New tools for following the money in New Mexico

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.

NMID wins big in regional journalism contest

New Mexico In Depth notched two wins competing against the largest newspapers, radio and TV stations in the four-state region of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The awards, part of the annual Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest, were announced last week at the Denver Press Club.  

NMID’s Deputy Director Marjorie Childress won first place in the political enterprise reporting category for newspapers whose circulation tops 75,000 and large-market radio and TV stations. Her September 2017 story Realtors and developers give big money to ABQ mayoral candidates took the prize. Using data analysis, Childress examined campaign finance data and then did additional reporting to conclude the real estate and land development sector had given roughly $1 of every $4 raised in the Albuquerque mayoral race as election day neared.

Legislature passes campaign finance reform years in the making

It’s now up to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez whether New Mexico’s campaign finance disclosure laws will be modernized. The Senate agreed to House amendments to Senate Bills 96 and 97 Tuesday. The House approved the two measures Monday night. SB 96 has the greater impact, aiming for more disclosure from independent spending groups during campaigns. But it also doubles the donation limits for legislators to $5,000 for each primary and general election cycle.

Follow 2017 legislative session via NMID’s Ethics Tracker

Entering the third week of New Mexico’s 2017 legislative session, several ethics and campaign finance reform bills have cleared their first committee hearings. In the interest of reporting on these subjects in a comprehensive way, we’ve decided to share our internal “ethics tracker” publicly. Ethics and campaign finance are issue areas New Mexico In Depth has reported on for years. This year, two bills that would bring significant change to New Mexico seem to have more traction than in years past:

     Creation of an independent ethics commission, or similar entity.      Passage of an omnibus campaign finance reform bill.

Campaign finance reform bill increases lawmaker contribution limits

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.

Leadership shift sparks hope for supporters of campaign finance reform

New Mexico’s campaign finance system needs a major retooling. This is not a new revelation. For years the Secretary of State’s office and supporters of reform have said as much. Some of the law’s provisions are unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. Inconsistencies and loopholes in the act make following the trail of money in politics difficult. And the law fails to acknowledge the recent rise of money flowing into campaigns from independent groups.

New Mexico In Depth Special Edition: 2017 Legislative Session

New Mexico In Depth’s coverage of the New Mexico 2017 Legislative Session kicks off with this special edition covering a range of issues:

Campaign finance reform, Capital Outlay, and Ethics Reform
Impact of budget crisis on child welfare programs
Cannabis legalization for adult recreational use
Demographics of the legislature

Newspapers around the state published this special edition the first week of the session: Santa Fe New Mexican, Las Cruces Sun-News, Farmington Daily Times, Carlsbad Current Argus, Alamogordo Daily News, Rio Grande Sun, Silver City Sun-News, Deming Headlight, and the Ruidoso News. Be sure to follow our coverage throughout the session, here on our site and as part of a special project called People, Power, and Democracy, in collaboration with our partners–KUNM Public Radio, New Mexico In Focus, and the UNM News Port.

Gov. Martinez Uses Speech to Encourage Government Reform

Just two days after former Secretary of State Dianna Duran was released from county jail, Gov. Susana Martinez used a small part of her fifth State of the State address to support government accountability efforts. The nod from the governor came on the same day that good government group Common Cause released the results of a statewide survey showing broad support for ethics and campaign finance reforms. About 85 percent of New Mexicans want the legislature to create an independent ethics commission, according to the poll, conducted in December by Research and Polling, Inc.

But poll numbers don’t offer reform advocates any assurance that their ideas will translate into votes of support or the governor’s signature. Bills that would create some form of ethics commission have languished in Santa Fe for years. In her hour-long address to state lawmakers, Martinez focused on fighting violent crime, improving education and advancing economic development proposals, but she specifically mentioned the need to improve campaign finance reporting and close the revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists. She called for changes to the state’s much-maligned capital outlay process, saying: “We need to fix the way we spend infrastructure money, because the way projects are funded now leads to unmet regional and state needs, and a string of projects that haven’t been vetted and can’t be completed.” And she said there should be full disclosure by individual lawmakers of the projects they choose to fund with their personal pots of capital outlay money.