By Sandra Fish | New Mexico In Depth
Lobbyists and organizations feted New Mexico legislators and other officials with more than $519,000 worth of food, drink and gifts from Jan. 15 through the end of April.
Of the 600 lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State’s office to represent more than 750 clients, only 116 spent money during the session.
Those individual lobbyists spent $334,419 on events such as the 100th Bill Party, electric toothbrushes, teddy bears, gift certificates and, in one instance, ammunition for concealed carry training.
And 14 companies spent $184,685.
The $519,000 is the most spent by lobbyists and organizations in a single year over the period New Mexico In Depth analyzed — 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and this year through April 2015.
The amount spent in the first four months of this year eclipses the $508,700 spent by lobbyists in all 12 months of 2013, the last 60-day session. It also exceeds the $291,000 spent over 12 months in 2011.
Despite the increase in lobbyist spending over the years, New Mexico does not require lobbyists to report certain specifics, including a detailed list of expenses — which would show how much they spend on individual lawmakers and public officials — and how much their employers pay them.
New Mexico In Depth analyzed lobbyist reports filed May 1, which cover the recent 60-day legislative session. State law requires lobbyists to file disclosures of spending and campaign contributions each Jan. 15 and May 1.
People, Power and Democracy
Common Cause of New Mexico spent the most overall during the session: $86,462 on an advertising and phone campaign to encourage lawmakers to pass a series of campaign finance and lobbying transparency bills. Few of the bills passed and others were watered down.
But the effort was worth it, said Heather Ferguson, campaign manager for Common Cause.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in public awareness on these issues,” Ferguson said.
Here’s a look at spending by employers:
Enforcing 48-hour reporting
Lobbyists had previously reported spending nearly $300,000 during the session, based on 48-hour reports of expenses totaling $500 or more. Common Cause was among those reporting the advertising expenses within two days.
But an examination of detailed expenses indicates some in excess of $500 weren’t reported until the May 1 deadline.
Tasia Young, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Association of Counties, reported spending $1,009 on March 13 for lunch for 73 legislative staffers. Because no lawmakers were involved, she said, she didn’t believe the report needed to be filed within 48 hours.
“We’re not feeding legislators, we’re feeding staff,” Young said. “It’s the day shift and the night shift – they’re starving. It always feels really great to feed them.”
Joseph Menapace, who represents the New Mexico Dental Association, reportedspending $5,168 on electric toothbrushes for legislators. But he said they were delivered on different days, not all in one day. And some will be delivered over the summer, he said.
Menapace said the toothbrushes are a better use of the association’s money than competing with dinners and receptions put on by other groups.
“Lawmakers have every coffee cup that they could ever imagine,” he said.
Other large expenses were filed May 1 instead of sooner:
- William Fulginiti of the New Mexico Municipal League reported spending $1,000 for the 100th Bill Party on Feb. 24. “It should have been a 48-hour. I thought I did that,” he said.
- Kevin Groenewold of New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperatives spent $500 on a Republican dinner on Jan. 20. He said he didn’t file a 48-hour report because ““it wasn’t to the Legislature. It was a party event”
- Raymond Sanchez, whose clients include cab companies and the energy industry, spent $668 for the Democratic Party’s legislative dinner on Jan. 20.
Two lobbyists said they planned to amend their reports after being contacted by New Mexico In Depth. Ann Conway, who represents State Farm Insurance and the Albuquerque Museum Foundation, said she listed incorrect dates for a reception sponsored by her two clients. The $3,897 event originally was listed as occurring Jan. 20.
“It was April 16,” she said. “It’s to thank legislators for general support.”
Secretary of State spokesman Ken Ortiz said violations are rarely reported to the office.
“…we don’t have any way of knowing who should file unless our office is alerted of a situation in which we would need to investigate,” Ortiz said in an email.
At least four lobbyists filed expense reports but didn’t list employers for 2015. Ortiz said his office is reviewing records for those lobbyists.
The Secretary of State may fine lobbyists up to $50 per day if they fail to file reports or if they file false or incomplete reports, up to a maximum of $5,000.
Ferguson of Common Cause said there may need to be more oversight.
“When a lobbyist is spending more than $500 in a single day on a particular issue, the public deserves to know in a timely manner,” she said.
Most of the spending by individual lobbyists occurred in February, the longest single month of the session that began Jan. 20 and ended March 21.
The biggest single expense by an individual lobbyist was $22,182 for a Feb. 17 New Mexico Oil and Gas Association dinner reported by lobbyist Steven Henke. That made him the top spending individual lobbyist.
Here’s a look at the top 10 spending individual lobbyists:
Many in the top 10 and the rest of the individual lobbyist list didn’t get specific about their spending, instead filing statements that aggregate expenses below $75 per person.
A requirement for lobbyists to be more specific about who they entertain was removedfrom a lobbyist reform measure passed during the recent session. A requirement for lobbyists to identify issues they lobby on also was removed. The measure now simplyrequires the Secretary of State to improve its website.
But many lobbyists do go into detail about their expenses.
New Mexico State University lobbyist Ricardo Rel reported spending $1,568 on April 20 for basketball jerseys for lawmakers for the House-Senate basketball game. And NMSU lobbyist Vicente Vargas reported $733 on bobblehead dolls for lawmakers in two separate expenditures listed for April 20.
Former Sen. Kent Cravens, who represents the Pueblo of Zia and Yates Petroleum, spent $491 on for a concealed carry training for lawmakers on Jan. 24.
Cravens said he bought ammunition for the event. But he couldn’t attend it, and he said he didn’t know who paid for the event. No other reference shows up for the event in the lobbyist filings reported on the Secretary of State’s website.
And Katherine Freeman, lobbyist for United Way of Santa Fe County, spent $108 on flowers for Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park; $91 on flowers and $100 on a restaurant gift certificate for Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque; and $55 for a gift card for Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. All the expenses were listed as thank-you gifts for work on early childhood issues.
This story was originally published by New Mexico In Depth and reprinted with permission.