Before the House began to debate a budget on Feb. 22, there were burgers and fries.
And there was a thank you from Rep. Patty Lundstrom, the Democratic House Appropriations and Finance Committee chairwoman from Gallup, to the seven lobbyists who bought the food.
“Let’s thank them, because we’re getting some real food tonight, Mr. Speaker,” Lundstrom said after citing Vanessa Alarid, Mark Duran, Mark Fleisher, Charlie Marquez, John Thompson, Jason Thompson and Jason Weaks.
But spending for that meal doesn’t show up in the latest reports by the lobbyists, because the cost wasn’t $500 or more.
And it might not be reported in the next comprehensive reports by lobbyists because there’s still no action on efforts to close a loophole created last year that allows lobbyists to spend up to $99 at a time on each lawmaker without reporting it.
Burgers and fries definitely don’t qualify.
The loophole was created a year ago when lawmakers increased the amount lobbyists could spend from $75 to $100 per lawmaker without itemizing, but deleted a requirement for aggregate reporting for sums under $100.
So for instance, the lobbyists previously reported all their spending on lawmakers under $75 as a lump sum. Now, they no longer must do that.
An effort to close the loophole and increase some lobbyist reporting requirements stalled in the Senate Rules Committee.
The committee has had another measure to close the loophole, Senate Bill 393, on its schedule, but has yet to take it up.
Meanwhile, lobbyists still must report any expense of $500 or more during the session within 48 hours after making the expenditure.
They’ve reported $210,578 in such spending thus far.
Most recently, lobbyist Natasha Ning reported that Americans for Responsible Solutions spent $5,667 for a reception at the Inn at Loretto on Feb. 22. That group, created by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, is lobbying for increased background checks on gun sales in New Mexico.
Matejka Santillanes, a lobbyist for the Gallup-McKinley County School District, reported spending $1,584 on dinner at the Bull Ring for lawmakers and school board members on Feb. 24.
And Brian Moore, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Association of Counties, reported spending $507 on a meal for the Legislative Finance Committee on Feb. 24.
The annual 100th Bill Party was held at the convention center on Feb. 24, but those reports had not yet been filed by mid-afternoon Tuesday.
Here’s a look at spending so far:
This is concerning to all New Mexicans! Every nickle needs to be reported who contributed n to who! Legislatered are getting per diem and making a retirement! I saw some of last years reports n there was reps having his lunch n dinner paid for by lobbyists they carried bills for those same companies. I am not saying not let them receive the free meals I am saying be transparent!
If burgers, cries, and a soft drink can change a legislator’s vote or shore up support for legislation, we have bigger problems than those from fast-food contributions below the reporting threshold.