Absence of watchdog groups means lawmakers must proceed with caution

With news that the 2021 legislative session would be held virtually – with the public and lobbyists prohibited from being in the capitol building – it’s likely that legislative agendas are being adjusted. For interested citizens, lobbyists and state agencies charged with reporting to or suggesting reforms to the Legislature, the most important question may be how to participate in the upcoming session – in floor sessions, committee meetings, and with all important personal visits with individual legislators – in order to protect the public interest. Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, New Mexico Ethics Watch

Because we have a citizen legislature, with short sessions and limited full-time and seasonal staff available to legislators, lawmakers often rely upon lobbyists to educate them about legislation, particularly complex legislation.  That element will also be missing. So, what do we wish for in the upcoming session and how do we accomplish it? The newly formed State Ethics Commission filled a void in state government.  Within the legislation enabling the commission (2019’s SB 668), not only is the commission required to submit an annual report to the Legislature and governor that includes recommendations regarding state ethics laws, the Legislature was specifically charged with making recommendations during this upcoming session on any changes to the Campaign Reporting Act, the Voter Action Act and the Lobbyist Regulation Act, “necessary for the efficient administration and enforcement of the provisions” of these acts.

House Judiciary ethics changes set up potential for legislative showdown

With less than 48 hours left in the 60-day session, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday evening set up the potential for a legislative showdown over a new, independent ethics commission as time runs out on the 2019 session. It happened when House Judiciary members dramatically altered the Senate’s vision for the new commission, sending it to the full House for a vote. It was another strange turn in the long trip for ethics commission legislation during this year’s session as state lawmakers seek to honor New Mexicans’ wishes. Seventy five percent of voters in the November election approved amending the state constitution by adding an independent ethics commission with subpoena power following a series of scandals.  

That the fate of a new commission might be decided in a game of legislative chicken in the final 36 hours of this year’s session isn’t a surprise.

Legislature should enact voters’ mandate for strong ethics commission

The “devil is in the details,” the old adage goes, and nowhere is this more evident than in drafting legislation. After 75 percent of New Mexico’s voters supported the passage of a constitutional amendment to establish an independent ethics commission last fall, the 2019 Legislature is now mandated to craft those “devilish details” and pass enabling legislation that will set up and empower this commission to begin its work. The 2017 House Joint Resolution that initiated the ballot measure only drew a broad outline of the commission’s appointment process, statutory jurisdiction and powers, and now it’s time to provide the ways and the means for the commission’s functions and funding. This presents an exciting opportunity for New Mexico. Since June of 2018, staff from Common Cause, New Mexico First, the League of Women Voters, NM Ethics Watch, legislators and their staff have been meeting to work through many of these details and to build a blueprint for enabling legislation.

Compliance with ABQ lobbying rules falls way short

One way to cut through the din of constant political noise during an election is to look at the money flowing through the political system. Laws that require campaign and lobbying reports are meant to help the public learn about groups or people attempting to influence election outcomes through donations, or official decisions by spending money on elected officials once they’re in office. Those laws are only worthwhile, though, when they are followed. Take, for example, Albuquerque’s lobbying ordinance. It looks good on paper.

Video: Rep. Jim Dines says subpoena power important for ethics commission

New Mexico is one of the few states that doesn’t have a state ethics commission, and Rep. Jim Dines, R-Bernalillo, hopes to change that. House Joint Resolution 8 proposes an independent ethics commission that oversees complaints concerning state officers and employees, lobbyists, campaigns, and state contractors. Rep. Dines says the subpoena powers contained in the resolution are important. “It gives the commission the ability to obtain records that are out there that would be able to help end the investigation of a potential ethics complaint,” said Rep. Jim Dines. Co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Jeff Seinborn (D- Doña Ana), Rep Nathan P. Small (D- Doña Ana), and Rep. Bill McCamley (D- Doña Ana).

Follow 2017 legislative session via NMID’s Ethics Tracker

Entering the third week of New Mexico’s 2017 legislative session, several ethics and campaign finance reform bills have cleared their first committee hearings. In the interest of reporting on these subjects in a comprehensive way, we’ve decided to share our internal “ethics tracker” publicly. Ethics and campaign finance are issue areas New Mexico In Depth has reported on for years. This year, two bills that would bring significant change to New Mexico seem to have more traction than in years past:

     Creation of an independent ethics commission, or similar entity.      Passage of an omnibus campaign finance reform bill.

Will independent ethics oversight catch on in 2017?

New Mexico’s lawmakers over the last decade have balked at creating an independent ethics commission even as a parade of elected and appointed public officials stood accused of corruption and, in some cases, were convicted of crimes. Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico and a perennial supporter of ethics legislation, reached back to 1990s American cinema for an analogy: Groundhog Day, a 1990s comedy classic in which the main character is forced to repeat the same day over and over again. “We are freakin’ Bill Murray,” Harrison said. Harrison hopes 2017 will break the cycle, however, and on the surface the odds in Santa Fe appear favorable. New Mexico’s lawmakers convene for the 2017 60-day legislative session with two supporters of the ethics legislation — Sen. Peter Wirth and Rep. Brian Egolf – in powerful leadership posts.

New Mexico In Depth Special Edition: 2017 Legislative Session

New Mexico In Depth’s coverage of the New Mexico 2017 Legislative Session kicks off with this special edition covering a range of issues:

Campaign finance reform, Capital Outlay, and Ethics Reform
Impact of budget crisis on child welfare programs
Cannabis legalization for adult recreational use
Demographics of the legislature

Newspapers around the state published this special edition the first week of the session: Santa Fe New Mexican, Las Cruces Sun-News, Farmington Daily Times, Carlsbad Current Argus, Alamogordo Daily News, Rio Grande Sun, Silver City Sun-News, Deming Headlight, and the Ruidoso News. Be sure to follow our coverage throughout the session, here on our site and as part of a special project called People, Power, and Democracy, in collaboration with our partners–KUNM Public Radio, New Mexico In Focus, and the UNM News Port.

Gov. Martinez Uses Speech to Encourage Government Reform

Just two days after former Secretary of State Dianna Duran was released from county jail, Gov. Susana Martinez used a small part of her fifth State of the State address to support government accountability efforts. The nod from the governor came on the same day that good government group Common Cause released the results of a statewide survey showing broad support for ethics and campaign finance reforms. About 85 percent of New Mexicans want the legislature to create an independent ethics commission, according to the poll, conducted in December by Research and Polling, Inc.

But poll numbers don’t offer reform advocates any assurance that their ideas will translate into votes of support or the governor’s signature. Bills that would create some form of ethics commission have languished in Santa Fe for years. In her hour-long address to state lawmakers, Martinez focused on fighting violent crime, improving education and advancing economic development proposals, but she specifically mentioned the need to improve campaign finance reporting and close the revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists. She called for changes to the state’s much-maligned capital outlay process, saying: “We need to fix the way we spend infrastructure money, because the way projects are funded now leads to unmet regional and state needs, and a string of projects that haven’t been vetted and can’t be completed.” And she said there should be full disclosure by individual lawmakers of the projects they choose to fund with their personal pots of capital outlay money.