In our society, money buys things. That includes at places like the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, where the textbook ideal is an informed citizenry empowered to ask elected officials educated questions about how decisions are made but where the reality often is more muddy.
What money buys in Santa Fe is a pressing question these days in New Mexico, where in the past three years, a former secretary of state has pleaded guilty to embezzlement and a former state senator has been convicted of bribery.
Gov. Susana Martinez, who has touted herself as a champion of transparency, on Thursday vetoed legislation that would have required lobbyists to return to disclosing more information publicly about money they spend on public officials. The Legislature passed a law that weakened those rules last year but sought to correct what some lawmakers called an inadvertent mistake during this year’s 60-day session, which ended last month. Martinez’s veto means lobbyists won’t need to report expenses on lawmakers and other public officials under $100, as they did prior to the current law taking effect. Martinez explained her reasoning in a one-page veto message. “Various interpretations and ambiguity of the bill became clear” after discussion with the bill sponsor, Martinez wrote in her veto message, although she didn’t detail that ambiguity.
The sponsor of legislation that would require lobbyists to disclose more about what they spend each year on state lawmakers and other public officials said he was considering changing the bill after a fifth state lawmaker publicly stated his opposition Friday morning. “Clearly there is heartburn with some of the progressive ideas that I’ve proposed” in SB 168, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said. Steinborn’s reconsideration came after Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, became the fifth lawmaker on the Senate Rules Committee to openly block the legislation. On Wednesday Candelaria had voted against a motion to not pass SB 168 out of the Senate Rules Committee, joining three other Democrats against four Republican Senators who wanted to table the legislation. The bill’s main goal is to fix a transparency loophole the Legislature created last year that allows lobbyists to disclose much less about how they spend money on public officials.
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.
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.
The 2017 Legislature kicked off at the Roundhouse Tuesday, and the first order of business was Gov. Susana Martinez’s state of the state address to the legislature. That speech featured many proposals the Republican governor has advocated for years – reinstating the death penalty, avoiding tax increases, holding back third graders who can’t read and increased penalties for DUIs. But she also advocated bipartisanship, probably a necessary step when Democrats control the Legislature. Opening day is largely one of pomp and circumstance, especially for new lawmakers and their families. For New Mexico In Depth and KSFR Radio, we tracked down five new lawmakers in the boisterous capitol and asked about their day, the state of the state address and their goals for the 60-day session.
Republican House Majority Leader Nate Gentry and several other legislative candidates began airing TV ads last week. New Mexicans will see more than 11,000 political ads on TV this month at a cost of more than $2 million, according to a New Mexico In Depth analysis of contracts filed through Friday with the Federal Communications Commission. Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham leads in spending with more than $419,000. Super PAC Advance New Mexico Now is spending nearly $244,000 on ads in the Albuquerque area to attack Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, of Belen. Update: On Monday, two stations filed additional Advance contracts worth nearly $70,000 for ads in the final week of the election.