Oil and gas gave big in 2023. The industry flexed its muscles this week.

Large oil and gas companies gave nearly $800,000 in the past 12 months to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, partisan legislative political action committees and individual state lawmakers, according to a partial review of campaign finance reports filed by lobbyists. That amount almost certainly will grow in coming months due to a quirk in New Mexico’s disclosure laws. Elected officials don’t have to report contributions they received in the last quarter of last year until this spring. 

The amount of money the industry showers on elected officials offers a glimpse into the influence it has at the state capitol during legislative sessions. 

The industry’s ability to shape legislation was on full display Thursday when a House committee substantively stripped a bill of new regulations that would have required oil and gas infrastructure to be set back more than a third of a mile from schools, health facilities, multifamily housing, occupied homes, and at least 300 feet from waterways.The political giving reflects the industry’s outsized dominance in a state that ranks second in oil production nationally and where more than 40% of funding for New Mexico’s state budget can be tied directly to the industry.The money spread around to New Mexico’s elected officials has been well-documented, as has its power. A March 2020 report by Common Cause New Mexico and New Mexico Ethics Watch detailed the largess over the years 2017-2019, with almost $12 million funneled into political campaign coffers, and more than a million more was given by October of that year.New Mexico In Depth also has documented the political spending and the push and pull over regulation through the years. In 2019, the first year Lujan Grisham took over as governor from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, there was a push by environmentalists to implement greater regulations for the oil and gas industry, but in the end, the oil and gas industry had little to fear. 

The industry far exceeds other industries in its political giving, and has for many years.

Debate over independent redistricting commission moves to Senate this year

Every ten years, the United States counts its people, tabulating where they live and who they live with, plus a range of factors about them, like their sex, race and ethnicity, age, income, and more. 

That census in turn affects people in significant ways, such as the once-a-decade process where local and state governments redraw political district boundaries based on how their population has changed. The goal is to ensure elected officials represent roughly the same amount of people. 

A Senate concept map, one of several the 2021 New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee voted to forward to lawmakers for consideration during the official redistricting process. This map-making process is called redistricting, and in New Mexico and most other states, at the state level it’s lawmakers who draw their own political district maps. 

But a coalition of advocates and civic groups, and some lawmakers, want voters to decide this November if an independent commission would do a better job than state lawmakers of drawing political districts in the future. 

A joint resolution sponsored by Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española, and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, would place the idea on the ballot during this fall’s statewide election. 

“I heard from New Mexicans from before I won the senate about how they thought a commission should be the one helping decide the district lines to make it fair for every New Mexican and every voting district,” Jaramillo said. 

Rep. Natalie Figueroa, who has championed the idea over several years, said there’s “a very direct conflict of interest in the legislators drawing their own boundaries for their own districts.” In order for the public to have faith in democracy, the Albuquerque Democrat said, there needs to be no question that lawmakers might create maps in a way that intentionally protects their own ability to get elected in the future. 

In 2019, in a New Mexico In Depth report on redistricting, experts said New Mexico’s redistricting system offered few constraints on how lawmakers choose to draw political district boundaries. After that report was produced, lawmakers created an independent committee to gather input statewide, and then create a series of maps to inform the Legislature’s redistricting process. The Legislature ultimately adopted maps drawn by legislators, and not those recommended by the independent committee.

Public blind to money flowing to lawmakers as session kicks off

As the New Mexico legislative session kicked off this week, the public was blind in one very important respect. 

Marjorie Childress, New Mexico In Depth

In the next four weeks, lawmakers will create a state budget worth at least $10 billion dollars, pass another quite large capital outlay budget, and pass influential tax and policy bills. But who gave money to those lawmakers in the last quarter of the year – in the form of campaign contributions – will largely be a mystery. That’s because lawmakers aren’t required to file a public report in January about campaign contributions they received in the run-up to the legislative session, if they didn’t run for office the year before. 

Since no lawmakers ran for office in 2023, we do not have a comprehensive data set showing the money that flowed into campaign accounts in the final months of 2023. Their last reports reflect contributions through Oct. 7, 2023, and we won’t have an update until April, when their next reports are due.I’ve been looking at campaign filings for many years. I promise you that among year-end contributors will be corporations and often, their owners and employees. There will be executives and public relations specialists for trade associations, labor unions, and public policy organizations. 

Some of those contributors will be registered as official lobbyists for their organizations, and in those cases we can see what they gave because lobbyists must file a January report. But while the reports of 100 or so lobbyists, or of their employers, are highly consequential, they are just a slice of the money flowing into the campaign accounts of lawmakers. A fuller picture would allow the public to comb through reports by address, employers, and occupation, and better understand how much money lawmakers are getting from a particular industry, special interest group, or simply from a handful of big donors. Last year, lawmakers were poised to pass a bill with several transparency measures, including one that would have shifted the reporting schedule to capture donations at the end of the year in a January report, showing how much money was given to lawmakers in the run-up to the legislative session.

Gov. Lujan Grisham will greenlight fixes to gutted anti-corruption law

The New Mexico Supreme Court in September 2022 removed the ability for prosecutors to criminally charge public officials for a range of ethics violations. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office confirmed via email Friday afternoon that she will empower state lawmakers to consider returning that power to prosecutors in the legislative session that starts Tuesday.Because it’s a short session, putting together the state budget takes priority, although a governor can add non-budgetary topics to the agenda. In this case, the topic will be the  state’s Governmental Conduct Act, the statute affected by the 2022 court ruling. 

The Supreme Court decision came out of litigation involving four separate cases featuring unethical behavior by local and state public officials between 2011 and 2018.A Doña Ana County treasurer offered money to an employee for sex.  A District Attorney in Grants used her position to intimidate officers investigating her use of a public vehicle for personal reasons. An Aztec magistrate judge was removed from the bench by the state supreme court for illegally recording her colleagues in secure areas of a court building.  A New Mexico Taxation and Revenue cabinet secretary used her position to access the tax records of a previous employer. (Prosecutors alleged Demesia Padilla was trying to prevent the audit of a former client, from whom prosecutors alleged she had embezzled money.

Talking ethics with New Mexico Ethics Commission director, Jeremy Farris

State ethics officials grapple with a paradox in their daily work, said Jeremy Farris, executive director of the New Mexico State Ethics Commission. On the one hand, the heart of their work is designed to ensure the public knows that elected officials and government workers are held accountable in how they use the powers and resources entrusted to them.  Why? Because those powers and resources belong to the people, not individuals holding public positions. This is one of two “big ideas” that motivate the commission, Farris said. The commission does that work by enforcing state ethics laws through investigations and in some cases, suing people.

The secret sauce of the alcohol industry’s statehouse success

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A new report brings into focus the insidious nature of alcohol industry lobbying at the New Mexico statehouse. “Still Under the Influence: A Look at the Alcohol Industry and Its Influence on New Mexico Elected Officials,” by Common Cause New Mexico, underlines the entrenched power of the industry. Sadly, 20 years after the good government group issued a similar report about alcohol, New Mexico leads the country with the highest alcohol-related death rate.

Lawmakers tackled New Mexico’s crisis of rural health care workers. It wasn’t enough.

As the crow flies, the Pojoaque Primary Care Center is about 20 miles from New Mexico’s 400-plus-year-old capital, Santa Fe, with its art galleries, well-known opera and tourist destinations. But it’s 45 minutes by car from Dr. Mario Pacheco’s home on Santa Fe’s south side. 
With roots in a small northern New Mexico town himself, Pacheco makes the drive from Santa Fe to serve a rural clientele that largely comes from northern Hispanic communities in the greater Pojoaque Valley. “I’m serving patients that I could really see as being my uncle or my aunt or my dad or my mom,” he said.  “These are people who can relate to me and I can relate to them.”
New Mexico has a severe shortage of healthcare workers like Pacheco, particularly in the state’s rural and frontier areas, where a third of the state’s 2.1 million people live. Lawmakers and the governor invested millions to close the gap earlier this year, but advocates say it’s not enough. “We don’t have enough doctors anywhere in New Mexico, but especially in rural New Mexico,” Pacheco said. 

 
The challenge is large: in July the state was short 1,000 physicians and almost 7,000 nurses, according to published job announcements around the state. 
And the need is only expected to grow as baby boomers retire and strain the already-overburdened system, without a guarantee that a new generation will replace retiring medical professionals.  Every state is confronting too few medical professionals.

New Mexico expands restorative justice pilot project

A state pilot program to implement a new discipline approach called restorative justice will expand from 12 to 24 schools in the coming year, according to program coordinator Emma Green. 

Green appeared on the local public affairs show New Mexico In Focus last week, explaining restorative justice as a philosophical shift away from zero tolerance, exclusionary, traditional punitive model and a shift when possible toward accountability-based consequences. It brings together the person harmed and the person who did the harm to determine how to make it right, she said. 

“I have done over 300 talking circles,” Green said, “And I have never seen more accountability in any human than when somebody understands that they harmed someone else, that maybe they didn’t understand the ripple effect of their action.” 

New Mexico In Depth published a story earlier this month about restorative justice to explore new approaches to school discipline after finding that Indigenous students in New Mexico disproportionately experience harsher punitive discipline than other student groups. Executive Director Trip Jennings joined Green and NMiF Executive Producer Jeff Proctor to discuss that work and how restorative justice is gaining a foothold in New Mexico schools:

House kills effort to increase campaign sunshine and prevent corruption

The New Mexico House of Representatives rejected a package of reforms to the state’s Campaign Reporting Act that would have closed a loophole allowing independent groups to evade reporting their donors. 

Senate Bill 42, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, would have fixed language in the law that a nonprofit organization exploited in 2020 to get around disclosing who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for political advertising in support of a ballot referendum on converting the Public Regulation Commission from an elected to an appointed body. 

Eleven Democrats joined all Republicans to kill the bill. 

Eleven House Democrats joined all Republicans to defeat Senate Bill 42 on March 15, 2023. Image from the House of Representatives vote tally board. “I’m very disappointed that members of my own party joined all of the Republicans to prevent the public from knowing who is paying for, among other things, political attack ads,” McQueen said after the vote. 

Other reforms in the package included changes to ensure candidates don’t charge interest on personal loans they make to their own campaign accounts, thereby profiting from campaign contributions used to pay off such loans. 

It would have changed reporting dates to provide more timely information about contributors to their campaigns. Currently, the public is in the dark for months about who gives money to campaigns on election day, or in the months preceding the legislative session in non-election years. 

The bill also would have barred  lawmakers from accepting contributions from lobbyists or political committees during the legislative session. 

During the floor debate on the bill, McQueen fielded a wide range of questions, many of them about existing provisions under the Campaign Reporting Act that wouldn’t have been changed under Senate Bill 42. Numerous questions were fielded about provisions related to personal loans made by candidates to their own campaign accounts.