremental changes in the tax code slipping through from time to time. But the tax side of the equation deserves more of a public focus, some people say.
2015 continued the affliction of public corruption New Mexicans have grown used to over the last decade, with Sec. of State Dianna Duran and Sen. Phil Griego making headlines.
“If not now, when?” asked Viki Harrison of the good government group Common Cause. “If this isn’t the time to get serious, when is it?”
Harrison was noticeably frustrated. Secretary of State Dianna Duran had just resigned and pleaded guilty to several criminal counts, including two felonies, for using campaign donations to feed a gambling addiction. Months earlier Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Zack Cook, R-Ruidoso, had sponsored a constitutional amendment to put the question of an ethics commission before voters. But, despite New Mexico’s dubious distinction as one of only eight states without a panel, the 2015 proposal suffered the same fate as others over the years.