Lobbyists dole out quarter million in lead up to session

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Santa Fe is known for food. Really good food. In fact, the culinary scene is known to foodies across the country – maybe the globe – thanks to periodic travel and food pieces over the decades in a variety of publications, including the New York Times.

So it is no surprise that lobbyists would exploit Santa Fe’s culinary abundance as a way to build or maintain relationships with New Mexico’s policy makers. Forty one lobbyists, according to filings at the Secretary of State’s office, spent $35,000 since early October, about half of it at restaurants and hotels, on small groups of legislators, or in a few cases, legislative committees.

The Bull Ring, a Santa Fe institution (at least in New Mexico’s political and legislative circles), benefited from at least $3,055 in lobbyist spending. La Casa Sena got $4,174 in business when a lobbyist held a dinner for “committee members, guests, staff and company personnel.”

Such spending pales in comparison to the money professional lobbyists shower on elected officials, outright. In December, 18 of the 382 lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State’s office gave $220,000 in campaign contributions, mostly to legislators and the governor.

This quarter million in reported spending by lobbyists doesn’t capture the complete picture, though, because the figures don’t include money spent or given by the corporations, unions or nonprofits that employ lobbyists. We’re still looking at employer reports; more on that later.

There’s no question the stakes are high in 2019, with a new Democratic governor commencing her first 60-day session. Some lobbyists will try to pass long-stifled agendas, or to defend against or kill bills their employers dislike. Others will simply try to influence how the state billion-dollar-plus surplus gets spent.

When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made her State of the State speech before a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday, the atmosphere was festive, even jubilant among Democrats. Lujan Grisham talked about a lot, especially about how the state intends to meet its obligation to educate children. She spoke about building the economy, highlighting film and the great outdoors. About spurring a clean energy economy and developing a climate action plan. About tackling opioid addiction and behavioral health. She gave shoutouts to veterans, land grant and acequia communities, farmers and ranchers. She talked about raising wages.

She also told legislators she’d sign a bill to ensure lobbyists report spending below $100, which they are currently not required to do. Legislators have passed a bill more than once to require all money spent by lobbyist reported, but it was vetoed in both cases by former governor Susana Martinez.

But even if that bill passes, there are glaring omissions in what New Mexico requires lobbyists to report. The status quo prohibits the public from knowing the true amount of money spent by the companies or organizations that employ lobbyists to influence legislation or what particular bills lobbyists are pushing or opposing.

New Mexico’s citizen legislators say they listen to lobbyists but ultimately make their own decisions. But as one of the few states, if not the only one, that doesn’t pay its legislators a salary, New Mexico’s state lawmakers lean on lobbyists to a great degree for help in writing, interpreting and deciphering legislation. More sunshine would help, particularly at a time when the public trust of public officials is low.

This piece first appeared in New Mexico In Depth’s weekly newsletter. Don’t miss out — sign up here

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