Corruption has long been endemic to New Mexico government. And today, even when people ferret out potential problems or ethical lapses, there’s still a significant gap between the laws meant to protect people and the ability or willingness of state agencies to enforce them. In January, for example, conservation groups wrote to the state purchasing agent and director, asking him to look into a political donation from a company with a lucrative state contract. The company had contributed $1,000 to Gov. Susana Martinez’s political action committee during a time when the state’s Procurement Code prohibits political contributions, when proposals are being evaluated for the awarding of contracts. Months passed, and the activists didn’t hear back from the state purchasing agent or from the agency that had issued the contract, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC).
When President Donald Trump placed his businesses in a trust upon entering the White House, he put his sons in charge and claimed to distance himself from his sprawling empire. “I hope at the end of eight years I’ll come back and say, ‘Oh you did a good job,'” Trump said at a Jan. 11 press conference. Trump’s lawyer explained that the president “was completely isolating himself from his business interests.” The setup has long been slammed as insufficient, far short of the full divestment that many ethics experts say is needed to avoid conflicts of interest.
The vast majority of New Mexicans reject the notion that political corruption in state government cannot be reversed through legislative action, according to the results of a new University of New Mexico poll. But many of the people surveyed said they don’t feel they have the power to influence government decision-making, according to the report, released this week as lawmakers are considering proposals to create a statewide ethics commission. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Center for Health Policy at UNM published the report, which says 72 percent of the 1,505 adult state residents surveyed believe “the state’s political leaders should implement reforms such as an independent ethics commission.” Roughly half of the people responded to survey questions by telephone, and the other half responded online in September. According to the report, 1 in 5 of those surveyed said they never trust state government to do what is right, while only 3 percent said state government can always be trusted to do what is right.
A complaint accuses an Albuquerque state representative of improperly directing state money toward a charter school project overseen by his brother. The complaint names Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, of the ethics violation. David Pacheco, an architect and Paul Pacheco’s brother, designed and oversaw construction in early 2015 of a campus building for ASK Academy, a charter school in Rio Rancho. The year before, Paul Pacheco requested $900,000 of state taxpayer money earmarked for capital outlay projects be used for the charter school. The state ended up awarding $230,000 that year to ASK Academy, which became part of a $6.9 million bond issued to ASK Academy in February 2015.
The Committee for Economic Development, a pro-business think tank in Arlington, Virginia, recently issued a report claiming New Mexico’s economic stagnation is fueled by “crony capitalism,” which includes favors in exchange for campaign contributions. This piece originally appeared on Follow the Money, a project of the National Institute on Money in State Politics. This piece is shared through a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. The National Institute on Money in State Politics decided to examine campaign contributions from the ten companies that benefited most from state subsidies in New Mexico, using a list provided by Good Jobs First. The examination revealed that, by and large, these companies were not major contributors to New Mexico candidates and party committees.
The Legislative Council Service is fighting an effort by the Attorney General to access documents related to a former state Senator facing corruption charges. The office of Attorney General Hector Balderas subpoenaed records from the state Senate investigation that eventually led to Phil Griego’s resignation from the Senate. LCS, which handles administrative tasks for the 112-person citizen legislature, objected to the subpoena, saying state law protects the records. Documents from each side are embedded at the bottom of this post. Griego admitted to violating the state constitution and Senate rules with a land deal that he benefited from; the Senate voted to approve the transfer of state building that Griego went on to benefit from.
If approved into law, the latest push for creating independent ethics commission would be the culmination of a decade of efforts to combat corruption in New Mexico. But if history is any guide, the road to agreement could still be long and rocky. Update: Add this one to the list of failed attempts: The legislation died in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday morning. This piece continues as originally written below. The impetus came in a mirror image to the current situation, just a decade earlier.
A bill that would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to create an independent ethics commission cleared its first hurdle on Friday on a unanimous vote. Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment explained that he felt this was a very important piece of legislation to both the public and the Legislature. “There are many different places to go to try to get an opinion, which can vary,” Dines said. “It needs to be centralized.” “It can give us direction.
House Democrats gathered in Santa Fe to unveil a slate of ethics and transparency bills on Tuesday. The bills come after a year that saw a state Senator resign after violating the state constitution and the Secretary of State resigned after pleading guilty to six crimes, including two felonies. One bill that they included was instituting a state ethics commission, legislation that has been introduced in one form or another for over a decade without ever passing. New Mexico is one of just eight states that do not have an ethics commission. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, is the latest to attempt to bring the legislation to the governor’s desk.
In 2010 Dianna Duran ran for secretary of state as a reform candidate who would clean things up in the wake of scandals that had plagued the office’s two previous occupants. As a county clerk in rural Otero County and later a state senator, Duran had earned a reputation for cool-headed competence. She was endorsed by most of the state’s newspapers and even the left-leaning editorial board at The Santa Fe New Mexican gave her a thumbs up, citing a “solid record of integrity.” When she won, Duran became the first Republican to hold the secretary of state’s office in 80 years. That was then. In late October, just a year into her second term, Duran, the state official in charge of overseeing elections, campaign finance and ethics, resigned and pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement charges related to personal use of campaign funds.