New Mexico bans lobbyists or their employers from giving money to lawmakers or candidates running for legislative seats anytime the Legislature is in session.
But it isn’t clear from a review of reports filed by legislators, candidates and political action committees covering the Sept. 30-Oct. 6 special session if everyone understands the law or even remembers it is on the books.
In addition, a lack of standard reporting requirements and spotty or sloppy entries appear to make it difficult to know when and if a violation has occurred.
For instance, the Realtors Association of New Mexico, El Paso Electric Co. and others reported donating a total of $58,700 to legislative candidates and affiliated PACs during the special legislative session.
That’s based on New Mexico In Depth’s review of reports filed with the Secretary of State in October, November and last week.
But when contacted by NMID, representatives of the Realtors Association and El Paso Electric said they didn’t make the contributions during the session.
Steven Anaya, CEO and lobbyist for the association, said the dates listed on the report by the association’s PAC showing $17,350 to 27 candidates on Oct. 4 were the date the checks were written, not when they were given to candidates. Those checks weren’t given until the session was over, he said.
“I can guarantee that we didn’t give while they were in session,” Anaya said. “Either they were given before or after. We’re pretty careful about that.”
However, four lawmakers reported receiving the contributions on Oct. 4 in their campaign finance reports. It isn’t illegal for lawmakers to receive money during a session, but they cannot solicit it. Anaya said that might be because that was the date on the check.
Other candidates reported receiving the money from the Realtors Association between Oct. 11 and Nov. 22.
The Secretary of State’s office received several complaints about lawmakers continuing to display donation buttons on websites, but didn’t find any violations, said Kari Fresquez, elections director for the office.
But no one has filed a complaint about lobbyists or their employers donating during the special session with her agency, which only investigates potential violations once a complaint is filed, Fresquez said.
The El Paso Electric Co. Employee PAC reported in a November report donating $12,600 to 17 candidates on Oct. 4, but that was a mistake, a representative for the organization said.
“After reviewing the report, an inadvertent clerical error on the date reported was identified,” Ricardo Gonzales, the company’s lobbyist, wrote in an email after being contacted by NMID. “We are currently amending the PAC report to reflect the correct dates. It is important to note there were no contributions made during the 2016 special session and we are working to amend the report to reflect the correct information.”
The New Mexico Petroleum Marketing Association PAC, meanwhile, reported contributing $1,000 to then-GOP senatorial candidate, Candace Gould on Oct. 5. Gould, who won her Albuquerque contest, is the wife of Leland Gould, the president of the association as well as a lobbyist for Western Refining of El Paso.
Ruben Baca, the association lobbyist, said he wasn’t in New Mexico during the special session. Gould reported receiving it Oct. 6, which was a Thursday and the last day of the special session.
“I didn’t give it to her until the weekend,” Baca said.
Here’s a look at PAC donations to candidates during the special session as reported by the organizations:
In other instances, it appears other PACs may have erred in reporting the dates of donations. For instance, two candidates who received contributions from the Committee on Individual Responsibility, a trial lawyers PAC, reported receiving them in late September before the session, not on Oct. 1 as reported by COIR.
PACs, meanwhile, reported making contributions to five lawmakers during the special session that were not reported in the legislators’ campaign finance reports.
One of those lawmakers, Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, said he didn’t receive a contribution from an insurance PAC that reported donating to him. He said the check would have caught his attention since he works in the insurance industry.
Another, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, said she didn’t receive a check from a union that reported donating to her.
This is not the first time New Mexico In Depth has reported on the timing of contributions to lawmakers or legislative candidates.
NMID reported in October that the American Federation of Teachers of New Mexico donated $3,900 to 18 lawmakers or legislative candidates on Oct. 3. Those contributions were found on the organization’s Oct. 11 report to the Secretary of State, which covered the period from Sept. 6 through Oct. 3, including the first four days of the session – Sept. 30-Oct. 3.
AFT President Stephanie Ly, a registered lobbyist, told NMID at the time the teachers union typically sends out campaign donation checks at the first of the month. She said she didn’t believe the contributions were a violation of the law.
Here’s a look at all the contributions given by PACs that employ lobbyists between Sept. 30 and Oct. 6:
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