The biggest spender among lobbyists in New Mexico last year was not employed by an oil company or a tobacco company or a mining company. Instead, it was a New York-based advocacy group for gun safety that spent $219,500.
The reports, filed this week with the Secretary of State’s Office, show that Pedro Morillas, regional director for Everytown for Gun Safety, spent more than any other lobbyist in the state. And he completely outgunned the National Rifle Association, which spent just over $10,000 on New Mexico candidates last year.
Overall, lobbyists spent more than $1.7 million in the state in 2016.
The leader of one advocacy group on government practices had mixed reactions to the lobbyists’ disclosures.
“It makes me happy that they are reporting,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of New Mexico Common Cause. “I hate to be Debbie Downer here, but I have to wonder about what’s not being reported.”
Harrison said she was heartened that new Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has promised to make improving the lobbyist reporting system a priority.
Morillas spent the lion’s share of Everytown for Gun Safety’s contributions on Democrat-leaning political action committees, including Patriot Majority New Mexico, which received a total of $140,000 during last year’s election cycle.
And his organization considered it money well spent.
“Everytown for Gun Safety and the New Mexico chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America declared victory [in November] in electing a bipartisan background-check majority to the statehouse,” Everytown spokeswoman Stacey Radnor said in an email.
Radnor said her group is backing bills sponsored by Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, and Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, that would require background checks on most private sales of firearms.
In addition to the political committees that received money from Everytown, the group contributed to individual lawmakers. Those who received donations — ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 — were Democrats with one exception. House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, received $5,000 from the group.
Gentry last year was instrumental in passing a bill requiring the state’s courts to report relevant mental health records to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. And in 2011, he helped craft a compromise bill to require background checks for firearms sold at gun shows. But that measure did not clear the Legislature.
The second-biggest lobbyist spender was Stephen Perry, representing Chevron. Perry spent more than $156,000 in New Mexico in 2016. His biggest contributions, totalling $8,000 went to Susana PAC, a committee associated with Gov. Susana Martinez. Nearly all the rest went to legislative candidates, mainly Republicans, though several Democrats also receive donations from Perry.
Albuquerque lobbyist and lawyer Mickey Barnett, a former state lawmaker and former Republican National Committee member, spent $156,007. Most of that amount — $100,000 — went to Advance New Mexico Now, a political action committee run by Gov. Martinez’s political adviser, Jay McCleskey. One of Barnett’s clients is Intralot, a Georgia company that since 2007 has had a contract with the state lottery.
Most of the rest of Barnett’s expenses were on behalf of other clients, including New Mexico Independent Finance Association; Western-Shamrock, an installment loan company; and Santa Ana Pueblo.
Robert Donaldson, lobbyist for Altria, a company affiliated with Philip Morris USA, spent $153,853. Donald’s largest contribution was $50,000 to Advance New Mexico Now. He also gave Susana PAC, $5,400. Most of those receiving money from Altria were Republican candidates or committees. But several Democrats received contributions of $500 or less.
Vanessa Alarid, a lobbyist married to state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, spent $108,680 last year. She represents several clients, including the drug company Pfizer and Garrett Development. On behalf of Garrett, Alarid gave more than $41,000 to a political action committee called New Mexicans for New Mexico. It devoted its efforts to defeating a Democrat, Adrian Pedroza, who ran for a seat on the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners. Pedroza lost in the Democratic primary to Steven Quezada, an actor in the old television series Breaking Bad.
Marco Gonzales, who represents several clients, spent $96,974. His major expenses were on behalf of the New Mexico Habitat Conservation Initiative. It was started by Dan Perry, a former Texas resident who now is an oil and gas lawyer in Santa Fe. He owns the Trout Stalker Ranch in Chama.
Perry last year supported a bill approved by the Legislature that prohibits the public from accessing waterways that bisect private land. That measure voided an order by former state Attorney General Gary King that made all New Mexico streams open to the public.
Through Gonzales, the Conservation Initiative and Perry’s Troutstalkers LLC spent a combined $70,700 that went to both Republican and Democrat candidates and committees.
Other major lobbyist spenders last year were Jack Milarch, representing Builders Trust of New Mexico, $90.750; Daniel Najjar, who had various clients, $88,113; Luke Otero, also with various clients, $68,700; and Randy Traynor, representing Car of New Mexico, $65,712.
During the legislative session lobbyists are required to report all expenses over $500 to the Secretary of State’s Office within 48 hours. The New Mexican will report on these at intervals throughout the session.