SOS updates guidelines for New Mexico lobbyists

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IMG_6121New Mexico lobbyists and their employers are being encouraged to be more specific about reporting campaign contributions and expenses in a new set of guidelines issued by the Secretary of State’s office Monday.

The new 15-page document replaces a previous 10-page document with greater detail on campaign contribution and expense reporting.

It comes just days after former Secretary of State Dianne Duran began a 30-day jail sentence after pleading guilty to six of 65 charges surrounding her campaign finances, including charges of depositing lobbyist contributions into her personal account.

After Duran’s charging in late August, New Mexico in Depth reviewed lobbyist contributions to politicians between 2013 and 2015.

In analyzing data from the Secretary of State, NMID noted that it often was unclear if the lobbyist or an employer made campaign contributions reported by lobbyists. Many filings also were unclear if some donations were to a candidate or to their political action committee.

In November, KOB-TV ran a series of stories about inconsistencies in campaign accounts, most of which occurred because of lax lobbyist reporting. At the time, Acting Secretary of State Mary Quintana shared a letter with NMID in response to two lawmakers vowing to revise lobbyist regulations.

The new guide released Monday recommends that lobbyists and their employers communicate more often about who will report expenses and contributions to avoid duplicate reporting.

“There are several places where lobbyists are ‘encouraged’  to do things because the statute doesn’t explicitly say they should,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. “And many of those places offer an opportunity for us to change the law and require that they do them, as opposed to just encouraging them to do so. “

Among the changes:

  • The online reporting system is being updated to allow lobbyists to include the employer who makes a campaign donation.
  • Lobbyists are asked to avoid reporting campaign donations cumulatively, instead listing individual contributions so they can be more easily compared to candidate reports.
  • Greater detail about the role and responsibilities of employers, including requiring employers who make contributions independent of their lobbyists to report those contributions.
  • A recommendation that lobbyists and employers make sure contribution checks have been cashed before reporting them.
  • Clarification that cumulative reporting of spending on lawmakers for meals and drinks of less than $75 per person should be more detailed than a single entry of all expenses for “various legislators.”

Earlier this year, NMID reported that much of the money lobbyists spend on lawmakers lacks detail about which elected officials benefited from wining and dining. Lobbyists and their employers spent nearly $2 million on gifts, meals and entertainment for elected officials from 2011 through 2014. In the first four months of 2015, they spent more than $500,000.

Lobbyist J.D. Bullington agreed the new regulations will improve transparency.

“The new guidelines acknowledge that the current laws regulating lobbyists are vague and ambiguous in some areas,” he said. “These new guidelines clarify many sections of the existing law that all of us as lobbyists will find very useful.”

Common Cause New Mexico and others have called for greater disclosure by lobbyists, including reporting of their payments from employers and bills and topics they’re being paid to work on.

Lobbyists must file their next reports on Jan. 15 for contributions and expenses made from late April through the end of 2015.

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